Thursday, June 6, 2013

Inkjet Versus Laser Printing - Engineering Economics

2013 March

Basic monochrome laser printer models can be bought for less than £100, although more sophisticated colour versions – with features such as Wi-Fi and duplex printing – can sell for three times that, and more. This compares with the £50 and less that inkjet printers sell for. So a laser will only make sense if the savings on ink outweigh the extra cost of the machine.

Standard laser cartridges – coloured toner (dry ink), typically cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK) – contain a lot of intricate components, print anything from 1,500-3,500 pages but can set you back a hefty £60-£120 each. Still, that compares well with the measly 200 pages you are likely to get from the standard inkjet cartridge costing around £15.

So do laser printers now represent a cost-effective alternative for the home consumer?

"It depends on how many pages you print," says Patrick Stead, head of cartridge recycler Environmental Business Products. "Laser can be better value over the longer term, but the initial outlay can be a lot more."

Hewlett Packard manufactures more than half of the printers sold in the UK. Its bestselling HP Deskjet 3050A inkjet retails for about £90. The cartridges sell for £10-£15 and have a standard page yield of 190 (black) and 165 (colour).

The company's top-selling HP CP2025 colour LaserJet sells for about £300. Cartridges retail for about £110 and have a page yield of 2,800 (colour) and 3,500 (black).

Cursory number-crunching indicates that if you print only, say, 1,000 pages a year – based on ISO standard 5% paper coverage – then the inkjet, at about 5p per page, is better value

But for anyone who prints more than 2,000 pages a year, a laser printer, at about 3p per page, is cheaper. The savings increase the more you print. A screenwriter, for instance, who prints 10,000 pages, stands to save hundreds of pounds by switching.

"If you print a lot of black and white documents then a laser can save you a lot of money," says Laura Heywood, managing director, at laser cartridge remanufacturer Kleen Strike.

But inkjet does have its advantages. At the domestic end of the market the print quality is higher and the colour definition better. "If you print mostly photos then you probably want to stick with an inkjet printer," Heywood adds.

David Connett, editor of industry magazine The Recycler, says: "If you're buying a laser printer, it's important to work out what you're going to use it for before deciding on a model. As a rule of thumb, the cheaper the printer, the smaller the cartridge, and the lower the page yield."

Samsung's ML2160 monochrome laser printer, for example, costs about £50. But the cartridges also cost £50 – and print a comparatively modest 1,500 pages.

"Do not buy a laser printer on price alone," says Heywood. "Always look at the cost of the replacement cartridges and their print yield."

One way to save money on these is to buy refilled cartridges, which can be 30-50% cheaper than the original price, according to the European Toner & Inkjet Remanufacturers Association.

Peter Thompson, director at laser cartridge recycler PBT International, says: "Properly remanufactured laser cartridges are excellent value. But some producers find ways to cut corners, which can result in leakage and sometimes uneven printing. Try to buy from a reputable seller."

Experts say it's always worth investing in a laser that supports duplex printing – printing on both sides of the paper – which cuts down on energy and paper consumption.

"Some laser printers automatically print on both sides," says Connett. "Other models allow you to reinsert pages manually to print the second side. And some do not support duplex printing at all."

It may also be worth buying a printer that is Wi-Fi compatible so that one click of a button will allow you to print, whether from laptop or smartphone.

Thomson concludes: "If you think how little ink is in the average inkjet cartridge compared to the average laser cartridge the economics are in favour of laser. Sometimes the cartridge prices aren't that different. But those for the laser can last an awful lot longer."

What you pay – and what you get

HP CP2025N A4 colour laser printer Cost: Around £350

Speed: Up to 20 pages per minute

Features: Auto Duplex (automatically prints on both sides of a page)

Cartridge cost: Original HP: Colour £110 (2,800 pages at 3.9p per page). Black £120 (3,500 pages at 3.4p per page).

Warranty: One-year limited

Brother HL-4140CN A4 colour laser printer

Cost: Around £200

Speed: Up to 22 pages per minute

Cartridge cost: Standard Brother*: Colour £66 (1,500 pages at 4.4p per page); Black £46 (about 2,500 pages at 1.8p per page)

Warranty: One-year onsite (upon registration)

Oki C301dn A4 colour LED printer

Cost: Around £100

Speed: Up to 20 pages per minute

Features: Auto Duplex (automatically prints on both sides of a page)

Cartridge cost: Original Oki: Colour £64 (1,500 pages at 4.3p per page); Black: £60 (2,200 pages at 2.7p per page)

Warranty: Three-year return to base

(*All page yields based on ISO standard 5% paper coverage.)

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