Group Test: Small office/home office printers – Printers

Four inkjets. four lasers. Which wins?

We know it’s tempting to buy a printer based on the initial price, on the dazzling list of features on display, on simply how it looks. But there’s almost no other technology purchase that needs more proper analysis: a moment of weakness in the store could see you stuck with a printer that looked amazing on the shop floor but will demand new cartridges every other week.

We examine the true cost of running each of these printers, but if that was the only concern then the buying decision would be almost too easy. Take a rough guess at how many pages you print, see which printer comes top for value at that point, and hand over your credit card details. Job done.

But you’ll have your own needs, and may already have some idea of whether you want a laser or an inkjet. There are certain truths, after all, about the technologies and their suitability for different tasks; you’d never choose a laser for colour printing, surely? 

Well, this new batch of printers shows you can take nothing for granted. We have three winners on show, and the technology inside them is almost irrelevant. It’s the results they produce, and how quickly they produce them, that matters.
Prepare to be surprised.

The true cost of your printer
Whether you choose an inkjet or a laser, chances are that the upfront cost of each device is the least of your concerns.

Sell the razors cheaply, and make money on the blades” – that’s the model the printer industry has been following for decades. Over a few years you can easily end up spending 10 or 20 times as much on ink or toner as you did on the printer itself.
When choosing between two printers, therefore, it’s important to know how the running costs stack up. A cheap printer can end up being much more costly than an upmarket model once you’ve printed a few thousand pages – whereas spending a little more upfront can save you hundreds of dollars in the long run.

Our total price calculations are based on the price of the printer, plus the per-page cost of genuine replacement cartridges and the number of pages they’re rated for. Of course, some pages use more ink than others, but the ISO standard page yield quoted by all manufacturers provides a benchmark for comparison. We assume that you’ll be printing colour and mono pages in equal proportion, again to provide a consistent basis for comparison.

Cartridge costs are based on the lowest price available from a major online retailer at the time of writing. Where a range of capacities is offered, we’ve assumed you’ll buy the high-yield version, which is always better value. Ditto if a “value pack” of four cartridges together is offered, although this may not necessarily reflect your printing needs.

What we haven’t factored in is the option of buying cheaper “compatible” ink or toner cartridges, or unofficial refill systems. Printer manufacturers unanimously warn that unofficial products can cause problems, and while the Mandy Rice-Davies principle definitely applies – “they would say that, wouldn’t they?” – they won’t hesitate to void your warranty if you hit trouble while using unbranded consumables. It’s up to you, but for a trouble-free printing experience it’s safest to stick with the manufacturer’s own cartridges.


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