Ink Jet v Laser v Offset Printing

Think your office ink jet printer is cost effective?  Think again!

The other day I was talking on the phone to my sister in law who told me she was out buying ink jet cartridges…again…for her home ink jet printer.  Everyone talks about this situation:  you buy a reasonably priced printer and then you go broke buying ink cartridges!  Refilling them can be a pain in the neck and is not for the mechanically challenged.  And, even when all the planets line up, you STILL have an inkjet quality product…fine for a memo but not very impressive as a viable method for presenting your product to the market place.

So, I decided to do a little on-line research to determine the economics of printing on ink jet vs. laser and then contrasting that to offset based printing.

Here is what I found out:

A) RESEARCH

Figuring out a benchmark cost of this sort of printing is nearly impossible! There a seemingly infinite combination of printer models, cartridges, papers, energy use, etc. that need to be considered.   All of these are reviewed by tons of web sites with plenty of “editor choice” awards in any category you can imagine.  Generally speaking,  after hours of research, I found that ink jet printing is just about the most expensive you can find…and, unless you are printing your own photographs..the quality level for brochure and sales sheets is poor (as most people don’t trim edges very well, won’t bleed off the edge and can’t fold very precisely).  (Color) Laser copies are a little more economical than ink jet printing but still can not produce the quality of offset technology.

B) COST COMPARISONS

From what I found, both ink jet and color laser costs are always higher than printing the same project via our W2P store.   My test project was a quantity of 100 sales sheets on 8.5″ x 11″ coated text weight paper, full color on both sides, full bleeds.  With that as a “standard”, ink jet printing is ridiculously expensive and laser printing is not far behind.  The only true economy in using those tools for print communication would be using them for letters, quick memos, spread sheets, mail merge “form letters”, short run (internal) reports and other low volume work that is not intended for marketing or distribution.  High end ink jet printing is also very good for short run photo and art work reproduction intended for reselling (photographers print out their own photos with this technology on higher end laser printers with very high end ink and papers).

C) QUALITY

There was a common denominator in every on line blog and site review I studied:  the QUALITY issue continued to surface.  This concern presented itself on many levels:

1) Ink Jet color, consistency and registration varied wildly from manufacturer to manufacturer and from model to model.  There are $45 “throw away” units that can’t possibly compare to the $500 units…but even in those catagories quality issues erupted…from paper jams to curling paper issues to poor color saturation.

2) Color laser printing is still a TONER based technology…that means your images are made up of pools of melted plastic powders (toner) on paper…not a good idea if you want to present a quality image!   Indeed, I never read a single review that recommended laser technology for photographic reproduction.

3) This is probably the most important observation of the study: Office and home office based ink jet printers and laser printers lull people into thinking they can “cut out the middle man” and design and print their own brochures.  It’s true that the can actually do this but it introduces probably the most EXPENSIVE mistake in the study.

Here is what I mean: Often these desk top tools and solutions  introduce Microsoft Publisher or, worse, MS Word as the software of choice for producing these projects.  People with no design skills or training attempt to compete in their market by “mastering” these entry level products to design and launch their marketing  ideas.  The problem is that these tools are not professional grade and the brochure’s creator usually has limited or little or no NO design talent or experience.  Armed with this  and with all good intentions they crank out a piece that looks like this:

InkJetMess

This is a scan I made of a real estate flyer that I picked up in Colorado.  The agent is trying to sell a house worth $335,000.   I know the real estate market is tough right now but I have seen sales sheets marketing items that sell for $14 that have much better design and print elements than this.  AND THAT IS MY POINT! The true expense in this sales sheet, BEYOND the “cost” of ink jet printing, is that the piece is embarrassingly designed and then printed “on the cheap”…with paper and ink from Sam’s Club.   Plus the images were taken by an amateur with a point and shoot camera.  Then they designed it in Word…the text has every word beginning with a capital letter…and, of course, it is all in BOLD.  It fails miserably as a sales tool…and THAT is where this path ended for me.  What good is any of this if the final printed product is not noticed, not read, not selling anything and is thrown out?  (NOTE: I blurred the heck out of this scanned image and changed some things around to keep this as discrete as possible).

Now, here is the same type of marketing piece that was photographed, designed and printed professionally:

ProfessionalWork

Clean lines, impressive images, well thought out, elegant and printed professionally on a $250,000 digital offset press.  The printing price is comparable to what you get from Kinko’s or your ink jet printer…but the quality difference is a much higher league (does anyone really believe that a $49.99 Epson ink jet printer from Best Buy can compete with this sort of product)?

Regardless of the cost of the print job that comes from your home/office ink jet printer or color laser printer, in the end, you still have a something that will always look like you printed it yourself.

And that is the real cost of ink jet printing.

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