You may need to print color brochures and handouts for clients and board members, high-quality color proofs and photo printouts, or just the occasional touch of color to brighten a report. You can choose an inkjet printer, a color laser printer, or a “solid-ink” color printer.
An inexpensive inkjet will give you high-resolution graphics – better-quality color pages overall, in fact, than a cheap color laser, and you would only print photos with an inkjet. Some vendors (such as HP) tout their business inkjets as offering a lower cost per color page than a color laser; many business inkjets, however, will be more expensive in operating cost than a color laser. With a color laser you can get a lower cost per page when printing regular black-and-white text documents since, like inkjets, color lasers also print in black and white when you need it.
The main advantage of a color laser printer is speed: If you’re doing high-volume color work, the laser wins hands down.
Add a Color Laser
The cheapest color lasers can be bought for less than $300, but reviewers have tended to find that color lasers in that price range didn’t put out text and graphics of very good quality. If your color projects don’t have to be polished and perfect, this might be ok – you might want to try out a low-end color laser knowing that you’ll get the lower cost per page than an inkjet and you can avoid lines of people waiting for their printouts.
Today, $400 marks the entrance to color lasers that are set up for business use, network-ready. The factors to investigate here are the print speeds, because they vary widely. Even color lasers with a duty cycle of 35,000 ppm put out color pages at 5 or 8 pages per minute; some color lasers print at the same speed in color and black-and-white modes, but others boast higher ppm figures for black-and-white.
If you need printouts of good quality, you’ll pay closer to $1,000 for your color laser. As with monochrome lasers, this up-front cost can make sense if you’re looking at printing lots of pages each month. Heavy-duty color lasers, such as wide-format business printers, run between $2,000 and $10,000. At that rate, a cost-comparison between printing in-house and outsourcing may show that you can save on the price per page by sending these color print jobs to Kinko’s or your local print shop.
An inkjet makes sense if your color printing needs are modest: maybe you occasionally create your own checks for suppliers, or perhaps you need to turn out the occasional high-quality color mockup or graphic design. You can pick up an inkjet that will give you beautiful color printouts for a fraction of the up-front cost of your laser.
If you’re considering an inkjet for a small workgroup to share, you might look into multifunction printers rather than opt for a stand-alone inkjet printer. Following the example of Frank Ross, the AllBusiness.com expert on home-based business, you might consider combining your other occasional needs such as scanning into one machine. You can read his post about his recent business printer purchase. However, our recommendation is that low-end and midrange multifunction printers are not best suited to larger workgroups.
In addition to offering a lower initial cost for color printing, inkjets are the technology for photo printing. There are specialized photo printers, mainly designed for individual use, but you can also run photo paper in a regular inkjet and turn out photo images. The quality varies by model. This points to the main advantage of an inkjet: flexibility. For a machine that will adequately handle a variety of one-off print projects, the inkjet is hard to beat.
In addition to laser and inkjet, there is a third printing technology that is now priced within the range of small and medium-sized businesses and may be a viable option for color printing. Solid ink printers produce vivid color images and print faster than inkjets.
If you’re considering investing in a color laser at around $1,000, you might want to also look into some solid ink models from Xerox (they’re the main ones selling this technology). The operating cost of a solid ink printer can be lower than a color laser because the solid ink replacements last a long time.