Laser Printers Finally an Affordable Option

Price cuts make laser printers more attractive for the home and small office.

July 1, 2004

Are laser printers poised to replace inkjet printers as the standard in home- and small-office printing?

A flurry of recent announcements from printer vendors suggest they could, at least as far as monochrome printing goes. And, with introduction by Hewlett Packard of the first color laser model to break the $500 price point, a color laser printer is finally an affordable option for many. It’s just a matter of time before other vendors respond with price breaks of their own.

That’s not to suggest color inkjets will quickly disappear. Vendors continue to add new models, and the relatively low cost of an inkjet makes it an economical solution. But inkjet has its limits, too—especially if you need color on a daily basis—when compared with a laser printer. For instance, consider that the capacity of inkjet cartridges is measured in 100s of pages, compared with 1,000s of pages for laser toner cartridges.

With the latest printers, you’ll find several cost-effective options. If most of what you print is straightforward black text, consider adding one of the new monochrome laser printers and continue to print color as needed on an inkjet. If you’re in the market for a new printer and your budget is limited, consider one of the new inkjet or multifunction machines. And, if you can justify the added expense, you can now get an entry-level color laser printer for $500, roughly half of what it would have cost two years ago.

Here’s a brief rundown of some home/small office printers unveiled in the last month. Visit the vendors’ Web site for detailed specs and ordering information.

  • Hewlett Packard: At $499, the new HP Color LaserJet 2550L sets a new threshold among entry-level color laser printers. It offers print speeds of 20 ppm (pages per minute) black and 4ppm color at 600 dpi (dots per inch). The 2550L represents an HP initiative to make color printing—inkjet and laser—more affordable for all home and small office workers. For the home/small office, HP has also added two new inkjet models, the HP Office jet 4215 printer/fax/scanner/copier, at $149, and the HP PSC 1315 printer/scanner/copier, at $99.
  • Dell: Its latest entries include a new multifunction inkjet printer and three new monochrome laser models. The $129 Photo All-in-One 922 offers six-color photo printing when used with a special cartridge set and functions as a printer/scanner/copier. Dell will offer standard and high-capacity cartridges for this unit. The company’s entry-level monochrome laser printer is the Dell Laser Printer 1700, $199, with a maximum print speed of 25 ppm at 1,200 dpi. A network-ready version, the 1700n, is available for $100 more. The company also adds a multifunction laser unit with the new 1600n for $399. Designed for work groups, this combination printer/scanner/fax/copier is rated at 22 ppm at 1,200 dpi.
  • Lexmark: The company has just announced a family of five upgradeable monochrome laser printers targeting the needs of home and small offices. Users will have an option of 2,500-page or 6,000-page toner cartridges. At $199, the basic model, E 232, delivers a 22-ppm-print speed at 1,200 dpi. For $100 more, you can get the E232t with its 550-sheet paper tray. The E330, for $399, offers a faster print speed of 27 ppm and its own 200MHz processor for processing print files. Step-up models include the E332n, network ready for $499, and the E332tn, which also adds the high capacity paper tray, for $599.
  • IBM: The company’s newest entry-level laser printer is the Infoprint Color 1334, available for $1,113 on Big Blue’s Web site, with maximum print speeds of 30 ppm black and 8 ppm color at 1200dpi. IBM has also added an entry-level monochrome laser printer—the InfoPrint 1412 delivering 27 ppm at 1,200 dpi. Both units are network ready.

The real expense of owning any desktop printer is determined by the cost of its consumables—the ink or toner cartridge required for printing. Unfortunately, it isn’t easy to make that evaluation when comparing models. Each manufacturer has its own formula for determining cartridge life and cites the numbers that make its printers look best.

Fortunately, that’s about to change. Working with printer makers Canon, Epson, Hewlett Packard, and Lexmark, the International Organization for Standardization has just established the first industry-wide standards for determining printer cartridge yield. The initial methodology outlines how tests should be conducted as well as how results should be interpreted for monochrome laser cartridges. The companies will continue to work with the ISO to develop standards for measuring the life cycle of color toner cartridges and monochrome and color inkjet cartridges. Those standards are expected to be announced in 2005. These welcome developments will eventually make it much easier to determine which printer represents your best bargain over the long haul.

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