When shopping for a laser printer the last thing someone wants is to buy one that doesn’t work as it’s supposed to or one that winds up costing more than anticipated. You want a printer that will be an asset not a liability. If you’ve read thePrinterJam posts about which printer is right for you, then you know which one you’re looking for. When buying a laser printer here are a few things to look for and few to avoid. The tips on buying an inkjet are here.

Color or Black & White?

The first thing to consider is whether you need to print in color or just black & white. Unlike an inkjet printer, there is a big cost difference between a color and monochrome laser printer. Next is how much printing you anticipate doing. Generally people will find they print more with a laser printer because the supplies last so much longer. Having a rough idea of a monthly duty cycle and whether color or monochrome laser printer is needed will go a long way to narrow down which printer is the right one to buy.

Laser Printer Supplies

laser printer

All laser printers require toner, have a drum, developer, and fuser. Color laser printers will have those as well as a  transfer belt. The cost to manufacture the individual components is similar across brands. Whether they are combined or separate units will determine how varied the price is for supplies. Combined units tend to cost more than the separate unit system but are easier to change. Separate units may save money but keeping track of 3 types of supplies is more complicated. HP usually combines the drum, developer, and toner into one unit. Brother and Kyocera tend to have separate units for the drum, developer and toner.

Supply Yields

To help determine costs, the type and amount of supply items should be available in the documentation for the laser printer you are considering. The drum may cost more but lasts 5x longer than the toner. Toner is the supply changed the most and those rarely last less than 1,000 pages. Not all printers have them but If available I would recommend the high yield cartridges. Laser printer supplies won’t dry out, so if even if it takes longer to use up the high yield cartridges they save money in the long run. In my experience most manufacturers have a ballpark figure for the cost, for example toner may cost $65 for several types of printers. However, the yields may vary from 1,000-5,000 pages. Factoring in the yields will give a more accurate representation of the cost to operate the printer.

How to Tell Which Laser Printer is the Most Durable

When determining which printer to buy check the documentation for the specs on the size and type of paper. Even if you don’t plan on printing on heavier paper it is important to know the maximum thickness of paper. The thicker the paper specs the more durable the fuser and feed rollers. For example, if two laser printers have the same speed, the one capable of printing on thicker paper will be more durable.

The characteristics of the fuser tell a lot about the printer. Basic printers handle 40-45lbs paper. Production printers can handle 110lbs cardstock. If the specs get above 50lbs that’s pretty good for the small office market. If a manufacturer designs a printer capable of printing on 60lbs paper it will also give some consideration to make sure the feeding system is also capable of feeding that heavy of paper. The heavier the weight of paper the printer can handle, the more durable the printer.

Another feature of the fuser is how easy it is to replace. Some come out without any tools. Some require all the covers to be removed. The printers with a fuser that comes out easily are ones designed to last through several lifetimes of fusers. Others are probably meant to be discarded when the original fuser wears out. It depends on the cost of the printer vs the cost of a fuser. An $80 printer probably best to get a new one. A $300 printer would be worth the $100 investment of a new fuser. In my experience fusers last at least 120,000 pages, 200,000 seems to be the average.

Warranty Program

A generous warranty program can save money in supplies and ensure you get the most from your printer over it’s lifetime. Some manufacturers have a limited warranty even though they have a good product. Kyocera has a lifetime warranty as long as the consumable items are replaced at the required intervals. By consumables they mean any item that gets used up, fuser, feed rollers, transfer roller, drum, or developer. Supplies are the items replaced by the end user such as toner or paper. Depending on the manufacturer there is some crossover, image units are sometimes considered supply items.

Laser Printer Speed

The speed difference between 20 and 40 pages per minute is noticeable. The difference between 35 and 45 pager per minute not so much. Naturally you want the fastest laser printer you can afford, but be sure to consider other factors as well. Hard to change supplies can be as aggravating as a slow printer. Memory can play a lesser role in speed. Unless you print mail merges regularly 32mb should be adequate for most printing needs. Above 256mb is nice but only necessary for printing needs such as high resolution color images or mail merges.

Those are the features that help me determine which printer is right for me when I’m shopping for a laser printer. They give me a rough idea of operating costs and the durability of the printer. It may help eliminate one printer or add another to the ones I’m considering.

•Supply items required for operation
•Supply yields
•High paper weight specifications
•Good warranty program

These are the features I would avoid having the next time I buy a printer. It may be difficult to find a printer that doesn’t have at least one of these features. Keeping these to a minimum or  just knowing they can be an issue will help figure out which printer is right for you.

•Inadequate feed system
•Lack of Page Description Languages (PDL)

Inadequate Feed System

The better feed systems consist of a pick-up, feed, and separation roller. Some will have a separation pad instead of a roller. Others have no separation pad or roller, instead rely on just the right amount of pressure to feed a singe sheet. If most of what you print is standard 20lb paper the ones lacking a separation roller or pad should be adequate. If you plan on printing a lot of different types or weights of paper look for a separation pad or roller.  Or at least an auxiliary tray, sometimes called a manual or bypass tray, to feed sheets of different types or weights.

How to tell which printer has which feed system? Look in the area paper is loaded or on the cassette that pulls out. See if there is a greyish rectangular rubber pad or roller. Some may have a cork pad, which usually indicated a pick-up roller. If you can’t see either a pad or roller chances are it will be the pressure type. Those typically will have a slanted faced ray so the paper stack doesn’t sit square but rather spreads out.

The Printer Jam has a guide on how to clear paper jams should the printer happen to jam.

Page Description Language

A page description language is commonly known as a print driver. I’ve written about which print driver is best to use before. Basically, the more PDL’s a printer supports the more options there are if any issues arise down the road. Printing slow, missing images, printing black boxes instead of images, not printing at all from specific apps are symptoms of a corrupt or incompatible print driver. Being able to switch to another print driver is the easiest workaround.

If the printer only supports one print driver it isn’t necessarily a deal breaker. It probably won’t be an issue printing common type files and apps. Also, there are ways to workaround a printer that supports a single PDL.


I may be a bit biased on this one since I fix them for a living, but being able to easily add toner or clear a jam is a nice feature. Not many printers are like that though, which is fine. It’s the ones that seem over the top complicated that I would avoid. For example, loading paper is going to be a regular activity for any printer. Suppose the cassette doesn’t pull out all the way to give easy access to load paper. Worse are the ones you have to guess whether the paper feels all the way in or not. That would influence which printer I choose.

The next time you are shopping for a laser printer I hope these tips will help you find one that will get the most return in your investment.

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