The high price of inkjet-printer replacement cartridges may be among the highest hidden costs lurking in your small business. While printing giants such as Hewlett-Packard, Lexmark and Epson equip their inkjet models with options that are attractive to small-business users, the annual cost of replacing cartridges can add up. Inkjet cartridges can easily exceed half the cost of the printer itself -- or even more for heavier users.
But a new generation of high-quality, low-cost laser printers is bringing the penny-per-page economics of laser printing to even the smallest business. For several weeks, I've been testing one such printer, the Brother HL-2270 DW.
At $150, Brother International's pricing is aggressive, giving businesses the chance to get laser-quality printing and wireless network access for about the same cost as a full-featured inkjet printer.
My verdict: While the unit lacks many of the features of pricier units, it does one important thing well: It prints lots of inexpensive black-and-white pages.
What It Is
The HL-2270 DW is a black-and-white-only desktop laser printer. Unlike inkjet models, which use a small reservoir of powdered inks that are sprayed onto paper using a computer-controlled nozzle, printers using lasers quickly and precisely draw an image onto the paper, which is held close to the toner on a larger rotating drum. Laser models print faster and offer a much lower cost per printed page. They also require less initial maintenance than inkjets, although with heavy use, major components like drums and drive assemblies must be serviced and replaced.
Why You Might Like It
High-quality printing for a reasonable price.
From the first test page, it's clear that Brother isn't kidding when it says it's bringing top-quality printing to the average small business. Although not quite as sharp as printers costing much more, the 2270 DW provides high-quality black-and-white prints at an extremely low cost per page. For example, a high-capacity laser jet replacement cartridge that yields 2,600 pages, or about a year's output for most small shops, sells for just $44.80 on Amazon.com. That's less than two cents per page.
The small size.
At 14 inches wide by 14.5 inches deep and 7 inches high, the new Brother model is about half the size of a monochrome laser printer made just a few years ago. The unit can easily fit on a small shelf, where it can also hold 250 sheets of paper. All access ports like power and network options are easily accessible, as are drums and other interior features. Buyers who don't mind getting their hands dirty can likely service this model without help.
The mix of features and performance.
The printer also has some useful extras. It has USB, Ethernet and Wi-Fi connectivity, so it can be accessed by single PCs or networked groups. And its boot-up-to-print speed is a fast 10 seconds or less. The listed output speed of 27 pages per minute was roughly correct in my testing. The unit also had an option that allows for easy, double-sided printing, which worked well.
Why You Might Not Like It
No color text or images.
The 2270 DW is a black-and-white only printer, so it won't do the job if you also (even occasionally) need color pages. Output quality is also a step or two below more expensive laser printers. Solid inking found in block letters, for example, had spots and smears, particularly on thicker stock paper. I wouldn't rely on it for sophisticated presentation work. It also lacks typical features such as scanning and faxing, which can problematic for some small companies.
Set up requires technical sophistication.
Brother is an international firm that doesn't have the top-grade customer support system you'll find with rival consumer electronics companies. English is a second language for it, and its instruction manuals are poorly laid out and hard to read. Solving problems, while possible, takes trial and error. Also, don't expect fancy features like add-on paper feeders. This unit only has a basic tray.
And setting up some of its features can be complex. Wireless networking, for example, works perfectly well, but it takes a firm understanding of service set identifier (SSID) numbers and log-in codes. Any experienced network manager can handle it, but the uninitiated will need professional help to configure these complex functions.
What To Do
If your business does even a moderate amount of black-and-white printing, for $150 you'll get standard laser quality for just a couple pennies per page, which is on par with the cost of an inkjet. But this model won't deliver top-quality work and can't be used for faxing or scanning.