How to pick a new printer

After a few too many trips to the college printing services - known for being both overpriced and awfully slow -, I've decided to get a new printer. The main issue is that at R$0,70 (US$0.22) a page of color print, it doesn't take long for the cost to add up. Since my Capstone project will lean heavily on prototype design, color print was actually more important to me than black-and-white print (a lot easier to swallow at just R$0,20/US$0.07 a page). Let's start this review with the basics.

Inkjet vs Laser

While laser printers have been basically acknowledged as the state of the art, there is a key feature where it struggles: color printing. It's not just a matter of upfront cost. Inkjet printers have always held superior quality in terms of general printing. However, when printing text and charts, quality is not an issue because there is not much detail to be resolved. On the other hand, the best photographic printers list is dominated by inkjet printers. Prototyping is in the middle of the road: while icons and fonts are a bit delicate in terms of reproduction, higher-resolution copies will be rare and can always be outsourced if needed.

Laser printers do have an undeniable advantage in speed, which won't matter much since I'll be using it mostly at home. 

The final criterion is maintenance:

  1. How long until I have to replace parts?

    Laser printers are sturdier, in general, due to the sensitive nature of the laser. While this means it's expected of them to last longer, this also means once they're gone, there will be no fix available. I've never had a laser printer fail on me, however. On the other hand, all inkjet printers eventually needed to be repaired, although they were always amongst the cheapest models, admittedly.

  2. What do I need to keep it going well?

    Laser printers use powdered ink, which can just sit there for weeks. Inkjet printers require liquid ink that can decant and clog the machinery, so they need to be used every week. The larger the cartridge, the easier for it to clog the printer. Don't fall into the trap of reloading cartridges: makers usually make printers very susceptible to non-legitimate supplies, by making them fail on purpose or just be less effective. 

  3. Will it bring me an actual advantage in cost over a printing service?

    This is a matter of both upfront cost (the kit including both the printer and its initial supplies) and supplies. Laser printers and their toners are usually more expensive, but inkjet cartridges usually don't last long. There is a caveat, though: laser printers run very hot and close the sheets' grooves. This means that, if the paper needs to be used in print again, they are likely to jam the printer at some point. I wish someone would have told me this before. I reuse a lot of sheets for drafting and sketching, and all my laser printers gave me a lot of unnecessary work.

It seems there's a slight edge here to laser printers, but there isn't a definitive answer without going into the actual math.

Down to the Numbers

A standard package with 500 A4 sheets runs at R$19 (US$6), which sets the base values for each page at R$0,039 (US$0.012). 

Now, a cheap inkjet color printer can be easily found at R$200 (upfront cost), with enough ink to print 500 pages. After that, a pack of CMYK cartridges will cost another R$200 to print an additional of 500 text pages and 500 color pages (let's round it up to 1000 in total), making up to R$0,24 (US$0.076) a page. This option, of course, goes out of the window, since the maintenance cost is way too high for a product that's not expected to last very long. In fact, inkjet printers are known for being subsidized by its own makers in the expectation of higher profit margins from all the cartridges that will be sold in the future. At the US, in fact, it's not that hard to find free printers, with cartridges that effectively cost more than a new printer. 

The cheapest laser color printer I could find would charge me R$1200 (US$377.66), including enough toner for 2400 pages (R$0,50/page). Now, CMYK toners are ludicrously expensive at R$2000 (US$629.44) to print 4800 pages at a R$0,456/page (US$0.144/page). It's even more expensive than an inkjet printer! I wonder who'd be the target audience. 

While doing the research, however, I stumbled upon a compromise that got my attention: inkjet tank printers. Now, here's the idea: a non-subsidized inkjet printer, being sold at full cost, with cartridges that don't need to be sold at a higher margin. In order to make them competitive, they can actually hold a lot more ink than a single cartridge, which reduces packaging costs. An all-in-one model (with a scanner and copy machine) can be easily found for R$800 (US$251.77), with enough ink for 6000 pages. Yes, six thousand pages, with each running at R$0,172 (US$0,054). Since there are no longer cartridges, a full CMYK kit can be stored on a cheap package and sold for R$200, lowering the individual page cost to R$0,072 (US$0.023), which essentially beats every printing service in college. 

So, it was pretty much a no-brainer from there on. Tank printers can undercut any other kind of color printer by a large margin, and, as such, was the option I chose. 

Tags: review 



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