Choosing a Printer

Printers are the bane of tech support people. “Why can’t I print?” we are continually asked. Check out this meme:

What makes the meme funny is it’s actually pretty accurate!

I thought today we could discuss printers, and that way when you need to purchase a new one you will pick just the right model for your needs and budget.

Printers can be roughly divided into two groups: inkjet printers and laser printers.

Inkjet printers use cartridges filled with liquid ink. When you print, the printhead squirts tiny dots of the liquid ink onto the paper. Inkjet printers are almost always color printers. Inkjet printers are also on the lower end of the price scale initially; the printer itself tends to be lower priced. The manufacturers make their profits on the ink. One website lists black inkjet printer ink as the 8th most expensive liquid in the world. A gallon of black ink costs $2700, ahead of a gallon of human blood ($1500/gallon)!

That same liquid ink is the cause of one of the major issues with inkjet printers: clogged print heads. If you don’t use an inkjet printer with regularity, the ink inside the printhead will congeal, and the printhead will clog. If you have ever printed and gotten a blank page out of your printer, you know about clogged printheads. Inkjet printers have cleaning cycles that are designed specifically for cleaning a clogged printhead. The humidity here on the coast doesn’t help matters. And, if you are a seasonal resident and your printer will be dormant for many months, the odds of printhead clogging increases. If you are an inkjet printer owner you should consider printing something every week or so, just to make sure the ink is flowing properly.

Laser printers work using technology similar to a photocopier. A powdered ink (toner) is applied to the paper and then a fuser heats and smushes (a highly technical term) the toner onto the paper. Laser printers, using powdered toner, don’t use print heads at all; you don’t have to worry about clogged print head ever! Powdered toner is also less expensive per page. A laser printer toner cartridge will last for thousands of pages. The quality of a laser printer also tends to be better than a consumer inkjet printer.

The benefits of a laser printer come with a price, though. Laser printers have a higher initial cost. A black and white laser printer will sell for the price of a good inkjet printer; you’ll spend a couple hundred dollars on an entry-level laser printer and only print in black and white. A color laser printer will sell for 2-3X the price of a color inkjet. That higher upfront cost will net you cheaper per page cost, though, and less maintenance.

Perhaps this handy flow chart will help. Does your printer need to be color? If no, a laser printer is your best choice. If it does need to be color, is price a concern? If no, get a color laser printer. If yes, a color inkjet. If you choose a color inkjet, remember to print a color page every week or so just to maintain the free flow of ink.