In his article, My Mama Told Me…You Better Shop Around, my colleague Chris Dawson gives some very good advice. Nevertheless, I'd like to offer a couple of additional comments about things to consider when weighing your printer choices.
First the disclaimer ... I work in a very high-volume shop (28,000,000 printed pages last year) so we buy our printers from Hewlett-Packard. We buy HP because we need next-business-day on-site support for the lifetime of the printer. Because we support about 100 printers (one-quarter replaced every year), we need to maintain a uniform supply of toner and spare parts and we need to be able to order a large number of the same model of printer at once and get them on a predictable time-table.
None of this matters in a typical high-school lab setting so, I'd go along with Chris about shopping around. The two areas Chris doesn't address though are ongoing toner costs and overall TCO.
First, toner ... most printer vendors make their bread and butter on selling toner. As a result, they charge a premium for each cartridge. In an ideal world, a penny-a-page for toner is attainable but at the print volumes typical in Chris's setting, probably not. Buying toner in volume helps but that doesn't mean that you should overbuy just because you save a few bucks per cartridge. If you buy toner once per quarter, you are probably doing okay. If are buying toner less frequently than once per year, either your volume is very-low or you have too much toner on hand. Always make sure you have at least one cartridge on hand for each printer but beyond that, plan on ordering toner infrequently.
If you can, buy recycled toner but be sure to seek out reputable vendors with a good track record to avoid problems. In some settings, the availability of recycled HP toner cartridges might even tip the scale in favor of HP (despite their premium prices).
Always seek out high-volume toner cartridges and pay close attention to published yields. Test this before buying if you can. Most vendors publish yields based upon 5% coverage -- a 'typical' business letter. In reality, the printing of web-based, as well as other educationally-focused, materials brings that coverage into the 13% to 18% range. And note that some vendors over-estimate their yields further. (Lexmark is particularly bad about this -- and they forbid the recycling of their toner cartridges!)
As for TCO (total cost of ownership), what else is there to tell? What should you expect as the lifetime of your printer? Most printers come with a one-year warranty. Take that number of months and the maximum duty cycle of the printer (stated in pages per month) and multiply those two numbers together. The result will give you a pretty good idea how many pages that printer will print before you begin to see reliability problems. Some well-cared-for printers will print many more pages in their lifetime but past that volume, your printer is living on borrowed time. (Especially in an environment in which young, impatient hands are constantly touching the printer.)
That brings us to 'care-and-feeding'. before buying a printer, one should know how many pages can be printed between cleanings. HP says 300,000 pages but this may vary widely. Cleanings often include replacing rollers and doing routine maintenance. Most vendors sell 'maintenance kits' for this purpose. If you want to maximize the life of your printers while saving a few bucks on service calls, learn how to do this, and clean the paper dust out of your printers regularly.
Following these simple guidelines will insure that you get the 'best bang for the buck' when you start shopping for your printers.