If you need a printer for home use, a low price tag is attractive. But there’s no point in netting a bargain instore if this saving is quickly diminished by expensive ink-cartridge refills. As is the case with more than one of the low-cost printers we review here, replacing the consumables can be more expensive than the printer itself.
Consider what you’ll be using the printer for. If you run a home business, you’ll need fast, reliable output from a model that can churn out dozens of pages a day. The rest of us, who want to print out the odd letter or essay, might be satisfied with a slightly slower – but also less expensive – printer.
Even the cheapest printer in this group test can produce high-quality text and graphics, if at a slower rate than its manufacturer-claimed maximum speed. Expect reasonable photo prints too, when printing on glossy photo paper.
Many of these models also feature copy and scan facilities. So-called multifunction printers are inevitably priced higher, but the extra expenditure could be worthwhile if you ever have a need for such functions. Wireless connectivity and memory-card slots can also bump up the price.
But it’s the running costs that are most important in consideration of a printer’s value for money. These can be difficult to calculate, since you need to take into account both the cost of the replacement cartridges and their page yield. This refers to the average number of pages you’ll get before the cartridge runs out of ink.
If two manufacturers sell their black ink cartridges at £10, but one has a page yield of 250 pages and the other lasts for only 200 pages, the difference in running costs is bigger than you might think. Whereas the higher-yield cartridge offers prints at 4p per page, the extra penny per page required by the smaller-capacity ink represents a ?25 percent difference. If you print around 10 pages per day, you’ll spend an extra £36 per year on the lower-yield cartridges.
Colour documents such as posters, photographs, school reports and business presentations can be even costlier to produce, since they mix black ink with the usually more expensive coloured inks. Note that some inkjet printers also use coloured inks to create rich blacks. You can often adjust the printer’s driver settings to prevent this practice, however.
Inkjets combine four colour inks – cyan, magenta, yellow and black (known as CMYK in the printing trade) – to reproduce the colours in a document. The black ink is used most frequently and occupies a single cartridge; colour inks can be provided in one tri-colour cartridge or three separate units. A tri-colour cartridge can be cheaper to buy, but it may have a lower page yield and will almost certainly waste more ink: you’ll need to replace all three cartridges each time one runs dry.
How we test
We ran each low-cost printer through a barrage of tests to assess its print speed and output quality.
The first test comprised a 10-page text document, and represented what’s still the most common printing requirement of home and small-business users. We timed how long it took each printer to process the document, then calculated its speed in terms of pages per minute (ppm).
Our second test involved a 10-page PDF file containing text and some simple colour graphics. This is the sort of document you might want to produce for a business report or a child’s homework. As before, the average speed was calculated in ppm.
Our final test timed how long it took each model to print a 4x6in photo. We then retested at A4-size on both plain and glossy paper to get a better idea of output quality.
It’s been suggested that some printers are sold at a loss, with manufacturers instead making their profit in replacement ink sales. In the case of the £29 Advent AW10 and £19 HP Deskjet 1000, this might well be true. These printers have bargain-basement prices that will appeal to those on a tight budget – and they can offer good value, provided that they aren’t used too frequently. Indeed, their relatively high running costs will soon mount up if you use either printer on a daily basis.
At the other end of the spectrum is the very fast £74 Epson Stylus SX525WD. Its printing costs are reasonable, so with regular use you can recoup some of this initial outlay over time.
The sweet spot is occupied by Kodak’s £69 ESP C310. It’s not the cheapest, nor the fastest, printer in this group, but it’s quick enough for most home users and offers competitive running costs.
Read the Advent AW10 review.
Read the Brother DCP-J125 review.
Read the Canon Pixma MP499 review.
Read the Epson Stylus SX425W review.
Read the Epson Stylus SX525WD review.
Read the HP Deskject 1000 review.
Read the HP Deskjet 3070A review.
Read the Kodak ESP C310 review.