TIPS: Buying An Inkjet Printer
Inkjet printers are the workhorses of home and office. There are hundreds of different models available, each offering dozens of features. Buying an inkjet printer can be confusing unless you know which options are really important. The good news is, inkjet printers are dirt cheap. The bad news: buying the wrong inkjet printer (even a cheap one) can be very expensive. Here's what you need to know...
Inkjet Printers: What to Know Before You Shop
What's important when you're buying an inkjet printer? The price tag is the first thing many shoppers look for. But don't stop there. Typically, the bargain printers have much higher printing costs to offset the low initial cost. In fact, some inkjets are sold as loss-leader items, because the manufacturers know that sales of ink cartridges is where they make the real money.
Pay attention to the estimated cost per page figures when shopping for a printer. And do a little research to see if your printer is a good candidate for compatible off-brand cartridges or remanufactured inkjet printer cartridges. My article, Should You Buy Discount Ink Cartridges? goes into detail on this issue, and the reader comments contain some valuable real-world insights.
Other factors to consider are speed (pages per minute) for both black and color printing, paper tray capacity, and connectivity. Does the printer come with a USB cable? Can it operate wirelessly?
Home users who want to print photos should see if the inkjet can handle photo paper, and carefully check the specs on both cost and speed. Business users may need duplexing, the ability to print on envelopes and legal-size paper, or the faxing and scanning features found on all-in-one inkjet printers. My article, Five Inexpensive Photo Printers features several printers that do all of these tasks and more.
Print speed may not matter too much in light-duty home printing applications, but in a business setting time is money. You have to take manufacturers' ratings with a grain of salt; some advertised print speeds may refer only to draft-quality black-only prints. Look for the "ISO ppm" speed, which is the international standard for measuring print speed. Be sure to dig into print speeds of printing applications that truly matter to you.
Inkjets for Home and Small Business Users
Let's look at a couple of inkjet printers to see how these specs matter in the real world, for home, home office and small business users.
The HP Deskjet 1000 is a decent low-volume inkjet printer that anyone should be able to afford. Amazingly, the printer itself sells for around $29 online. The Deskjet 1000 is aimed at home users (PC or Mac), is easy to set up, and powers on quickly. The standard black ink cartridge ($14) is rated for 190 pages, and the XL high capacity cartridge ($28) at 480 pages. For color printing, expect 165 pages from the standard ($19) and 330 pages from the XL cartridge ($30). So using the XL cartridges, you can expect a cost of about 5 cents/page (black) or 9 cents/page (color).
I'd call that pretty good for a super-low-cost inkjet. On the downside, the HP Deskjet 1000's paper tray holds only 60 sheets, and you have to supply your own USB cable to connect it to the computer. There are lots of 4 and 5 star reviews on Amazon, but more than a few negative comments as well. Is it worth it? Hmmm, did I mention that it costs 29 bucks?
For an additional $40 or so, the HP Deskjet 3510 throws in a lot more value: WiFi connectivity, scanner/copier, a monochrome LED display for previewing before printing, and free apps that make printing from smartphones or tablets a breeze. It also does borderless printing for photos, flyers, and similar documents. Its tricolor ink cartridge costs around $29 (about 9 cents/page); black ink is $27 for two cartridges (7.5 cents/page).
The $69 Epson Workforce 30 Inkjet printer is a no-frills single-function machine that just prints. But it prints two times faster than competitors, which can be important in a business environment (ISO speeds of 16 ISO ppm (Black), and 5.5 ISO ppm (Color)). Four individual ink cartridges mean less wasted ink; just replace the color that’s run out instead of all three. Individual ink cartrides are only around $14; all-black text pages will cost about 6 cents each, while color pages run around 12 cents.
The Epson WorkForce Pro WP-4020 color inkjet wireless printer ($119) is a good choice for a small office. Wireless connectivity makes it easy to set up the printer wherever you need it, and even move it around without the hassle of messy cables. The WP-4020 has impressive two-sided print speeds of 9.2 ISO ppm (black) and 7.1 ISO ppm (color). In fact, Epson calls it "the World's Fastest auto two-sided printer."
The WP-4020's paper tray holds 330 sheets, and extra-large ink cartridges allow you to print several reams of paper. The 676XL Black cartridge sells for around $39 and is rated at 2400 pages. That's under 2 cents per page, which is very impressive.
Focus on Speed and Ink Cost
For most users, ink cartridge cost and print speed are the biggest differentiators in inkjet printers. If you're a home user who needs to print only a few pages per day, a low-cost, no-frills inkjet should work well. A home office or small business user can actually save significant money by purchasing a more expensive inkjet with a lower cost of operation. (If you print lots of full-page color sheets, a color laser printer will probably be even cheaper in the long run.)
Keep in mind that the manufacturers cost per page figures may not line up with your actual usage. They are estimates at best, and your actual cost will depend on how much of the page you're filling. For example, printing out a short email in black & white will use much less ink than a page that's filled with text from top to bottom. But they both count as a "page." With color printing, it's even harder to guess. A brochure with a colored background, or an 8x10 color photo, will use a lot more ink than a printout of a page with a white background and a few colored elements.
I'm not terribly brand sensitive when it comes to printers. I do love my HP OfficeJet Pro All-in-One but Canon, Epson, Kodak and Lexmark also make good products. Check out the computer magazine reviews for a specific model, but don't rely completely on them. To avoid editorial bias and get real-world customer opinions look also at user reviews on Amazon and Epinions before making your decision on which inkjet printer to buy.
Do you have a favorite inkjet printer, or one you think others should avoid? Post your comment or question below...
Posted by Bob Rankin on 12 Feb 2013
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