Toner cartridge characteristics
There are few things which are important when choosing laser printer:
How much standard ISO specified pages can be printed?
What toner cartridge sizes are available? Usually larger cartridges make printing of a single page cheaper than smaller cartridges.
Which parts cartridge contains? Some cartridges come with drums installed into cartridge while on others drum is part of printer. Also important is manufacturer's policy towards drums. Some manufacturers use recycled drums in new cartridges. This might lead to reduced print quality compared to cartridges with new drums.
We've covered drum lifetime before, but it is relevant in this section too. Users who like to refill toner may find it important how long can a drum integrated into cartridge last. Unfortunately, such information often cannot be found on website of printer manufacturer.
How well does printer calculate amount of toner left in cartridge? This is also important as well as how much printer relies on electronics in toner. Some printers calculate area covered by each color during printing and estimate how much toner is left. Some may use fixed amount of pages and not take coverage into account. Some may even use sensors inside the cartridge to calculate amount of toner left. Another plus is if printer can display exactly how much toner is left in each cartridge and estimate how much more pages can it print.
What does printer do when a toner reports to be empty? This is in my opinion of extreme importance! Some printers will just stop printing and display message that cartridge needs to be replaced. Others will allow black and white printing if a color toner is empty or attempt to replace Key black with Cyan-Magenta-Yellow black or may ignore empty cartridge and continue printing even if toner is empty. There are some conflicting opinions in this area. Some people believe that printer should always produce highest quality prints with selected settings and should refuse to print if a toner is almost empty. Other believe that it is better for printer to produce some print than none.
What does printer do with excess toner on a page? During printing pages often come across one or more very sharp blades. These blades remove excess toner from page and make sure that extras don't end up in fuser or somewhere else in printer mechanism (often first pass with blades is made before developing while toner is still on the drum) . On some printers that toner ends up in cartridge and is mixed with unused toner and is not wasted. If the paper used is clean and uncontaminated, that shouldn't be a big problem, but is paper is dirty than some particles may mix with toner and reduce print quality. On some other printer types used toner is taken into a special compartment inside cartridge where it is stored and not used for printing while some other printer types use special used toner box where extra toner ends up.
Does printer come with starter or normal cartridges? Price difference should be calculated. When I was buying my fist color laser printer, I was thinking about HP LaserJet 1600 and HP LaserJet 2600n. The 2600n was of course more expensive but came with full toners. Once I calculated the price difference between toner sizes, it turned out that extra features of 2600n were free.
How well cartridges behave and do they come with warranty? This is also very important. Cartridges my leak toner and damage printer! After finding several interesting models, it's a good idea to take a look at manufacturers' forums and see if there are any common problems with toners? As for cartridge warranty, it in my area usually lasts until cartridge's original toner charge is used up. It's always good to have a peace of mind that in case toner starts leaking, it will be replaced.
Does printer use cartridges at all? This is now as far as I know extremely rare, especially among cheap printers, but in the old days you just poured toner in a special compartment in printer and printer would use it from there. It has both good sides and bad sides. Toner in bottles is usually much cheaper than toner in cartridges, but it is also much easier to spill and contaminate surrounding ares.
Does printer use toner at all? I saw some printers made by Xerox which use solid ink sold as classic electrophotographic printers. Beware of badly written retailer web-sites and badly-informed salesmen.
Size of toner particles is also important. It directly relates to printer resolution. In general smaller particles provide higher resolutions and better printing quality. On the other hand in case the toner leaks or is spilled, it is almost impossible to easily decontaminate area contaminated by them.
Distribution of toner inside cartridge is also interesting. On some printers, cartridges need to be shaken every few weeks to make sure that any lumps of toner inside cartridge are broken and used. Some toners include mechanism which will correctly mix toner once the cartridge is unsealed. I've heard that some printers have mechanisms which will mix toner inside cartridges from time to time, but haven't actually seen any.
Amount of cartridges. Some printers use extra cartridges for bright colors. I don't know if this is a plus or minus when looking for cheap printer. It does provide higher printing quality but it also increases maintenance cost.