That’s a question I get rather frequently. The answer just requires a little further information, such as What do you plan to print, and What do you plan to spend? In the following discussion, I will constrain the options to HP products, as they are ubiquitous, and use prices found on Amazon. The pricing is just for comparisons; the gentle reader is urged to look locally for the products. Also, for this discussion, I won’t include tax or electricity costs.
First and foremost, if quality or durability is a consideration, don’t go cheap. An $80 printer will not stand up to frequent use, and the inks are likely to be outrageously expensive. For example, a ‘cheap’ printer, such as the Envy 4500 ($60, include scan and copy functions) uses the HP 61 cartridges. We’ll consider the more-economical high-capacity cartridges, so a black XL cartridge costs $31.99 and yields 480 pages (at the industry-standard metric of 5% page coverage). That’s $.067/p. The color ink costs $33.99 and yields 330 p, again at 5% ink coverage, and you will use that up quickly if printing pictures. That price point implies a cost per page of $.103.
So, put another way, the cost of the printer plus enough ink for 10,000 pages, plus two cases of paper (we’ll call that $45 each) brings the cost of ownership of that printer to $1805, and that’s if you didn’t blow through a stack of color cartridges printing pictures. Oh, and photo paper will cost a lot more as well, but we won’t get into that now.
A more expensive ink printer, the Photosmart Plus, costs about $280 on Amazon, and also will copy and scan. This model uses the HP 564 cartridges, which also have extra-capacity versions. The HP 564 inks also come in single colors, so unlike the HP 61 above, when one color runs low, you can replace it individually. The XL black yields 550 pages for $24.99 ($.045/p) and each of the three color cartridges yield 750 pages for $20.99 ($.028/p). Total cost of 10,000 pages, given equal distribution of color and optimal yields, $1660.
So, I guess that was a long way of saying that a cheap printer may cost a lot more in the long run. There are other factors to consider as well, such as whether one needs the copy/scan/fax capability. Also, if the majority of printing is black text, one should consider a laser printer. Typical price-per-page of a laser printer is $.01, including the paper. Cartridges will run $50+, but usually yield over a thousand pages.