Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Budget Printers : What to get and what to avoid.

    Admit it, you've been there before. You walk into your local Walmart  on any given Friday evening, and there, sitting on a massive palette is the deal of a lifetime. "ZOMG a full color Photo Printer for 29.99!!" Its too good to be true! You buy two of them, convinced these will hold your printing needs until the end of the world. 2 months later you're frustrated because blues come out purple and your printer forgot that Magenta is a primary color.

So what happened there? You've fallen prey to the oldest Inkjet printer trick in the book. Sell them a cheap printer for under 50 dollars, and only include 1/2 Full ink. Sell the ink for 35-50 dollars per cartridge and watch the profit roll in. So I get this question a lot, what brand of printers should I be buying to avoid Expensive Ink, and also to get a quality machine that will last me 2+ years. I've gotten this question twice in this week, so it needs addressing

First of all, will you be printing photos on a regular basis? For most people the answer is no. Walmart and SuperStore online have made photo printing cheap, easy and fast, so most people aren't looking for a photo quality printer anymore. They want good quality color that doesn't cost an arm and a leg and is well suited for School and Work projects. Most people have forgotten Color Laser printers. "But Mr Geek, aren't Color LaserJets expensive?? And their toner costs SO much" I get this a lot, people don't enjoy upfront cost to get a quality product. Color Laser machines have dropped in price by almost 500% in the past 10 years. What once cost 6-800 dollars can now be had for the bargain price of 199.99 if you watch the sales. So what are the benefits of a color Laser?
  • Super low cost per page - Because you're getting about 3000 pages of color from a Toner (99 dollars) your cost per page can be as low as 5 Cents per page. Yea, that's right, 5 Cents.... Hard to pass that up
  • Long Life - Most Color Laser machines have a duty cycle of 50 000+ pages. Keep in mind that these are the direct descendant of Office Laser products and are designed for a hard life. If little Jimmy had a new LaserJet 4025 when he started grade 1, he could print a 10 page report, every school week for grades 1-12 and be within the duty cycle on that machine
  • Fast Printing with no Dry times - You're running late, that report should have been printed last night, and you forgot. The last thing you need to worry about is smudges on an Ink based system as you're cramming it into your laptop bag. LaserJet machines actually fuse or bake the toner to the page ensuring your prints never smudge, even with water spilled on them.
All said and done, these make a very compelling choice, especially for students, teachers, and anyone with a home office.
     Lets slide real fast to the InkJet / BubbleJet side of things. You need a machine with a scanner and a card reader and all that Jazz, and a Laser machine just wont cut your photo printer needs. What brand should you be looking out for?

     Like anything, you get what you pay for. On the bottom end of the printer scale is the Lexmark class machines. These are the low end machines you can find for 19.99 on Black Friday, and will typically die within a year. If you place a warranty call on them, they will just give you a new printer and tell you to toss your old one out.
      Next comes HP. HP makes amazing Laser machines, and makes 2 grades of Inkjet machines. Junk, and decent. Again, anything for under 50 dollars is probably junk. However they make some quality machines that hover around the 150 dollar mark that most people are VERY happy with. They make probably the best all around printer for general use, that wont let you down and also not cost your childs college fund.
     Canon has a reputation for making an excellent quality photo printer, with very accurate color and saturation, and is often times the standard in Proofing devices for large presses. However, their main downside is cost. A quality Canon machine is 200+ and the ink is also not so cheap, as they use a separate color chamber system.  
     Brother is the last one we'll mention, as they've mad a reputation as having a solid small-office printer, capable of being networked and providing fast ink based prints. Quality scanning on their All in One machines and a whole slew of network features makes this the choice for a shared printer between several PC's in the home.

We've covered quality of machine, so I've really only got one other tip in the printer section. Ink. Its the most important part of some machines, because it can be SO costly. Several years ago, Canon thought it might be cost effective to seperate the color chambers (Yellow / Cyan / Magenta) and some people think this will save them a lot of money. However, unless you print a disproportionate amount of Blue Oceans, Yellow Sunsets, or Pink race cars, the ink is usually very evenly worn out. 
I have a strange desire to bend a spoon......

Some people refill their inks at a place like Island InkJet (Mall Kiosk) and this is usually a great option for someone who's NOT printing photos. The reason I warn against photos is that the ink they use is never perfect. You'll get a very close pink or yellow, but many times it will be just slightly off tinge. 

All said and done, we've discussed several types of machines, from LaserJet to InkJet, and given options across the board for build quality, cost per page, and Ink replacement cost. If you've got any further questions, post them below!


  1. I'm pretty good for computers, I'm pretty tech-savvy, but any accessories involved tend to have me running for the hills.

    Looking forward to future posts, maybe I'll learn something!

  2. Wow, I've never actually read anything this deep on the subject of printers... I have an Epson that's never been able to do colors right. Maybe it's time for an upgrade.

  3. Never knew companies did such things with printers. I mean I knew selling them for cheap had some drawback but still..

  4. I learned in an econ class that a lot of times the cheap printers are actually the same as the expensive ones, but they pay someone to damage the components in the ones they want to sell cheaper. Its kinda complicated and sounds stupid, but in the long run it actually makes them more money to only make one type of item (HQ) and then damage it to get the LQ so that they can sell to both markets than it is to actually produce two different quality printers.