Printer Buying Guide

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Printer Buying Guide: Shopping Smart

Ink and Toner Costs: Getting a Handle on the Numbers

The money you pay for any printer doesn't stop with the hardware purchase; you also have to consider the ongoing costs for replacing the ink or toner supplies. For many inkjet printers, in particular, the cost of replacement cartridges can quickly outstrip the initial cost of the printer. Don't be tempted by a printer's features without also checking on its cost of consumables. Here's how we calculate the cost for our printer reviews.

1) A little shopping: We get the current price of each cartridge from the printer vendor's own Website. If the vendor doesn't sell the cartridges directly, we average the prices collected from three or more major online retailers.

2) A little research: All inkjet printer vendors publish yield data for their ink cartridges--how many pages a cartridge can print before it runs dry. Most vendors' yields are based on an industry-standard measuring tool, a specific suite of documents printed at specific settings so that the results are comparable among different models. Finding the yields can sometimes require a bit of digging; feel free to explore, and don't hesitate to bug the vendor for guidance if you can't find what you're looking for easily.

3) A little math: For each color, we divide the price of the cartridge by the page yield to get the cost per color per page. If a printer offers high-yield cartridges as well as standard-size ones, we gather the prices for both kinds of cartridges.

The resulting costs per color per page will give you an idea of how much the printer will cost you in ink or toner. It's important to note that your mileage may vary depending on what you actually print on a day-to-day basis, and how much you print.

One more tip: Check the printer's "what's in the box" information to see whether you're getting full-size ink or toner cartridges, or lower-capacity, starter-size supplies. It isn't unusual for lower-end laser or LED printers to come with starter cartridges; some snapshot printers give you just a few shots' worth of ink, forcing you to buy a full set right away. Avoiding this trick is getting harder, but at least you'll be aware of it.

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