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Color Laser Printers at Bargain Prices

Aberrant Pricing Policies

For this comparison, we chose the least expensive models on the market, priced in the neighborhood of around $500. That's why you won't see models from Lexmark or Brother, whose least expensive products are priced beyond $600. The four laser (or LED) color printers we chose to review are:

  • Dell 300cn ( multi-pass laser, network)
  • HP Color LaserJet 2600n (one-pass laser, network)
  • Oki C3200 (one-pass LED)
  • Samsung CLP-510 (multi-pass laser)

Before getting into the meat of the subject, we have to make an important remark about the prices of the printers themselves compared to the price of their consumables. If you calculate the cost of replacing all four toner cartridges, you come up with some surprising results:

PrinterPricePrice of the 4 tonersDifference
Dell 3000cn$319.00$240.00-$79.00
HP Color LaserJet 2600n$399.00$321.00-$78.00
Oki C3200$450.00$410.00-$40.00
Samsung CLP-510$400.00$465.00$65.00

The point of this table is that if you buy a color laser from Samsung, it'll cost you less to simply buy a new printer than to replace all four toner cartridges (and you'll also have the advantage of a fresh one-year guarantee). This is an anomaly we've run into before with entry-level inkjet printers, but never on a laser model. In making this calculation, we used the price of high-capacity toner cartridges. But with the standard-capacity cartridges, we're still not very far from the same aberration. It's also the reason why Dell won't let you use high-capacity cartridges on its 3000cn, despite the fact that the cartridges are physically the same as those used on the 3100cn, whose initial purchaser price is higher.

Another consequence of the situation shown by our table is that cost per page, ultimately, is no longer a valid criterion. Given the fact that it'll generally be cheaper to replace the printer rather than the cartridges, there's no real point in saving money on ink. Only the cost of the paper enters into the equation. Finally, it also means that consumables other than ink (drum, fuser, transfer belt, etc.), whose life expectancy is much longer than that of the toner cartridges, won't ever be replaced.

All this leads to a simple conclusion: You keep a laser printer of this type for as long as it takes you to use up the ink in the cartridges that come with it. While manufacturers' policies about the fill levels of the original cartridges vary, they're all able to print between 3,000 and 4,000 pages under average use conditions for a laser printer (not photo printing). So if you want a meaningful price, all you need to do is divide the purchase price of the printer by 3,500 to get the price per page. And in fact it's worse than that, because in the two years it'll take the average user to print 3,500 pages, there's a good chance the price of an equivalent printer will have continued to drop significantly.

  • chrisbak
    Your image (laser2.gif) is an excellent animation of an LED printhead in action. Can I use it in some material I am putting together for Xerox, or is there a copyright on it.

    Christine Baker