Laser Beats Ink

At a Presidents’ Day sale I saw an office laser printer selling, quietly, for $50. It is the best indication yet that laser printers are beating out ink-jet printers for the casual user. Laser printers have always had a decisive advantage in ease of setup, cost per page, and printing speed. With lower initial purchase prices, customers can consider the purchase of a laser printer as a cost-cutting alternative to a replacement ink set.

The cost advantage of a laser printer is especially compelling for the home user who doesn’t have much to print. If you print an average of one page per day, you may find yourself throwing away a stale ink set while it is still half full. A toner cartridge, by contrast, can sit for years without any hint of decay, waiting for the day when you have something to print.

The disadvantage of a laser printer, at least at this point for the low-end user, is that it cannot print in color. Yet the documents that really need to be on paper don’t require color. They merely need to convey information accurately. The advance of laser printers and the gradual disappearance of ink-jet printers will bring about a tighter association between color and the electronic display. That is, if a document really needs to show color, we won’t expect to see it on paper.

This post originally appeared on February 20, 2012, in The Shamanic Economist.

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