Last year, I found an article somewhere that pointed to FreeColorPrinters.com, a site where you could go to get a "free" color printer. Being one to always be skeptical of getting anything for free, I checked it out to find out what the real deal was.
Much to my surprise, it was a Xerox web site for getting people to use their Phaser series of printers.
Was it worth pursuing?
After examining the deal, they were looking mostly for small businesses that printed between 2,000 and 3,000 pages per month. If you qualified, you would be able to get a Phaser 860DP (duplexing, Solid Ink printer with 750 sheet capacity) for three years without any up-front or recurring costs, except for the ink and maintenance kits (which you must purchase from them directly on their web site). Further, if you stay with the program for three years, you keep the printer and you can cancel the program at any time.
I put together a spreadsheet and compared the costs of the printer to leasing and maintaining a color laser printer and found that for that range of pages, the printer was indeed a good deal, especially since Xerox was offering the black ink sticks for free. If you failed to print enough pages (confirmed by faxing them a copy of the diagnostic page every month), they would charge your $75.
It's been a year now, and I've been quite happy with the printer. We've been using it daily although I've found the need to print things for other people in order to keep the usage up some months. So far, we've avoided the $75 fee and the printer has printed about 35,000 pages at a cost of around $1200 (excluding paper). Considering that I sold my previous printer for about that amount, it's been a good financial deal. The printer has communicated well with Unix, Windows, and Macintosh computers (especially nice that it has a web-based UI) and has cooperated on the network well. Print quality (in the high quality setting) is excellent and is quite acceptable at the high speed setting (355x355dpi at 16ppm). It is a bit slow when printing at the highest resolution (about 5 ppm at 1200x1200dpi), but if speed isn't your primary point, the output is very nice.
After a year of using it, I was wondering if it was still a good deal, so I did a comparison of other printers that I would be interested in (including the 8600, replacement for the 860, as well color laser printers from Lexmark and HP). Because I am fond of spot color in just about any document, I wanted something that was fast when outputting color even if that was only the case at low resolution. This requirement ruled out most of the 4-pass color lasers (the lower end of the hardware cost spectrum) and left me with the solid ink printers and the single-pass color printers.
The financial numbers (comparing leasing vs. the current deal, and with manufacturer's estimates for page counts and discount prices for consumables), are still in the favor of my existing deal with FreeColorPrinters. At 2370 pages (my commitment) per month, the costs are about $90/month (paper included). The closest that I could get with any other printer was Lexmark's 750dn at $110/month for 500 pages (and about $190/month at my current page commitment). If my page needs drop or my need for speed increases, it may be beneficial to go with the 750dn, but the commitment (the lease can't be cancelled at any time) makes it a less interesting deal.
Now, in doing this comparison, I added in FreeColorPrinters current offering (they aren't offering the exact deal any more: 8600dp instead of 860dp, no free black ink, and $100 penalty for missing your minimums) to my comparison. The numbers are (not surprisingly) higher than they are for the 860dp, but they're only off by about $25/month, still making it very competitive if you can deal with the 8600dp's capabilities.