Save Money With These Penny-Pinching Printers
There’s no real difference in cost per page between inkjet multifunction printers (MFPs) and their single-function cousins, but there are more competitors among MFPs. The integrated scanners on these models can save you more ink by converting documents into PDFs or other electronic formats, which you can then distribute electronically instead of printing.
The $200 Kodak ESP 7250 is one of many models that use Kodak’s notably cheap inks. The tricolor cartridge costs only 4.28 cents per page, and the black cartridge costs just 2.35 cents per page. A page with all four colors would cost about 6.6 cents. Kodak also sells a high-yield black, but this cartridge offers only a slightly lower cost per page: 2.2 cents. Ink savings aside, however, Kodak’s multifunction products tend to be average, with plodding speed, fuzzy output quality on plain paper, and mediocre scanners.
Another cheap standout is the Hewlett-Packard Officejet Pro 8500 Wireless All-in-One Printer. This $400 business-oriented model comes with everything you need—Wi-Fi support, a touchscreen, automatic duplexing, and an automatic document feeder—plus lots of paper capacity. Its standard-size inks cost 2.6 cents per page for black, and 2.2 cents per color per page (9.3 cents for a four-color page). The economic picture gets even brighter with the high-yield cartridges: 1.6 cents per page for black, 1.9 cents per color per page; a page containing all four colors would cost a mere 7.2 cents. Text output looked black and fairly crisp. Photos and graphics appeared grainy but had natural colors on plain paper. On HP’s own paper, the images tended to be slightly dark but very smooth.
Canon’s Pixma MX870 is a recent favorite whose inexpensive inks are just one of its fine attributes, which also include Wi-Fi support, automatic duplexing, and two 150-sheet input trays. The Pixma MX870 has a separate print head and five ink tanks. The pigment black (PGI-220) costs $15 and lasts for 524 pages, or 4.62 cents per page. The cyan, magenta, and yellow CLI-221 cartridges cost $13 each and should last for 510 to 535 pages each, which works out to about 2.5 cents per color per page; a page with all four colors would cost about 12.4 cents. The CLI-221 photo black will last for about 814 standard 4-by-6-inch photos, by Canon’s reckoning. Color prints on both plain and photo paper had rich, smooth colors, while text pages looked black and sharp. It’s also worth noting that a slightly older consumer model from Canon, the $150 Pixma MP560, operates with similarly low costs.
A final note on this category: Two Lexmark MFPs—the $300 Pinnacle Pro901 and the $400 Platinum Pro905—can use Lexmark’s 105XL high-yield black cartridge, which costs just $5 and lasts for 510 pages, or a scant penny per page. But the 100XL high-yield black, which also fits these models, is extremely expensive—as are the standard-size 100 cartridges. So be careful what you buy.
Designed simply to print photos at one or more sizes, snapshot printers appeal to convenience, rather than to economy. No longer must you upload images to an online site and wait for them to come back in the mail, or schlep your media card to a local store for one-hour printing—though both of those options cost less per print. Just put your media card into one of the slots, select a few layout or editing options, and out comes a finished print. Most snapshot units print just 4-by-6-inch shots, but Hewlett-Packard sells some models that can print on 5-by-7-inch and 4-by-12-inch paper as well.
Among the snapshot printers we’ve reviewed, Epson’s inkjet-based models have the lowest cost per print. Its $150 PictureMate Charm PM 225 and its $300 PictureMate Show PM 300 both ship with a starter ink cartridge that prints up to 20 images. A replacement pack containing a 150-print cartridge and 150 sheets of paper costs $38, which works out to about 25 cents per print—very economical compared with rival units. Both Epsons also produce quite nice-looking prints.
Color Laser/LED Printers
If you think laser printers are always cheaper than inkjets, think again. Our familiar rule of thumb applies here: The less expensive the printer, the more expensive the consumables. The most economical color laser or LED printers are those designed for high-volume use, which accommodate consumables that may last for tens of thousands of pages.
Kyocera Mita’s FS-C5300DN is very fast, and its operating costs are by far the lowest among color laser models we’ve tested, but it carries a steep list price of $1739. The photoconducting drums (one for each color) and toner supplies are separated to minimize waste. The drums last 200,000 pages apiece, so you’ll take a while to exhaust them. The starter-size toner supplies last an impressive 6000 pages for black and 5000 pages for each color. A full-size, 12,000-page replacement supply of black ink costs 0.9 cents per page, while each 10,000-page color toner supply costs 1.5 cents per page. Color image quality was adequate but unsophisticated. Solid blocks of color, as in pie charts, looked fine, but color photos tended to appear grainy or fuzzy, with a yellowish cast. Grayscale images struggled with subtle gradations and looked too dark overall.
Following close behind the FS-C5300DN is the $799 Oki C610dtn, an LED model. The printer’s output speed is impressive, but you might need to tone down the color palette, which produced ruddy flesh tones and dark or lurid colors. We also noticed grainy or fuzzy qualities in solid-color areas. Its consumables are very economical, though: Separate drums are built to last 20,000 pages each. A full set comes with the printer; replacing them costs about $71 to $77 apiece (per Oki’s estimates—the company does not sell them directly), adding about a third of a cent per color per page to your costs. The starter-size cyan, magenta, yellow, and black toner supplies have a mere 2000-page yield, but the replacements are economical: Black toner costs about 1.1 cents per page; and each color, about 2.6 cents per page. A four-color page would cost just 9 cents—a bargain.
The $1549 Dell 5130cdn Color Laser Printer costs a wee bit more per page than the Oki, but it compensates with far better speed and print quality. It also ships with standard-size supplies (versus the Oki’s paltry starter sizes): a 9000-page black cartridge ($107 to replace) and 6000-page cyan, magenta, and yellow cartridges ($195 each to replace). That’s about 1.2 cents per black page and 3.3 cents per color—or 10.9 cents for a four-color page. High-yield supplies offer greater savings: The 18,000-page black cartridge ($137) costs less than 1 cent per page, and the 12,000-page color cartridges ($245 each) cost about 2 cents per color, adding up to a superlow 6.9 cents for a four-color page.
Pay Now or Pay Later
By now you’ve figured out the pattern in printer economy: The more you pay for the printer up front, the less you’ll pay per page for ink or toner later on. Unfortunately this means that home and student users, who generally have smaller budgets, are signing on for higher per-page expenses in the long term, assuming they stick with brand-name cartridges.
Next: Ink and Toner Costs