I <3 HP’s laserjet printers. It’s probably because my early career included lots of HPLJ drudgery, having to learn and take certification classes on the printers in order to to do paid warranty work on ’em – but I have an appreciation for the whole xerography process.


Basically you have a drum coated with this photoconductive material. Where light hits the drum, it hold a charge. Toner sticks to the charged areas. Paper rolls between the drum and a grounded item (wire normally). That ground causes the toner to stick to the paper and ta-dah! You have print on paper. Of course, you also need to hit the paper with the fuser/finisher, which permanently presses and melts the toner into the paper. Overall, it’s a relatively simplistic process.

In the first implementations, you’d shine a bright light at a piece of paper and what reflected back would charge spots onto the drum.  That’s how the “photocopiers” aka “xerox machines” used to work. That’s why you’d see the bright white/green light coming out of the sides.  The laser printer built onto that technology by replacing the reflected image source with a laser mechanism that would directly charge the drum instead.

On a good laser printer (which HP’s used to be – I’ve lost a lot of my respect for them when I see their new inkjet multifunctions software freeze whenever a print job is submitted – and their tech support has no idea why or what’s going on…) not much wears out. The optical drum material will eventually stop holding charges – or the toner wiper may half heartedly stop removing the toner. The rubber rollers may stop moving paper – or more likely, start picking up multiple pages. Or general dirt/dust may get in and coat stuff.

The optical drum just needs replacing eventually – which is usually about or less than the life of a toner cartridge. If you’re using a refurbished toner cartridge, you’re much more likely to start having drum defects/artifacts before you run out of toner.

The other problems can basically be resolved by blowing out the printer with compressed air, vacuuming any filters, and rubbing down the rubber rollers with a qtip and rubbing alcohol or some other random ‘rubber revitalizer’.

So if you want a good printer – paying $50 or $100 to get a five year old business laser printer is probably your best bet. Sure, the toner cartridge is more expensive than the ink cartridges – but it doesn’t dry out and chances are will last you much longer. I’ve got about seven or eight years on our old Laserjet 5, and it continues to work great – and you can network enable them for about $10 with a used JetDirect card.

You also have some additional options on your cartridges. Sure, you can get generic refilled ones (sure, HP will tell you that voids the warranty – but do you really care on an old printer?) for $25 plus shipping. You could also check out the LaserMonks where a monastery has taken over hand making their own cartridges (I assume they buy the shells and assemble themselves) and donates some amount to a charity of your choice. There’s even LaserMonksGreen where you can get toner cartridges that use soy based toner. Considering the options, it’s not a bad alternative to paying retail.

In my experience, a more expensive laserprinter pays for itself when it still works a few years later – vs the inkjet that doesn’t.

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