Laser: The Heavy-Duty Value PropositionLaser printers may be more expensive than inkjets, but they're a better value overall because of a cheaper cost of ownership. Laser printers take toner cartridges, which can print thousands of pages before needing replacement, while inkjet cartridges often last a couple hundred pages at best. Over the life of the machine, those costs add up. Consider the following: An Epson Stylus 820 inkjet printer costs $100 and requires two separate ink cartridges, a $24 black one and a $20 color one. According to manufacturer specs, the color cartridge lasts for 220 sheets while the black cartridge lasts for 370 pages. Including the price of the machine, it costs 65 cents to print a full-color page and 39 cents a page for monochrome. On the other hand, an H-P 1000 LaserJet costs $250 and requires a single toner cartridge that costs $65 and lasts for 2,500 pages. Despite its higher price tag, H-P's LaserJet has a cost per page of just 13 cents -- far better than Epson's Stylus.
|Low-Cost? Not Necessarily |
Sure, inkjets have cheap price tags, but heavy printers will find that costs add up in the long run. "Inkjets use the old Gillette model of giving away the razors, but charging a lot for the razor blades," explains Dan Gookin, author of PCs for Dummies.
|Printer||Price||Cost of Ink||Total Cost||Pages Per Cartridge*||Cost Per Page|
|Canon BJC-85 Portable Color Bubble Jet||299.99||39.95||48.49||388.43||3,000+||4,000+||13 cents||10 cents|
|Canon S200 Color Bubblejet||67.15||7.69||19.79||94.63||150||270||63 cents||35 cents|
|Epson Stylus C60 Inkjet||79.98||28.99||24.19||133.16||600||300||22 cents||44 cents|
|Lexmark Z55 Inkjet||129.98||31.99||37.99||199.96||600||450||33 cents||44 cents|
|Epson Stylus C80 Inkjet||148.98||30.79||35.97||210.56||870||420||24 cents||50 cents|
|Lexmark Z25 Color Inkjet||79.98||31.99||34.99||146.96||410||275||36 cents||53 cents|
|Hewlett-Packard DeskJet 350C||335.99||31.99||31.99||399.97||485||313||82 cents||$1.28|
|Hewlett-Packard 5550 Color Inkjet||149.98||34.99#||184.97||400#||46 cents|
|Source: Staples.com, OfficeDepot.com, TSC Research. * -- Number of printable pages at 5% coverage.+ -- Number of printable pages at 15% coverage.# -- Cartridge includes both color and black inks.|
"It all comes down to what a student needs," says Larry Leslie, senior vice president of Hewlett-Packard's personal printing unit. "If they have to do a lot of printing, then a lost-cost laser is a really good solution for them. Laser printers are great for big papers."
Inkjet's Technicolor GloryBut inkjets have one advantage that lasers don't: they can print in color. With the rising popularity of digital cameras and CD burning, the ability to crank out color photos or a custom-designed CD labels are attractive features that lasers can't match. Ink cartridges are costly, but consumers can stretch their lifespan by printing out draft-quality documents and using other features designed to conserve ink. "The typical consumer, like a college student, might use two to three ink cartridges a year," says Jeff Willard, director of marketing for Lexmark's consumer printer division. "It's not like they're a small business and popping them in once a week. In this case, the low acquisition price is more important." Over the course of a school year, let's say you need to replace both ink cartridges on the Epson Stylus 820 three times. All told, the cost of ownership for the Epson would be $232 -- $18 cheaper than the H-P 1000 LaserJet, plus you'll have the ability to print color. Instead of using expensive manufacturer-branded cartridges, you can save even more by using recycled or second-tier refills, which can cost half as much. You won't be alone -- last year, second-tier players accounted for 13% of the ink market, a figure expected to grow to 22% by 2005, according to Lyra Research. Of course, there are color-capable laser-jet printers, but they are north of $800.
Multifunction Device: All For One PriceBut the best choice might be neither. Over the past few years, peripheral makers have come out with multifunction devices that combine the functions of a fax machine, scanner, copy machine and computer printer into one stand-alone device. "All-in-ones are perfect for the student with a wide variety of needs, especially those that have to do presentations," says Willard. "How many times do you wish you had a photocopier in your room?" As their popularity has soared, MFDs have become surprisingly affordable as companies push to increase market share in this nascent sliver of the peripherals market. According to Gartner Dataquest, 1.3 million MFD units were sold in the first quarter of 2002 putting it on pace to break 5 million sold this year, topping analyst expectations by 500,000 units. This summer, MFD prices have dipped below $100. Sharp's UX2200 MFD, which also prints in color, costs $99. Lexmark recently unveiled the X75 PrinTrio, which scans, copies and prints in color, with a $149 price tag. Brother, H-P and Compaq all offer entry-level MFDs for less than $200, but be warned, these devices can guzzle ink. (These are the inkjet models; MFDs also come in the laser-jet variety, but they are priced outside of the realm of most college-bound consumers and their parents.)
The Bottom LineWith hundreds of printers out on the market, choosing the right one can be overwhelming. A good rule of thumb: Lasers are good for students who need to print a lot of text, inkjets are good for students who don't print as much and want color and MFDs are for students who simply need it all. And, economic recovery be damned, you don't have to buy anything. After all, most colleges have a plethora of printers ready and waiting in computer clusters. You're probably spending a fortune on soaring tuition. Why spend more money when you don't have to?
|Back-to-School Buying Guide |
While there are many excellent printers out there, here are a few of the best for college-bound consumers. The Lexmark X75 is your best bet, overall.
|Best Multi-function Device|
|Item||Lexmark X75 PrinTrio|| |
|Features||When printing from the computer, the PrinTrio spits out 11 ppm at 1200 x 2400 dpi. The copy machine cranks out 9 ppm for black-and-white copies and 4 ppm for color. It scans at 600 x. 1200 dpi. Easy to use photo manipulation tools built into the unit, which means you won't need software to remove red eye or resize photos.|
|Drawbacks||High ink costs make cost of ownership an issue for heavy printers. Also, the FAX function isn't built into the unit. You need a PC to use it.|
|Ink/Toner Cartridge||Black ink cartridge costs $32 and lasts for 410 pages. Color ink cartridge costs $35 and lasts for 275 pages. (Both assume 5% coverage.)|
|Cost per Page||36 cents, monochrome. 53 cents, color.|
|Best Inkjet Printer|
|Item||Epson Stylus C60|| |
|Features||The stylus C60 is capable of spitting out black-and-white documents at 12 ppm and color documents at 8 ppm. The maximum monochrome resolution is 720 x 720 dpi, but its color resolution is 2880 x 620 dpi, perfect for high-quality photo reproductions. Easy to set up and use.|
|Drawbacks||Uses a lot of ink, doesn't include a printer cable and doesn't have the best quality when printing in black-and-white.|
|Ink/Toner Cartridge||Both the black and color ink cartridges are $29. The black one lasts for 600 pages, while the color one lasts for 300 pages.|
|Cost per Page||23 cents, monochrome. 46 cents, color.|
|Best Laser Printer|
|Item||Minolta PagePro 1250W|| |
|Features||A combination of low price, high-resolution and speed makes this printer a winner. Cranks out 1200 dpi black-and-white documents at 17 ppm, making it the fastest personal laser in this class. Comes with 8 megs of RAM, standard, and is roughly toaster-sized, which makes it easy to find room for in a cramped space. Outperforms rivals costing twice as much.|
|Drawbacks||New product, which means it may be buggy and difficult to track down at retail outlets. And it doesn't print in color.|
|Ink/Toner Cartridge||Standard black toner cartridge costs $78 and lasts for 3,000 sheets. The larger high-capacity black toner cartridge costs $126 and lasts for 6,000 sheets. OPC Drum cartridge costs $105 and lasts for 20,000 sheets.|
|Cost per Page||13 cents, with standard cartridge. 7 cents, with high-capacity cartridge.|
|Sources: TSC Research, Staples.com, OfficeDepot.com, Manufacturers Web sites|