Thursday, April 24, 2014

How to Lower the Cost of Printing at your Home or Small Office

So its about time I stop speculating about the locations of missing airplanes and return to consumer products. Today I take on how to get the biggest bang for your buck printing at home. If you're like me, you are sick of how much you spend on printing supplies. In this age of Murphy's Law where we spend less and less on technology for more and more features, desktop printing is the notable exception. I spend far more today than I did in the 1990s. I don't print a lot; I would guess somewhere around 50 pages per month with the majority related to my kids' school projects. I researched the choices out there and found that the best option is to ditch your color inkjet printer and buy a solid monochrome laser printer with an affordable toner cartridge. The $99 Brother HL-2270DW Compact Laser Printer provides the best combination of features, dependability and value of any printer out there.

How printer manufacturers make money:

Inkjet printer companies borrowed heavily from the loss leader marketing plan made famous by Gillette in the 1920s. Gillette gave away its handle for free and made their money on the consumable razors. Similarly you can pick up a color inkjet printer at dirt cheap prices and then pay a lot for replacement cartridges. I purchased my last inkjet printer for $49 and with refills costing $60. I was only able to print 300 to 400 pages per refill making my cost between $0.16 and $0.20 per page. 

To artificially keep the costs of replacement cartridges high inkjet manufacturers do the following:
  1. Modify the dimensions of the cartridge for every new printer so that its harder for 3rd parties to copy them. Seriously the US Treasury has nothing on the guys who design these cartridges. Have you been to Costco or Staples and seen the amount of printer cartridges?   
  2. Then they implant a microchip such that the "replace toner cartridge" message does not go away if you buy a third party cartridge or refill the ink yourself.
  3. Lastly they threaten to void the warranty if you use third party cartridges. 
"I have to be able to print in color" and other myths
  1. I need a color printer so I can print out photographs.  Ask yourself when you last printed a color photo?  I did this last in 2008 or 2009.
  2. My kids need to print in color for their school projects. Not true. They have options to print in color at school, can print in monochrome and color with crayon or felt, or they can simply print the job at a local Fedex Kinko's or other store. 24 hour printing facilities let you print from home and then you can pick it up at your convenience.
  3. Laser printers are too big and expensive for the home. It turns out that manufacturers have significantly reduced both price and size and you can buy laser printers for as little as $100.
My Search:

I started by looking up HP LaserJet 4 printers from yesteryear.  I remember them as workhorse printers that needed minimal maintainence and printed thousands of pages per cartridge. You can still buy them but I soon realized that I need a modern feature set.  So I came up with the following requirements:

1. Monochrome laser printer
2. Let's me print from both PCs and Macs.
3. WiFi printing.
4. iOS printing for my iPhone and iPad.
5. Printer cost of less than $200
6. Replacement toner costs of less than $40

Searching far and wide, I find that the Brother HL-2200 line of home printers to be the ideal blend of form, functionality and cost that met all my requirements and be picked up at Amazon for less than $100. It prints via USB or wireless; 27 pages per minute; no issues connecting to it from my Windows, Mac and iPhone devices; perfect.  One note is that the iOS printing capability is via a Brother app; it is isn't perfect but I find I can use it to print quite easily. As far as toner it can print a thousand plus pages on one cartridge and has widely available and cheap replacement cartridges. A high capacity TN450 replacement cartridges for this model prints out 2,600 pages and can be purchased for $40 from Brother or for as little as $10 for a generic. This means that your cost per page printing is down to less than half a penny per page if you use a generic cartridge replacement*.

Note that it's not a brand new model; it was released in 2011 and has established a track record of performance and reliability.  Brother has released newer models but I found the 2270DW reviews to be the highest on average.
Best Value: Brother HL 2270DW Laser Printer

Options to save money if you want to stick with your color inkjet
  1. Even if your life depends on it, do not purchase a printer that requires four separate ink cartridges.
  2. Costco has an ink refill program but its not so great; ink quality is not as sharp. These cartridges are built to not last forever so refilling results in diminishing quality.  Secondly many of these cartridges have to be reset which sometimes the Costco guys forget to do. So you end having to go back every so often.  
  3. Thinking about refilling cartridges yourself? Forgetaboutit! Refilling a cartridge requires the precision of a jeweler and the patience of a monk.
In summary consider how important it is for you to print in color at home, explore online printing solutions and seriously think about ditching your inkjet for a laser.

*Update June, 2014

Changing the toner using a generic cartridge proved to be difficult.  I kept getting a "Replace Toner" message when using the new generic toner. You have to reset the Toner Sensor to get it to work.
1. Open the front cover and leave open.
2. Turn the printer off.
3. Press the 'GO' button while turning the printer on until the lights come on. (On mine three out of four came on).
4. Release the 'GO' button.
5. Press the 'GO' button two times.
6. Wait for a couple of seconds.
7. Press the 'GO' button 5 times. The toner light should be off and the paper light should be on or flashing.
8. Close cover. The ready light should be the only light on.