Prices fading fast on colour printers

One of the most interesting things about the computing world these days is the incredible shrinking price of colour printers.

One of the most interesting things about the computing world these days is the incredible shrinking price of colour printers.

Inkjet printers for the home are ridiculously priced at US$50 or less for the disposable ones and not much higher than that for the starter versions of the all-in-one models that print, scan, copy and fax. If you have not been in computers for very long, you have no idea how great a value this is.

The great decisions to make these days are which brand to buy and whether you should go for initial low price or overall lower consumable cost.

Kodak has staked its claim on the latter, offering a series of new printers with the claim that it will sell the ink at a reasonable cost. This is severely annoying the big boys like HP, which have been making a fortune on ink for years.

I took one of the recent Kodak models, the ESP-9, and did a little calculation.

The printer is impressive for a small office version, with both network and Wi-Fi support, standalone copying, fax and colour printing. The main printer tray is kind of small at 100 pages, but still it is quite a good printer.

The unit retails for about $200, which is about $50 more than a comparable model from HP would run. So the key is, will you print enough to make up the difference? Is this a printer for a bustling small office or for an occasional homework project? And if you do plan to make a lot of copies, how many copies are we talking about?

Kodak says black-and-white pages will cost 2.3 cents each and colour pages will cost 6.9 cents each. That is 1.5 cents per black-and-white page and 3.9 cents per colour page cheaper than a comparable HP model. So if you print a bit more than 1,200 colour pages, you will break even on the Kodak with the cheaper ink. It will take you quite a bit longer for black-and-white.

Of course, Kodak makes cheaper models and the price differential is much less on the cheaper models. That will make the payback faster and return on investment pretty quick.

How is the printing? At least with the ESP 9 model that I used, I was pleased with the colour and black-and-white printing from the unit. Using photographic paper, the unit performed very well on colour photos; it performed somewhat less well on plain paper, which is not uncommon with inkjet printers. (If you plan to print a lot of colour on plain paper, consider a colour laser printer, which can be had for $300 or so these days.)

As for refilled ink, which is a hot topic these days, I recommend trying some after the warranty of the printer expires if there is a significant savings in doing so. (There will be for laser printers, for sure.) Once you find a brand that works for you, stick with it.

James Derk is owner of CyberDads, a computer-repair firm and a tech columnist for Scripps Howard News Service. His e-mail address is jim@cyberdads.com