Data Doctors: Are laser printers always the best choice?

I had a printer salesman in my shop trying to convince me that an inkjet printer is a better choice for my shop than a basic laser printer for printing my invoices.  I don't need color, so is he right?

There are a number of variables the will come into play that would ultimately determine which printer technology would be the best fit for your situation including:

  • Initial Cost
  • Cost Per Page
  • Total Cost of Ownership
  • Print Speed
  • Duty Cycle
  • Paper Tray Capacity

Historically, the initial cost on a laser printer was significantly higher than an inkjet printer, but the price gap has closed significantly, so this may not be as much of a factor today.

Historically, the cost per page (CPP) on a laser printer was always lower, but some newer inkjet technology is challenging the status quo.  CPP  is determined by dividing the cost of a replacement ink or toner cartridge by the rated number of pages it will print.  This self-published number by the manufacturers can get tricky because the print mode used for the rating will ultimately determine the actual number, so don't take these numbers as your actual mileage.

In your case, you only care about the black (the K in the CMYK ratings), so the higher the number of pages, the better.

The total cost of ownership (TCO) is determined by adding the initial cost of the printer with the projected number of replacement cartridges or toner kits you will need over the next 2 or 3 years based on how many pages you think you'll print per month.

When it comes to print speed, if you want to minimize the time that someone has to wait for you to print out an invoice, in most cases the laser printer will be faster. You can compare print speed by comparing the Mono (black only) PPM (Page Per Minute) specifications for the printers you are considering.

One possible impact on speed is how often you print. If a laser printer goes idle, it has to heat up the fuser in order to start printing again, which could cause a delay of 5 to 30 seconds. If you don't print very often, the actual First Page Out Time (FPOT) could be faster with the inkjet.

The Duty Cycle is a specification that basically gives you an idea of the workload capabilities of the printer (generally per month).  Think of it like you would towing capacity when buying a pickup truck.  The higher the Duty Cycle rating, the heavier duty the printer is, which means a lot more in an office setting where a lot of people are printing to the same printer.

The paper tray capacity isn't a significant consideration, but the larger the capacity, the less often you will be refilling the tray and disrupting your workflow.

There are some newer inkjet printers that are designed for small businesses that buck the traditional cost and speed advantages of a laser printer, but they're all color multifunction printers.

If all you need to print are black and white invoices, you end up paying for color cartridges that will never get used but they have to be in the machine in order for it to work.

One final consideration is the print capacity per cartridge; generally speaking, you'll get more printed pages per cartridge on a laser printer. This equates to less potential disruption to workflow from an empty cartridge because you'll be replacing it less often, so pay close attention to that spec.

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