REVIEW: Color vs. Monochrome Laser Printers

As a longtime user of color laser printers, I was beginning to have second thoughts about whether to buy another color laser or to seriously consider a monochrome model.  Both platforms have pros and cons worthy of consideration.

Color Laser Printers

If you are looking for attractive colorful printouts, a color laser printer may be right for you.  These printers feature 4 separate toner cartridges that work together to produce a full-color image.  Although inkjets do a better job of  printing photos, color lasers produce excellent, sharp images especially when text is involved.  And unlike inkjets, color laser toner cartridges do not dry out so you don’t need to worry about ink expiration dates.

Unfortunately, there are many more negatives when considering a color laser printer.  The prime consideration is cost.  Color laser printers typically cost about double what a monochrome model would sell for.  They start out around $200 and go well over $1000.  A monochrome model could start just under $100 and go to about $500.

When considering cost, your biggest expense is in maintaining 4 separate toner cartridges (black, magenta, cyan and yellow).  Many color cartridges cost around $70-100, so a complete set will cost about $300-400.  Although most color lasers include a set of starter cartridges good for 200-300 pages, a full set will produce 1500-2500 pages depending on whether you purchase a standard or high-yield toner cartridges.

Since color units use 4 toner cartridges, they take longer to print documents.  A typical color laser produces between 15-20 pages per minute (ppm).

The other major drawback is weight. A color laser printer with full cartridges could weigh between 40-50 lbs.

With all this complex technology, one could expect the chances of more things going wrong with 4 toner cartridges and 4 drums at risk.  However, with a monochrome laser you are minimizing repair issues with just one drum and one toner cartridge.

Monochrome Laser Printers

If you like the sharp look of laser printing and find the cost savings attractive, you should seriously consider a monochrome printer.  These sell for as little as $100.

As indicated above, with only one black toner cartridge to consider, you are saving about $300 on each toner replacement when compared to a color laser.  A standard toner cartridge will cost around $70 while a high-yield toner cartridge would cost around $100.

Printing speeds are yet another consideration.  With a monochrome laser, you can expect 25-30 ppm considerably faster than a color unit.

Don’t like moving that laser printer?  Monochrome ones weigh typically 10-15 lbs.  Color lasers are easily 3-4 times heavier!

HP LaserJet ProM203dw

HP Printer

After seriously considering these alternatives, I selected an HP LaserJet Pro M203dw.  Although this printer was originally released in 2016, it is still a current model because most printers have not added significant new features due to the lack of newer laser printing technology.

This printer lists for $169 and is loaded with many features.  For that price point you get wireless duplex printing (print on both sides), speedy printouts 30 ppm or 18 ppm (duplex), large output tray (150 sheets) etc.

Although most laser printers come with “starter” cartridges for only a few hundred pages, the M203dw comes with a full standard cartridge which can print up to 1,600 pages!

The HP M203dw’s compact size and weight makes it ideal to place anywhere.   It weighs only 15.2 lbs. and its size is 14.6” x 16” x 8.8” (w x d x h). 

My only complaint is that this printer only uses LED lights instead of a color LCD display.  If you want specific info about the printer’s toner status or connectivity issues, you must use HP’s Smart Life app.  The LED lights will not tell you anything except that the unit is on or if there is an error.  You need to open the app to get more information.  The app is also used for the printer’s installation including web setup.  For Macs, just use System Preferences to add this printer

You can find lower-priced monochrome printers.  But these either do not offer duplex printing, have slower print speeds or are made from cheaper light-weight materials.

Conclusion

I had no regrets going from a color to a monochrome laser printer.  Although the model is 4 years old, it does not feel like a relic since the features compared favorably to newer printers on the market.  If you’ve been looking for a monochrome laser printer with current features, check out the HP LaserJet Pro M203dw.

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