When it comes to inkjet and laser printers I frequently get asked, which is cheaper? Ultimately ink tank printers emerge as the cheapest printer. Yet a typical inkjet printer is more expensive in the long run than a basic laser printer.
Tank printers are breaking the mold when it comes to operating expenses. Even though it’s an inkjet printer it’s operating costs are much lower than any printer. In the past a laser printer was cheaper as far as price per page. Now, tank printers come it at a lower price and extremely low price per page.
A tank printer isn’t much different than other inkjet printers. They use ink, have a print head, are roughly the same size, and come with similar features as other inkjet printers. The main difference is ink comes in a bottle instead an ink cartridge.
It’s like getting an inkjet printer where the ink cartridges last 6,000 pages instead of only 1,00 pages for the same price. By using a bottle instead of ink cartridges you aren’t forced to replace a cartridge that’s only half empty or buy OEM cartridges.
If I didn’t know any better I’d think manufacturers have been gouging people for years with expensive ink cartridges. Tank printers are only refilling ink though, not replacing print heads with every new ink cartridge.
At any rate, tank printers have lower operating costs than any other type of printer. Much lower than laser printers. It’s surprising that an inkjet printer is simultaneously the most and least expensive way to print.
The factors involved for determining the cheapest printer are:
- Initial cost
- Price per page
- Print volume
Inkjet and laser printers come with similar features, so just the basics are compared.
Inkjet vs Laser Initial Cost
Inkjet printers range in price from $50 to $1200. From the cheap basic inkjet printer to professional quality inkjet printers.
On the other hand, laser printers range in price from $100 to $8,000. Once you get above $1,500 laser printers are considered a business class multi-function printer (MFP).
Business class laser printers are serviceable. Meaning as parts wear out they are replaced. You don’t throw it away and get a new one after 20,000 pages. Repairs are less expensive than replacing it since it’s expected to last over 100,000 pages.
From what I’ve seen tank printers can’t compete with business class laser printers yet. Until they make a tank printer with replaceable parts that can last a million pages or more, laser printers aren’t going away.
The line between retail and business printers is where it’s cheaper to get a new one than repairing it. Epson makes some high end tank printers to compete with laser printers. Laser printers are still faster but the Epson has much lower operating costs.
In my experience laser printers tend to cost more than either type of inkjet printer. Tank printers typically cost more than cartridge based inkjet printers more than make up the difference with their low price per page.
Inkjet vs Laser Price Per Page
In my experience cartridge based inkjet printers cost between 15 to 25 cents per color page and between 5 to 8 cents per B&W page. This is an average inkjet from Canon or HP.
Toner costs between 8 to 14 cents per color page and between 1 to 3 cents per B&W page. This is an average laser printer from HP, Canon, Brother, or Lexmark.
While ink tank printers cost less than 1 cent per page regardless whether its color or monochrome. This is an average super tank printer from HP, Epson, Canon, or Brother.
The price per page has little impact at low volumes. If you’re only printing 1,000 pages a year lower operating costs aren’t going to make up the difference in price.
In my experience this is why it’s hard to justify buying a more expensive laser printer. They cost more and a set of supplies can cost nearly as much as the printer itself. This is not an issue if you’re printing 100,000 pages per year. It is if you’re only printing 1,000 pages a year.
This graph shows how the initial price, price per page, and volume work together. The cheapest printer out of the box is going to be an inkjet printer. It doesn’t take much printing before a tank printer makes up the difference in initial price. It also remains as the cheapest way to print as long as the printer lasts.
Inkjet vs Laser Print Volume
In my experience people who use inkjet printers buy a new one every year. They rarely make 5,000 pages before replacing their printer.
At lower print volumes, the initial cost is outweighs the price per page. In other words, if you’re only going to use a printer to print 1,000 pages then throw it away, an inkjet printer is a good option.
Replacing an inkjet printer year after year adds up though. After a while the cost of one laser printer and its supplies would’ve been cheaper than several inkjet printers.
In my experience any inkjet or laser printer can last for 50,000 pages barring any errors or broken parts. The problem is how long it takes to print 50,000 pages.
Some business easily print that much every month. While a home printer could take 50 years to print that much. Supplies become obsolete after 10 years, rubber feed rollers deteriorate after 20 years.
Depending on volume initial price is more important than price per page.
Tank vs Laser Printer
Laser printers are made to handle large volumes of printing. While inkjet printers are made to be cheap. I think the fact they have terrific print quality is an unintentional side effect. Nonetheless inkjet printers are good at printing photos.
It’s a bit like comparing a truck and a sports car. They’re both vehicles but with entirely different purposes in mind. I wouldn’t use a truck in a race any more than I’d use a sports car to haul supplies.
While a tank printer makes inkjet printing cheaper, it’s still an inkjet printer at heart. It has a print head, cleaning station, encoder strip, and everything else that goes wrong with inkjet printers. It’s slow and going to struggle to last 50,000 pages without some maintenance.
If you want to save money a tank printer is the way to go. Unless you need to print tens of thousands of pages per month. Then a business class laser printer is the way to go.
A laser printer uses toner, has a drum, is usually larger, but comes with similar features. Either type of printer is available with duplex, document feeder, connectivity options, and extra paper trays. Laser printers don’t require much maintenance beyond replacing supplies.
If they made a business class tank printer, I’d recommend it. To compare a retail tank printer to a business class laser printer is apples to oranges. As for a retail laser printer to a retail ink tank printer, the tank printer is cheaper by far.
Ink vs Toner Cost
Ink and toner use similar pigments but that’s about all they have in common. Ink is a liquid whereas toner is a powder. Toner is measured by weight while ink is measured in volume.
The average toner cartridge costs $100. While the average ink cartridge costs $25. In my experience ink cartridges only yield 1,00 pages while toner cartridges yield 1,500 pages.
Both type of cartridges come in standard and high capacity. Which effectively double their yield while also slightly lowering their cost per page. I’ve found it’s always more cost effective to buy high yield cartridges for either type of printer.
As far as costs, bottles of ink are cheaper than toner which runs over $2,000 a gallon. While ink cartridges still cost several thousand dollars a gallon, more than expensive Champaign or perfume. Sold in 120ml bottles, ink only costs $600 per gallon.
The cheapest printer isn’t necessarily the least expensive way to print. As soon as you make several hundred prints with a cartridge based inkjet printer, it’s total cost of ownership has grown into ink tank printer territory.
Until tank printers came along, laser printers were cheaper than inkjet printers. Tank printers can’t handle large volumes of printing like some laser printers can.
However, based in factors such as initial cost, price per page, and median print volume. Tank printers emerge as the cheapest way to print.
The cost per page of laser printers is lower than inkjet printers. While laser printers are cheaper to run, due to their initial price and expensive supplies it takes at least 5,000 pages to break even.
It’s like asking which is better a rake or shovel? Both are tools but a rake makes a terrible shovel and visa versa. An inkjet printer has good photo quality. Whereas a laser printer is good for high volumes of printing. I wouldn’t use an inkjet printer if I had to print 5,000 pages per month. Nor would I use a laser printer to print photos.
A laser printer doesn’t have good photo print quality. Their color print quality is more than adequate for business purposes.
You can get an Inkjet printers cheaper than a laser printer. But the inkjet printer operating costs are higher. If you print 20,000 pages on each printer, a laser printer emerges as the cheapest.
The Copier Guy, aka Dave. I’ve worked on scanners, printers, copiers, and faxes since 1994. When I’m not fixing them I’m writing about them. Although, I’m probably better at fixing them. I’ve worked with every major brand. As well as several types of processes. If it uses paper I’ve probably worked on one.