Last Saturday, while my wife was doing some shopping, I decided to take a walk to our local Best Buy to browse through all of the new and greatest toys that corporate America has convinced us we can’t live without. In my excursion through the store, and since I had so much time to kill, I stopped by the printing aisle to take a gander at the overload of offerings that were presented. As I viewed the vast display, I wondered how any consumer buying their first printer could make an intelligent decision as they circumvented the maze of different brands offered in this aisle alone. This maze included not only different brands from which the consumer must choose, but also a host of assorted printers that ranged from ink jets to the ever popular all-in-one models (choices included: laser, black and white, color, wireless, wired). However, these were to be just the beginning of the choices the potential owner would need to make since they would then have to determine if they wanted their new printer to limit itself to black and white printing or if they wanted to expand their options and choose one that printed in color — either of which came wireless or wired. Confusing? Not really, once you know what your needs are and which model is right for you.

Ink Jet Vs. Laser

Compared to lasers, ink jet printers are generally less expensive — although this price difference has shrunk over the years. However, long-term maintenance and part replacement — including ink cartridges — may further shrink the overall price difference, making it actually cheaper to own a laser printer. You may question this when you first see that the ink jet printer company may promote sales by offering you a next-to-giveaway price on its product, but the hook is that you are then forced to buy replacement ink jet cartridges from it. Additionally, laser copies actually cost less per copy, which must be considered at the time of purchase. That means that, over time, the cost for ink jet cartridges can be considerably more than one for the laser printer. Armed with this information, the savvy consumer can make an informed choice as to whether they would rather donate to the printer company’s bottom line or keep the extra money that they will save over time.

Wireless Vs. Wired

As most of us already have some form of wireless system set up in our households, wired units might seem like an obsolete throwback. That being said, I might also suggest that, when choosing a wireless option, you may want to consider purchasing a printer that is designed to support all of your wireless toys (such as the Apple iPad, iPod, or iPhone — all of which require a printer that supports iPrint technology).

All-In-One Vs. Standalone Printer

The old-fashioned standalone printer may also be found with either black-and-white capability or with the choice of color printing. However, these units are not as available or popular as the all-in-one ink jet or laser printers that support not only printing, but also the ability to copy, scan and, in some instances, fax. Additionally, most all-in-one models are produced with the ability to print in either black and white or in color, adding to the versatility of these units.


I personally have no brand loyalty, since over the years I have used most of the major brands and have been fortunate enough that I have not experienced any major issues with any of them. In fact, most of the problems I have experienced were not related to any specific brands but to ink jet models in general, whereas the current eight-year-old HP laser printer just keeps on producing page after page. Because I refill its print cartridges at Cartridge World, my per copy cost of using my laser is approximately a penny a page (it prints approximately 5000 copies per cartridge).

HP LaserJet 1100 - Eight Years of Faithful Service

Cartridge Costs

This area is where I will focus since I believe brand choice is irrelevant. By this I mean that, while one should choose a brand name printer, it really is a personal choice as to which brand to buy. However, when making your choice, you need to concentrate your focus on the cost of replacement cartridges. Here’s why:

First, the cost of print cartridges varies wildly. I recall my neighbor receiving a free printer with his laptop purchase only to find that replacement ink jet cartridges, for his unit, cost over $50. The cost does not stop here, however, since some manufacturers have now loaded their printer software with a restriction that won’t allow you to print in black and white if your color cartridge(s) are empty. That means that you have to purchase their overpriced color cartridge in order to use your printer at all. In addition, I was surprised when a Walgreen’s clerk informed me that it will not refill cartridges from certain manufacturers, such as Canon.

Second, using non-OEM refills or refilling the cartridges yourself will void the warranty provided by the manufacturer. However, since most warranties, offered by the manufacturer, are usually limited to one year, I would recommend refills or non-OEM cartridges with a few caveats. These refills may not meet your expectations — if you want to print quality photographs — since the quality of replacement ink in a refill cartridge may not match that provided to the consumer with an OEM cartridge. This is most obvious with ink jet printers with inks that can fade over time.

Therefore, before buying a printer, I would find out if you can refill the cartridges, have them refilled, or buy them cheaper online from a non-OEM supplier. If that doesn’t seem to work for you and you can afford, in the beginning, to bite the bullet, you might really want to buy a laser printer. In the long-term, this will surely provide you with a lower per page cost over that of any ink jet . However, if you only print a few pages a week or less, an ink jet printer could serve you well.

Comments welcome.

Chris gives his take on printers.