The Cheapskate's Guide to Printing

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Technology Face-Off: The Best and the Cheapest

Part of printing smart involves using the right printer for the job. None of the major technologies--monochrome laser, color ink jet, color laser--is perfect for everyone. Below are representative models of each major technology, along with prices and per-page costs (based on industry-standard assumptions of 5 percent coverage per color per page), as well as general text- and photo-quality ratings and best uses.

Color lasers offer the best balance of image quality and consumables cost, but only if your printing volume justifies the hefty purchase price. Ink jets offer low initial costs and the best photo quality, but ink and photo paper costs can rise quickly (photos will often require 100 percent ink coverage per page). Workhorse monochrome lasers are best for offices of any size that want to print just text documents.

Monochrome Office Laser

Brother HL-5040

  • Purchase cost: $229
  • Toner cost per text page: 2 cents
  • Toner cost per page of graphics: 6 cents
  • Text quality: Outstanding
  • Gray-scale images: Fair
  • Best for: plain text and rudimentary graphics

Ink Jet

HP Deskjet 5150

  • Purchase cost: $100
  • Ink cost per text page: 4 cents
  • Ink cost per color page: 13 cents (cost based on standard inks and default settings on plain paper)
  • Text quality: Good
  • Photo quality: Outstanding
  • Best for: art and photos

Color Laser

Samsung CLP-500

  • Purchase cost: $699
  • Toner cost per text page: 1.7 cents
  • Toner cost per color page: 8.1 cents
  • Text quality: Very good
  • Color graphics: Good
  • Best for: color business documents
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