The SMB Guide to Ink and Toner Products

By carefully considering your quality and usage needs, your small business can save considerable money on ink and toner products.

Ink, Printing

It's important to consider ongoing ink and toner costs when purchasing a printer, as different types of printers have different ink and toner requirements. Those differences can have a big impact on the total cost of ownership.

Here's an overview of the key differences between ink and toner to help you make a decision.

Ink or Toner: What's the Difference?

Simply put: An inkjet printer uses ink, and a laser jet printer uses toner, which is a form of powdered ink. As toner is typically significantly more expensive than ink cartridges, it appears at first glance that inkjet printers are the more cost-effective option. However, the cost is dramatically affected by how often you must purchase new cartridges.

If you have an inkjet printer, then how often you need new ink depends largely on what type of documents you print. Printing photos or detailed graphics requires more ink, so you'll go through cartridges much quicker than if you only print text documents. While toner for laser jet printers can run as much as three to four times more than ink cartridges, the toner lasts much longer than inkjet cartridges, which means you'll have to purchase less toner.

To determine whether a laser jet or inkjet printer is more cost effective, use the specifications for the printers you're considering to find out how often you'll be replacing ink or toner. Then calculate the costs of purchasing the ink or toner for a year and compare the costs to determine which type of printer is more cost effective for you. Be sure to also take into account how you'll use the documents, because the quality of laser jet printers, especially for photos and graphics, is much higher than that of inkjet printers.

Compatible or Remanufactured Cartridges

To save money, many small-business owners use compatible or remanufactured cartridges instead of new ink and toner products from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).

Compatible or remanufactured cartridges are manufactured by a company other than the printer company, but are compatible with the specific printer. Often, these cartridges are refurbished or refilled. However, many remanufactured cartridges are guaranteed by independent labs to print nearly the same number of pages as a national brand, sometimes within 5 percent. According to a Consumer Reports survey, 63 percent of respondents said that the quality of aftermarket cartridges is the same as national brands.

While these options are typically less expensive, there are trade-offs. Consumer Reports testers found that the remanufactured cartridges don't always work as well and can void some warranties. The report recommends purchasing ink cartridges with a money-back guarantee and waiting until after your printer warranty has expired before using remanufactured cartridges.

As far as the quality issue, think about how you'll use the printed documents. If you're planning on producing customer-facing materials, then it may be worth the higher cost to purchase OEM ink. However, if you foresee mainly printing text documents and internal drafts, then you'll likely not notice the quality trade-off.

Before making printer product decisions, take a minute to really think about your needs and use. By carefully considering this decision, you can save significant money over the long haul that you can use in other ways to grow your business.