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Tips for Trimming Printing Costs

Q: Is there any way to cut down on the high cost of color inkjet printer inks, and how do you compare true costs of laser printing?

--Juan L. Rayces via the Internet

A: The costs of inkjet and laser printing have to be considered separately, so let me start with color inkjet issues.

There are several ways to economize. If you don’t already own a color inkjet printer, spend an extra $100 to $200 to get one with separate black and color ink cartridges. Then you can print primarily from the cheaper black cartridge and add color highlighting sparingly from the color cartridge.

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If you’ll do a lot of printing but will primarily use only one color, such as with a company logo, the added cost of a printer that has separate cartridges for each color instead of the more typical three-color-combined cartridge can pay for itself over time. Canon, Hewlett-Packard, Lexmark and Tektronix have models with that feature.

If you already own a single-cartridge printer for which you must choose whether to use the black cartridge or the color cartridge, be sure not to print black text with the color cartridge. You’ll save by making the text blue or brown or green. Also, for any inkjet printer, use the draft mode whenever you can.

Esselte offers a nationally distributed line of replacement cartridges for most color inkjet printers that are about 20% below printer manufacturers’ prices. They also make cartridge refill kits for even greater savings--though cartridge refilling can be messy. MIS Associates, a refill supplier, has a good discussion of the issues on the World Wide Web at https://www.netfactory.com/inkjet/refill.html, as does JetMaster Refill Systems at https://www.stonehenge.com/~cfriends/inkjet.html.

Laser printing is generally more economical than inkjet printing, but laser printers often handle heavier printing volumes, so their operation may represent a larger dollar outlay.

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An easy way to save is by using refilled toner cartridges, which are offered by various companies. But toner is only the most obvious “consumable” in laser printing. Other components with life spans measured in number of pages printed include--varying by make and model--developer, fusers, fuser oil, transfer units and printing drums.

According to Charles LeCompte, editor of the Hard Copy Observer, a printing industry newsletter that compares printer operation costs, it is difficult to get data for making cost comparisons among different models. The manufacturers have it, but the retailers generally don’t, so it’s a matter of getting in touch with the customer service departments of the manufacturers to request it. Try (800) 555-1212 for the numbers.

Actually, such a comparison is probably not worth the effort for home users, whose printing volumes are low. But a company with heavy printing demands could save the price of a printer over a year’s time just in the per-page cost differences of one model compared with another, LeCompte said.

Richard O’Reilly, The Times’ director of computer analysis, will answer reader questions of broad interest in this column. E-mail questions to cutting.edge@latimes.com, fax to (213) 237-4712 or mail to Answers, c/o Richard O’Reilly, Business Editorial, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053.

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