Laser printers have long been used by medium to large businesses, but they are now much more affordable for small businesses and home offices as well. These days, monochrome laser printers can be bought for as little as $100, while decent colour laser printers start from around $600. Laser printers are still more expensive than their inkjet counterparts but they also offer advantages like faster print speeds and, often, lower running costs.
There are a number of factors you should consider when looking to buy a laser printer.
Laser printers' consumables are typically cheaper than inkjets'. However, the cost of running a printer will still far outweigh the initial price tag in the long run, so considering the costs of a particular model's consumables is a good first step.
Toners are the biggest cost, as you'll need to replace them most frequently. They aren't the only consumables, though: you might also need to replace the printer's drum, fuser unit and waste toner unit.
The best way to compare different models' consumable costs is to calculate their cost per page. You can do this by finding the cost of the printer's individual consumables as well as their lifespan, which is often quoted in page yield (the number of A4 pages it will last). Then use this formula:
Cost of consumable / Page yield = Cost per A4 page
Calculate this for individual consumables then add them together to get the overall cost per page. Page yields aren't always accurate, but the cost per page is still a good comparative point between models, particularly from the same manufacturer.
It's worth checking if you can pick up a remanufactured toner cartridge from Cartridge World or similar stores. Printer manufacturers discourage buying third-party consumables but it can be a more cost effective way of purchasing toners.
You can always try to lengthen the lifespan of consumables by printing at lower resolutions or using toner-saving modes where available. The reduction in document quality is sometimes minimal and you will use less toner powder.
The quality of a printer's output is partially indicated by the number of dots per square inch (dpi) that it can distribute across a sheet of paper. This figure depends on the accuracy of the printer's hardware, and you can usually expect of range of 600 to 2400 dpi on monochrome and colour laser printers depending on their price. It isn't always necessary to go for the highest possible resolution — in most cases you can produce good quality text documents using 300 or 600 dpi. However, for graphics a higher print resolution can mean greater detail.
Printer manufacturers may also quote an "optimised" print resolution, which uses both printer hardware and software to smooth images for better quality results.
High-end text laser printers also offer halftone printing, which can produce increased shades of grey, and lines per inch (lpi) quality settings, which determine how detailed halftone graphics are. This is mainly important if you're looking for the highest possible text quality or plan to print lots of graphics from a monochrome printer.
A high print resolution doesn't necessarily mean that text documents will look fantastic or that colours will be accurate. Ultimately, the best way to compare is to find a store that offers sample printouts and examine them, as well as read independent reviews that rely on real-world tests (like PC World's).