You want great-looking output. You don't want to spend a fortune on ink and paper. These tips and tricks can help.
Pay it again, Sam: ink costs can dwarf printer prices
It's no big secret that the ink jet printer business is based on the razor-and-blade economic model: Once you invest in the printer, you're stuck with the ongoing costs of the consumables - in this case, the ink and paper - needed to actually use it. Printer manufacturers rely on such sales to subsidise the relatively low costs of today's ink jets. Does that mean a cheaper printer could wind up costing you more?
To help us find out, the Rochester Institute of Technology's Imaging Products Lab performed page-yield tests on five current ink jets from four major vendors. Based on those tests and the manufacturers' web site prices for ink jet cartridges, we calculated ink costs for a page of plain text and a page of text with colour graphics, then determined how much you'd spend on the printer and ink (after you'd used up the cartridges that came with the printer) for 500 and 3000 printed pages (half of them with black text only, and half with text and colour graphics).
We found that at the 500-page mark (using replacement cartridges), the total cost for each printer ranked in the same order as the printer's purchase price. But after 3000 pages, the total cost for Lexmark's Z605 added up to $517 (£349), a pack-leading figure that belied its $50 (£33) bargain purchase price; the $130 (£87) Canon i560 had the lowest total cost, at $298 (£201).
IPL's tests assume five percent coverage per colour on an 80x80inch printing area; ink costs would likely rise more quickly if you print photos. Infrequent printers might wait years to recoup the cost of a more expensive printer that uses cheaper ink. But that printer might also have a lot more features and produce nicer-looking prints - something to think about when you buy your next ink jet.
Online services: outsourcing photo printing
Tired of high ink costs for printing photos? Consider using an online photo service instead. They're convenient, and they're cheaper for printing 4x6in snapshots (though larger photos cost more than if you printed them at home).
We researched the costs of printing a 4x6in photo and an 8x10in photo on several photo service sites and compared them with the costs of printing the same-size photo on two current ink jets, Epson's Stylus C84 and HP's Deskjet 5150. (We based printing costs on vendor data, adjusted where necessary to reflect the assumption that a photo page will be covered 100 percent with ink.) The online services won hands-down.
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