Real-World Costs of Inkjet vs. Laser Printing

The only reason why anyone would bother with inkjet printing anymore is because it’s still the cheapest way to print in color. If you need color printing and need the most cost-effective way to do it, inkjet is the way to go.

I think it’s safe to say however that most people don’t care about color unless you’re printing photos. How many times have you run only the black cartridge with no color? Probably a lot, because it’s usually the only one you care about.

The most expensive part of printing is not the paper but the ink. This is evidenced by the fact so many people try creative ways of refilling an inkjet cartridge, such as doing it themselves with a syringe or taking it to a place that offers a cartridge refilling service. Either method is hit-or-miss. Mostly miss. Yes, there will always be that guy who says, “I’ve been refilling cartridges for years and it always works.” You don’t know what that guy is printing, what printer he owns, how often he prints or if he even cares about the quality of his printouts. In addition, he’s just lucky because most of time refilling inkjet cartridges usually results in “okay” printing, but certainly not great.

When home laser printers first came on the market, they were expensive and broke down constantly. Today’s home laser printers are far superior compared to what we had even as little as three years ago. Warm-up time is significantly decreased, operation is now reliable and overall cost has gone down quite a bit.

Before comparing the ink cost between inkjet and laser, there are a few important things to bear in mind about laser.

1. Home laser printers are physically large – and heavy.

If you’re going to use a home laser printer, you’ll need dedicated desk space. While inkjet printers (that just print, not including the all-in-ones) are slim and trim, laser printers are bulky and will most likely always be that way. Why? Because they run very hot on the inside and need internal chassis space to cool down. That’s just the way they work.

The bare minimum weight of a laser printer is at least 15 pounds, with most being well above that mark in the 20 to 25-pound range. It’s not that you would ever need to move the printer once you set it in its place, but you do need to be aware to place it on something that can support its weight. In other words, don’t place one on one of those plastic-drawer filing cabinets.

2. The most cost-effective home laser printer is still monochrome-only.

Ink still rules over laser in the color department concerning how much it costs. If you want to print in color using laser, you can, but it will cost you more in the long run.

3. Laser printers do emit particles.

Every laser printer has vents, and they’re not just for heat to escape. Particles you cannot see are sent into the air from the toner when in use. Some believe that these particles are harmful to your health while others think they’re perfectly safe.

No matter what you personally believe, a laser printer should only be used in a well-ventilated room, and be placed at least five feet away from you, if possible.

Cost vs. Cost

Inkjet

What you’re supposed to do when you have ink run low in either the color or the black cartridge, you’re to replace both at the same time. Nobody ever does this, but it supposedly gets you the best quality printouts according to the manufacturers.

Inkjet carts are available in single or twin-packs.

Using Lexmark as an example, the cheapest (unless bought in bulk) single black cartridge, a.k.a. a “Number 14″, is $23, shipping included. A single color cartridge is usually about two dollars more at $25, shipping included.

A twin-pack using the same brand that includes a #14 black and #15 tri-color is $44, shipping included.

End result: If you buy individual carts, the cost is $48. If you buy a twin-pack, it’s $44.

The manufacturer states you will get 175 pages printed in black and 150 pages in color – but you probably will never get near that mark. A real-world estimate is more along the lines of 125 total pages you can print – and this is only if you use your printer regularly.

What I mean by using a printer “regularly” is this: You don’t let your printer sit for weeks on end between prints. If you do, your carts will dry up quickly and you’ll have to replace them more often. This is why I always tell people that if you want to get the most life out of your inkjet carts, use them – even if that means sending out a color test page from the printer once a week. Do not let it sit for an extended period of time. If you do, you’ll get dry carts quickly, and it costs almost 50 bucks to replace them each time that happens.

Laser

You know how much an inkjet printer costs but not laser, so we’ll start with that.

A decent home laser printer is the Brother HL-2140. It has many positive customer reviews and is known to be a good reliable unit. The price is is $122, shipping included. It weighs 15 pounds, holds 250 sheets at a time and has a 23ppm speed. There are other laser printers that are more robust and can print faster, but 23ppm is fine for most people. Consider that 23ppm literally means 23 printed pages per minute.

The HL-2140 is, of course, monochrome only.

For toner choices you have two. There is standard and “high yield” toner. What’s the difference between the two? It means how many pages the toner can print.

A standard toner for that printer is a tick over $32, shipping included.

A high yield toner is a tick over $44, shipping included.

With the standard toner, the page yield is stated to be 1,500 pages. On the high yield it’s 2,600 pages.

For printing in the home, the standard toner will work out fine. High yield toner is meant for office use where many prints in a day are required.

Doing the math

If you’ve done some quick math in your head, you’ve probably guessed already that the laser printer beats the ever-lovin’ crap out of inkjet when it comes to being cost effective.

Most people who use inkjet printers ordinarily change out their carts twice a year. If you change out both like you’re supposed to each time, that costs a bare minimum of $88 per year if you use the twin-packs. If you change only the black twice a year, that’s $46.

The laser printer on the other hand only needs a toner change about once every 18 to 24 months or at worst once a year. During that time you would never have to worry about running out of toner because you have up to 1,500 pages you can print. And even if it’s the case where you’re a “bad” printer user and only print once every few weeks, the toner will still perform properly because after all, toner is just a powder.

Toner may have a higher price tag than a single black inkjet cart by around 9 to 10 dollars, but the fact it can output 1,500 pages compared to a inkjet cart’s 175 is where the real savings come in.

Let’s say for the moment you receive a toner that performs very poorly and only outputs 300 pages. That’s still better than the best you could get with a black inkjet cart.

The end result is that you would only be spending barely over $32 a year for laser toner – if the toner wears out in only 12 months and not the usual 18 to 24.

If you can deal with the bulk of a laser printer and consider black-and-white only acceptable for your prints, dump your inkjet and go laser.

As always, before buying any new printer, read customer reviews thoroughly because yes, there are some crappy home laser printers out there. The Brother HL-2140 I used as an example for this article has proven itself to be popular, well-built and has good reliability, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t examine other brands. Samsung’s ML-2851ND and Canon’s ImageClass MF3240 are also definitely worth a look.

Comments

  1. Not mentioned above for inkjet printing is Kodak AIO printers. Very cheap ink, and amazing photo quality prints (and decent speed for monochrome). We use it for photo printing, and mid-volume monochrome printing during school semesters.
    It does auto-duplex printing, color, scanning, faxing (if anyone uses a fax anymore), photocopying, and has a separate photo paper tray that engages for prints, without removing your 8.5″x11″ paper (or at least my 5500 AIO does, not all models have this).
    The largest drawback is the PITA drivers from Kodak, but I easily look past that for a device that can do so much.
    The only reason I'd go for a laser is for high volume monochrome printing, for all the reasons above.

  2. I switched a couple of years ago and am so glad I did. I went from a Lexmark all in one, to a HP 1005 monochrome laser. The laser printer is actually smaller, but heavier, than the Lexmark. The print quality is far superior, and I've replaced my toner once since I bought it. Price was $75 shipped from Newegg for the printer, and then $60 shipped for a high yield toner cartridge. $135 for a couple of years of printing is not too bad at all.

    Like you said Rich, other than color printing, there's absolutely no reason to stay with an inkjet. Laser does kick the ever-lovin' crap outta inkjets.

  3. Overall, I agree with your assessment. The only cost you didn't account for is the drum eventually needing to be replaced. This is one of those dirty hidden costs that a lot of people might not face if their printing load is light, but for certain groups (e.g., people who run an office out of their homes or students), should you need to replace your drum and toner at the same time, it maybe cheaper to buy a cheap laser printer.

  4. As good as getting a monochrome laser printer over an inkjet printer sounds, I think I'd still rather use inkjet because I don't want to feel limited to just black and white prints.

    • gordintoronto says:

      When I want to print pictures, I send them to Walmart. I got the wireless version of the Brother printer mentioned in the article, for $99 Canadian! I have it attached to my router, and everybody can use it. It's wonderful.

      With Inkjets, I tend to print every two months. That means new cartridges, every time!

      • That's an excellent solution, especially for photo printing. I've used Walmart for photos, both online and in-store. The prints are very cheap, and this is the best way IMO to get by with only a monochrome printer at home.

  5. This used to be a forgone conclusion, you bought the printer with the computer package, but a few years ago I started recommending to customers that they skip the printer.
    Why?

    How often do you use it and is it worth the ink?
    If you’re a heavy printer user or into printing photos you already know it and this isn’t for you (Unless it’s just vacation photos and so on, in which case is there a Walgreen’s/Duane Reade/Walmart’s near you?).

    But what if you printed out 4 pages last month, none the month before that, and 5 the month before that ?
    Why are you supporting Lexmark or HP buying ink?
    What’s wrong with putting the print job on a usb key or SD card and taking it to Kinko’s ( all over NYC) or one of the business support centers that have opened everywhere (They do faxes to and I have 3 within walking distance of my apt.) or even your local library ?

    Time spent is 10 minutes or less and cost per page is free to .13 (That’s in midtown Manhattan where everything is “pricey”.).

    Now granted you may not have to option of having someone else put through the printer hassle but if you do why not use it ?

    Think carefully before you buy a printer, you may not need one.

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