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Colour Laser or Colour Inkjet for small workgroups? The argument is greatly misunderstood.

Issue #0803/1 – Most observers consider colour laser printers to be more economical per page than inkjet printers. While this is true for some laser printers against some inkjet printers, it most definitely is not true across the board.

With major manufacturers turning more and more to Cashback offers as a means of increasing printer sales, we take a look at three current deals and compare the advantages, disadvantages and costs of running a business inkjet device as opposed to a colour laser device. The three devices on offer in one store right now are Hewlett-Packard’s Officejet L7780 business inkjet All-in-One and LaserJet 2605dn colour laser printer and Lexmark’s C530dn colour laser printer.

Probably the main reason for making this comparison is the fact that these three offers are on machines that can be considered to be directly competitive at a printing level and place the bottom line purchase cost of the inkjet AiO considerably HIGHER than either of the colour laser printers.

Now, clearly the Officejet L7780 has the advantage of being an All-in-One rather than a single function printer but, after all, this has to be factored into the equation because there is clear benefit in multi-functionality and the normal street price of the machine is not the highest of the three, falling between the Colour LaserJet 2605dn and the C530dn. These laser printers have advantages and benefits of their own.

So, the starting point is that these three devices are available at a very similar price under normal street price conditions.

However, Hewlett-Packard’s Colour LaserJet 2605dn – normally the most expensive printer – becomes the least expensive after the massive £175 (63%) cashback and the C530dn also significantly undercuts the Officejet L7780 after the 40% cashback.

In terms of straight purchase price, therefore, the decision is something of a no-brainer. The CLJ2605dn is the cheapest, at less than half price – and, it is a colour laser printer!

UK Normal price
(UK Street ex. VAT)
Cashback Discounted price
(ex. VAT)
Officejet L7780
£269.78 £100 £169.78
Colour LaserJet 2605dn
£277.44 £175 £102.44
£249.35 £100 £149.35

Purchase Price with Cashback

Colour Laser vs Business Inkjet

As if being a colour laser printer is not enough, both the CLJ2605dn and the C530dn are also duplex-ready and network-ready out of the box. These have to rank as huge benefits for such a low purchase price.

But, and this is a very BIG BUT, the L7780 is not only a multi-function All-in-One, it is a four-function print/copy/scan/fax machine; is duplex ready; network ready; wireless-ready; has a 50-sheet ADF; AND has a 600-sheet standard paper input capacity from two sources. That is a phenomenal specification for a machine that can currently be purchased for only £169.78 before tax.

Taking all of this into account, it is necessary to go quite a long way up the colour laser AiO range – with purchase prices to match – to find a device to do anything like the same job.

Print speed on the L7780, when compared with laser printers, does not really sound very impressive. It is rated at 12ppm in mono and 10ppm in colour but this is quoted for laser/correspondence quality printing. The speed more usually quoted for draft print mode is rather more impressive at 35ppm in mono and 34ppm in colour, driven by the wide, Scalable Printing Technology (SPT) dual print heads.

These correspondence quality print speeds actually only match the speeds of the CLJ2605dn and the C530dn is actually a much faster (single-pass) printer, at 22ppm in mono and 21ppm in colour. It also has PostScript emulation in addition to PCL 5c and PCL 6. As a printer then, the C530dn is excellent value at purchase and is untouchable by either of the other models for speed – but only on speed.

While Hewlett-Packard’s CLJ2605dn also has PCL 5c and PCL 6, together with PostScript 3 emulation, it offers a paper capacity of only 250 sheets out of the box, with a second 350-sheet optional tray that takes total capacity to 500 sheets (at extra cost). For its part, the C530dn offers 350-sheet capacity out of the box but with no expansion options.

Even taking the multifunction characteristics out of the equation, neither laser printer has as large a paper capacity as the L7780, neither has wireless networking capability and neither can produce lab quality photographs. The L7780 offers it all and offers multi-functionality into the bargain.

So, in terms of functionality and features, there is absolutely no comparison between the L7780 inkjet AiO and the two single-function colour laser printers.

Turning to the Cost of Printing of these devices, the economy of the L7780 comes from the use of large (high capacity) individual ink tanks. Yielding a fantastic 2,450 pages from the black cartridge and 1,750 pages from each of the three colour cartridges, the yields from this inkjet device are not far short of the yields from the CLJ2605dn.

Lexmark’s C530dn, on the other hand, has high capacity cartridges with very respectable toner yields of 4,000 pages for the black cartridge and 3.000 pages from each colour cartridge.

Unfortunately, this does nothing for its economy! With colour cartridges likely to cost users more than five times the cost of colour ink tanks for the L7780, the individual cost per page for each colour toner is about 2.8x higher than the cost per page of each colour ink. The situation is not quite as bad in black but the toner still costs more than twice as much per page as the ink.

This means – – that over three years, a low-volume user will have spent twice as much money on either of the laser printers as on the inkjet. At higher print volumes, that factor will rise to nearly 2.4x.

UK Laser quality
print speed
Total expenditure
(3yrs) Light user
Total expenditure
(3yrs) Heavy user
Officejet L7780
£438.69 £1612.36
Colour LaserJet 2605dn
£850.64 £3742.64
£911.32 £3868.01

Note: Light use is 500 pages per month; Heavy use is 2,500 pages per month. The total expenditure over three years shown in the accompanying table and chart is calculated on the basis of 70% pages in mono and 30% pages in colour; is based on the use of maximum capacity supplies; takes into account any standard, or starter, supplies shipped with the device; and also includes the cost of purchase. All prices are street prices without tax.

Total Expenditure

Colour Laser vs Business Inkjet

So, the question is, what do you as a user need from a printer and how much are you prepared to pay for it??

If the answer is that toner pages are a must-have because those pages are sent to important customers who need to be impressed, then fair enough, the cost of a laser printer is entirely justified and the payback to you as a business will reflect that cost.

If, on the other hand, those pages are transitory and for internal use only – never existing for more than a few hours or days, or perhaps only existing longer because they are file copies locked away in a dark filing cabinet – then there is no question that laser printing is a waste of money, money that could be invested more effectively in a new piece of equipment that would increase productivity or rewarding hard working employees, thus encouraging them to be more productive and loyal.

But, to waste money on a laser printer just because it is a laser printer, and therefore ‘cool’, when an inkjet printer would have allowed more than 50% of the total expenditure to be saved, is just bad management.

Colour laser printers are nice pieces of equipment, and colour laser AiOs are even better – they are certainly ‘cool’ and look impressive in the office. But that is not the point. In today’s economic environment no one has money to burn and purchasing decisions need to be made on the basis of need and Return on Investment.

Sometimes it seems as though corporations find it easier to make thousands of employees redundant (thus incurring massive redundancy costs) than to make a sensible decision about their printing fleet.

It is the scenarios that fall between the two extremes above that cause difficult decisions. For instance, page throughput might be high enough to justify a laser printer even though most output is for internal use rather than external, customer-facing use. If this is the case, then a laser printer with lower running costs should be chosen instead of one of the ones highlighted here.

What this situation actually emphasises is the fact that manufacturers are not really interested in making money from the hardware. They have to charge for it to maintain a level of respectability. They are interested in the revenue from consumables only. The pricing of the machine itself is an undesirable necessity that they would gladly dispense with if it were possible.

Cashback offers are a very good way for the manufacturers to artificially reduce the effective purchase price while retaining the respectability of a list price and street price somewhere above zero.

To satisfy the demands of increasing numbers of printer sales into corporations, large organisations and the larger small businesses or SMEs where multiple printers are required, there are even a number of Buy One Get One Free offers currently available on some laser printers.

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