What's it going to cost you?
We took the initial purchase price and added the cost of toner usage for a typical usage scenario over three years. The total cost of buying and running the printers over that period varied from less than $1200 to well over $5000. Only half of the printers on test would cost less than $2000 by the end of the third year of ownership (see Cost of Ownership.
As you might expect, the cheaper the printer, the fewer features you get. Cheaper printers usually only have USB connectivity, not Ethernet networking, and only basic controls and status displays, if any. Higher-priced printers can include faster print engines and processors, better paper handling and in many cases higher quality output. However, there’s no direct correlation between purchase price and print quality. The HP CP1215 is among the cheaper models on test, but produces good quality prints, with a good balance of fine detail, smooth gradients and good colour fidelity. It is let down however, by its relatively slow print speed.
Ongoing toner cost is probably a bigger consideration than initial purchase price. Toner cartridges vary in size and price across brands and models, so it’s difficult to compare them.
The cost of printing a page depends on the purchase cost of a cartridge and the number of pages that can be printed from it. It can vary greatly between brands, even if they use similar print engines. For example, the Fuji Xerox C1110B has a significantly lower cost per page than the Dell 1320c, even though they have similar print engines, use similar toner cartridges and the cartridges cost about the same. However, the Dell cartridges weigh much less than the Fuji Xerox and, given the casing manufacture is identical, it may be that the difference is a smaller toner charge in the standard Dell cartridges.
In our test, the cost of an average black page (5% toner coverage) ranges from 3c-10c. Colour costs vary greatly though. The cost of a full-colour A4 photo ranges from 57c to $5.69 – a tenfold increase.
There’s also a hidden cost to printing. Different printers can use different amounts of toner to do the same job. All the printers on test have a black toner cartridge, so you would expect that when black text is being printed, the cyan, magenta and yellow toners aren’t be used. In seven of the 10 printers, this isn’t the case – those colours are mixed in with the black, resulting in higher toner use. Only the HP CP1215, Samsung CLP-315 and Dell 1320c print black text or graphics using only the black toner.
The Fuji Xerox uses a tiny amount of coloured toner per black page (1.1% cyan, and less than 1% each of magenta and yellow) but many of the other printers use more than 50% cyan toner to produce black on a page. The Oki C3300, for example, uses 85% or more from each of the coloured toners when outputting a black page. This high toner usage doesn’t actually produce a better black. The Oki’s black colours are nowhere near as deep and rich as the HP CP1215, for example, which doesn’t mix any colours into black pages.
The Canon LBP5050N, which uses the same print engine as the HP CP1215 (but has a different controller board) mixes around 50 percent of its colours into a black page. However, the black reproduction on both the HP and Canon appeared identical. The mixing of colours into black just disadvantages the Canon in cost per-black page calculations.
Complexity and speed
All the printers on test are fairly easy to set up and use, however. Replacing the toner is generally the most challenging task. Unlike a mono laser printer, colour lasers have four cartridges to replace. On most of the printers this is relatively straightforward, but not so the Konica Minolta 1600W.
It has a rotating cartridge assembly that only allows a single cartridge to be installed at each quarter revolution and our testers found it difficult to align the cartridges correctly. The manual says to remove all cartridges before replacing any units but from practical experience, our tester recommends never removing more than one cartridge at a time.
Two main factors influence print speed – the speed of the processor and the speed of the print engine. While a print engine might be able to output pages at a theoretical 21ppm for very simple pages or copies, complex pages can require a lot more processing time before actually being printed. For example, the Kyocera is rated at 21ppm peak output, but only manages 0.7ppm on a complex colour photo.
The Brother HL-4040CN is the fastest in every one of our printing tests (except peak ppm, where it is a close second). It averages just over 17ppm for complex Word documents and PDF files and 20.4ppm for simple black text Word documents.
Printing full-colour photos is always much slower. The Brother’s speed of 3.3ppm for A4-sized photos might not sound impressive, but is almost 30% faster than the next fastest, the Fuji Xerox C1110B at 2.4ppm.
The Samsung CLP-315 is slowest for general documents, although the Lexmark C540n and Kyocera FS-C5100DN really drag the chain when printing A4 photos (0.6ppm and 0.7ppm respectively).