Laser vs. Ink Jet

For home office use, and assuming color printing is not required, will a laser printer be more economical in the long run. Obviously, they cost more, but cartridges aren’t cheap either.


i love my Brother MC-7220. multi-finction printer. Prints, copies, scans, faxes and PC-fax right from your computer. Relatively small, really fast printing. True, an extra toner cartridge costs $40, but it prints 2500 pages. An inkjet would require more than one cartridge to do that, and many cost almost as much. And it never dries out.

laser would be less expensive. ink jet wastes lots of ink in maintenance mode to keep the cartridge free flowing and if used infrequently the cartridge will crust over. laser also makes a better printout, is quicker and quieter.

I have both a 15-year-old laser printer I use for everyday printing and a 4-year-old inkjet I use for colour and double-sided printing. I don’t print a lot, and it’s split about 50-50 between the two. The laser refills cost about 50% more than the inkjet economy packs with all 4 colour cartridges. However, I’ve bought as many ink refills over 4 years as I have laser cartridge refills over 15 (and that’s with the laser used for all printing for the first 11 years). YMMV.

Here is an analysis from CNET comparing the cost per page for printing from an inkjet printer vs a personal laser printer vs a business laser printer. For 1000 pages, the inkjet printer is cheaper, but only because the printer itself is cheaper. The more you print, the cheaper that the laser printer gets. And I prefer a laser printer because the toner cartridges don’t dry out as do inkjet printer cartridges.

(I bought my first personal laser printer in 1993 and only replaced it in 2006 because the original toner cartridge needed to be replaced and I decided to upgrade rather than spend the $70 on a new cartridge. I really doubt that any inkjet cartridge would go for twelve years without drying out, or getting used up performing “cleaning cycles.”)

Ignoring the cost of the printer, the cost per page is usually far lower on the laser. And the toner doesn’t dry out or plug up like ink cartridges do.

So if you plan to print more than two or three thousand pages over the life of the printer, or if you go weeks at a time without printing anything, the laser will be cheaper to own.

For many home printers, the two or three thousand page limit may never be reached. But for those printers, the likelihood of going weeks or months at a time without printing anything is higher. And you don’t have to throw out too many $40 ink cartridges because they dried out to make up for the purchase price of the more expensive laser.

Given your parameters, I’d go with a laser without any doubt.

The cost per page on professional-level inkjets can actually be cheaper than laser… unless you don’t print a lot. A lot of ink is wasted if you’ve not printed in a while, because the printer has to unclog itself.

Laser is the way to go. But …

Don’t overestimate the economic life of one. I have a perfectly servicable HP LaserJet 4 in my basement wrapped in a garbage bag to keep the dust out. Ibought it in 1992-ish; it’s had ~50,000 pages run through it and it’s still nearly new mechanically.

But it’s been useless since about 2002 becasue the max RAM you can put in it (2 whole MB w00t!!) is too small to actually render a page any more. It simply won’t work to print anything. The RAM overflows before the page can be printed and you get a bit of the proper output and then a page of Martian poetry.

And I’m talking aout simple all-text pages from Word, not tryng to render a brochure or screen shot.

So my thought is to do your cost math amortizing your printer over 5 years, not the 15 it might last mechanically.
p.s. Anybody want a nice LJ4 for parts or ??? Free to the first person to come get it.

Actually, that sounds like there’s something wrong with the printer, not that pages are more complex in 2010 than they were in 1992. Per Wikipedia, it prints at 600dpi, so if 2MB was enough memory to render a page to print in 1992, it should be enough today. Plus the Wikipedia article says (and this is confirmed via a link to HP’s website) that the maximum amount of memory the printer can support is 34MB. Of course, memory for such an old printer would probably cost more than an entire newer, faster printer. And I’m fairly sure that there are a couple of LaserJet 4 printers still in use somewhere at work.

Now, one reason I got rid of my older laser printer was that it was an HP LaserJet 4L that could only print at 300dpi and that simply wasn’t good enough for documents like forms I downloaded that were created in Adobe Acrobat. (They looked really pixelated when printed.) But it was still capable of printing.

Hmmm. Thanks for that info. I may break the old gal out of mothballs & give it a try. The good news was that (IIRC) it used then-standard memory modules, so I ought to be able to find some someplace if RAM quantity (or RAM failures) are an issue. The price per megabyte will be scary, but I don’t need but a few.

??? Mine’s an el cheapo LaserJet 4L, and only has the basic 1MB RAM and I have no problem printing anything. I use it with MS Word, Excel, and Access, and with WordPerfect, as well as printing web pages and graphics at quite useable quality. Perhaps the problem is with the driver, not the printer.

Yeah, I agree with the others, I think there may be a problem with your printer or driver.

I have a LJ4 in daily service at my office (although slightly newer than yours, I thinks it dates from about 1995), and it works fine. I print invoices from a home grown program, Word docs, Excel spreadsheets, pictures from Photoshop (in b&w of course), pages from the web, etc.

Before you go spend any money on more memory for this printer, I’d run some tests. For example, can you print the test page from the printer control panel? (It doesn’t need to be connected to a computer. You just need paper in the tray and a toner cartridge in the printer.) If the test page is screwed up, adding memory isn’t going to help. If the toner cartridge needs to be replaced, I’m not sure you’d even want to go buy a new one. has an HP-brand toner cartridge for it for $113. For less than that, you can buy a brand-new printer that’s a lot faster than this one.

Wowza. We’ve been using an HP 6MP workhorse in the office for years. Steady and reliable, the only annoyance is the relatively slow print times with PFDs. I just printed a test page and it only has the stock 3MB. Checking Crucial, I can get 16MB modules for about $22 each (printer max memory is 35MB).

Would adding 16MB make a difference in lag between hitting print and the job starting? Would 32MB? Or is it likely that we’ll be relying on our spooler regardless?

The issue with the 2mb limit is the way you set up the printing.
I believe you have to choose the straight to printer option.
Forgot the term for it.
But basically it doesn’t load the print to memory but printer straight.

I think what you mean is:

  1. You can have the printer parse and render the data (which used to be the fastest way to print).
  2. You can have the computer render the data into a bitmap, and just send the bitmap to the printer. Now that computers are so much faster, this is probably the fast way to go, and means that the printer only needs to have enough memory to buffer one page worth of data. Back when I was in the laser printer software business, we called this “rasterizing with the GDI.”

Yep. I’m still using an antique 4L myself. I agree about the pixilation, and the thing is slow as molasses and holds maybe 40 sheets of paper and it’s a pain to load too. But it works perfectly for my needs. It used to be an office printer, so that bad boy has printed some pages in its time.

Fortunately, I just scored a cartridge for it which was sitting around my office. Any printer that it would have been usable for is long gone.

Which brings me to my point–if you need a cartridge for an old Laserjet, it might be worth looking on Craigslist or Freecycle or something.

Or hell, see if you can get a whole printer for free.

I kind of remember having an old printer in the office that had X MB of memory, and somewhere in the driver config you had to specify the amount of memory - it wasn’t detected automatically. So if the printer had 2MB and you told the driver that it had 4MB, your output would be screwed up.

There’s also the option of refilling your laser cartridge yourself; that’s what I did the last time mine ran out. Search around, you’ll find lots of places that’ll sell you a kit. It consists basically of a bottle of the proper toner for your printer, a heat tool, and some metallic tape to seal the hole well. The tool, kinda like a soldering iron with a ring-shaped tip, melts a hole in the cartridge case (they’ll tell you where to make it). Then, you put the toner in, and tape up the hole. Worked like a charm, and much cheaper than a new cartridge. On the downside, you can only refill a cartridge a couple of times before the other parts begin to wear out, but it does save some money (and landfill space) in the meantime.

Oh yeah, my laser printer is an HP 2100M, circa 1999. I’ve upgraded the memory to 24 megs and even added a JetDirect card a couple of years ago; I remember when they used to cost $300 and up, but I got one off eBay for about $10.