January 16, 2017

What printer should I get?

One thing new and old homeschoolers quickly learn is that you do a lot of printing! It's truly unavoidable.  Time and time again the question pops up: What printer should I get?

Now, I could answer with what printer I have and say you should go get that, or I could say you should get this one, that one, or go laser all the way!  If you were looking for me to say exactly what model you should get, then this post, sadly, is not for you.

Instead of saying you should get this model I'm going to spend some time here giving you some practical advice on how to pick out a printer.

Have a budget! -- Know what you can spend on a printer. If you have $60, $100, $200. or more know it ahead of time. There is nothing wrong with having a budget on this; you might tweak that budget some when you actually go shopping but know what you can spend.

Learn what the ink/toner will cost and what the estimated number of pages that yields.  This is the most important step.  This is what will make or break the bank after the printer is bought. Sure the upfront cost matter, but the on-going cost of printing is what makes people want to look for a new printer.

Homeschoolers quickly learn that often there is a lot of printing especially if they are going with free sites. There is always something to print and if you have a printer that is an ink hog the cost adds up quickly.  Home printers can cost as low as 3 or 4 cents per page to as high as 30 cents (or more) per page.  What's your cost all depends on your printer model, the ink/toner it uses, the cost of that ink/toner and the estimated number of pages it yield.

When in the market for a new printer you will want to look at the cost of the ink/toner and figure out it's per page cost.  To do this you want to divide the cost of the ink/toner by the number of pages the estimated yield is. So if the ink/toner cost $30 and the estimated print yield is 500 page it will cost you 6 cents per page (30/500 = .06). If the ink/toner cost $30 and the estimated print yield is 250 it will cost .12 cent per page (30/250).  If these printers were your only two options and both were in your price range you would want the printer that has the ink/toner that cost 6 cents per page -- because in the long run that is going to save you money.

Look at reviews.  Once you looked at the price/yield cost you are going to want to look at the reviews. In the end, you truly want the printer in your price range, that has the best cost/yield ratio, and good reviews.

Laser (toner) vs. inkjet (ink) printers.  It's true that in the long run laser, in most cases, will be the cheapest. They, also, in most cases, tend to be the most expensive up front.  I learned long ago that, in very general terms, the more expensive the printer is up front the cheaper it will be in the long run. In very general terms the opposite is also true: The cheaper it is up front the more expensive it is in the long run.  Some home printer can really cost 30 cents or more per page -- if your home printer cost that much you most likely would be better off going to the library and asking them to print pages for you or going to Kinkos, Staples, etc. Check out what those places charge for printing -- often it's less than 30 cents per page -- in many cases, it's about 15 cents or less per page.

Notice how I had in most cases?  Not all, but most?  One thing I also learned by looking at the various printing cost of various printers and answering this question often over the years is that just like with inkjet, not all laser printers are the same. Just because it's laser doesn't mean it has awesome print per page price.

Often, low-end lasers are printing only, black/white only, no copying, no scanning while high-end inkjets tend to be all in one (printing, scanning, copying) and color.  If you are looking at the cost per page you might find that the low-end laser cost 5 cents per page and the high-end inkjet cost 6 cents per page. While every penny matters, it's worth asking: Is the penny more per page worth having the color, scanning, copying and the other features?  For me it is! A penny more per page is not a deal breaker and if those were my only two printer options I would go with the inkjet seeing it has the other features.  That's me.

It's okay if you don't have a laser printer. Not everyone can afford a laser printer and you are not a sub-par homeschooler because you have an inkjet printer. 

Overall I believe if you have a budget, shop within that budget, are an informed buyer and know what the printing per page cost you are going to be happy with your printer regardless if it's inkjet or laser. 

Besides, knowing your per page cost might even stop you from printing pages and question: Do I really need to print this? Is there a way I can use the information without printing it? That and knowing your per page cost might even help you to see that copying pages from a workbook might not even truly be the "frugal" option.  -- that will have to be another topic for another day -- seeing it also includes the whole discussion on if you should even be copying those workbook pages.

*****
photo credit: Pillip Wong

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