How to buy a laser printer

I had to buy a laser printer in a hurry over the weekend. I bought a Samsung ML-2525, which I believe to be a reasonable choice, but not necessarily the best choice I could have made. It’s tiny, whisper quiet, and very fast, and it was on sale for 70 bucks, though sometimes you can get one for as little as $59. At that price, it’s hard for buying it to be a terrible decision.

Please note that this advice is for home and light small-business use. For business use, scroll to the end.For several years, I kept two laser printers on hand: a Lexmark 4039 for volume printing, and a Samsung CLP-300 for color and emergency printing. The Lexmark wore out, and I dragged my feet replacing it, since CLP-300 cartridges cost $15 at 4inkjets.com, making prints from the CLP-300 ring up at just over a penny a page.

That ridiculously low cost per page is the reason I swore off inkjets in 1993. With a little luck, you can get that price per page down even lower than that. But not with an inkjet.

Unfortunately I ran out of toner before my next order of toner came in. So faced with buying a cartridge at retail ($50-$65) or buying a backup printer, I decided to spend a little more right now, get a printer, and have some more options if a printer glitch happens at 9 PM when a bunch of stuff absolutely has to be printed before morning (which has happened before). Printer problems are much easier to fix off deadline.

The Samsung 2525 had the lowest up front cost of any printer I could find at the moment. So that’s what I bought.

What I should have done was look at other printers on the market, visit 4inkjets.com, and compare toner prices. They’ll soon be carrying 2525 toner, for 50 bucks. That comes out to a reasonable but not earth-shattering 2 cents per page. I do expect that price to fall with time, as it did with the CLP-300.

Had I looked more, I would have seen that there are Brother printers with toner cartridges that cost half as much. The up-front cost would be higher (around $99 right now), but I probably would have made up the difference after the second toner cartridge.

Better still, if you have the luxury of time, is to determine which printers currently on the market have the most economical aftermarket toner cartridges, look for any other features you might want (such as networking and duplex printing), then watch the Sunday papers for a sale.

It’s entirely possible that the cost of Samsung 2525 cartridges will come down in time, perhaps even by the time I’ve used up my second one. In the meantime, 2 cents per page still isn’t bad, and the print driver shares some components between the two printers, so I only have to deal with one printer company’s bloat on my computers rather than two.

And what if you’re buying a printer for medium or large offices? You figure out how many pages per month you’re going to print, and you buy the appropriate HP printer. Nothing else offers the combination of software compatibility and reliability of HP’s business-class printers, and there was a time when I would have had the pay stubs to prove it.

Other brands will offer cheaper toner, but if your service contract allows using third-party or refilled toner, that can negate some of the difference. The time you don’t spend paying someone like me to work out printer glitches will more than make up for the rest.

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