When a $150 Printer Can Cost You Thousands

What You Spend On Ink or Toner is Far More Important Than Purchase Price

Choosing the right high-volume printer can save a bundle
Choosing the right high-volume printer can save a bundle. Getty Images / altrendo images

What many would-be printer buyers don’t understand is that choosing a printer solely on purchase price could cost you hundreds, even thousands over the life of the printer. Why? Well, I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that, “Printer manufacturers make their money on ink (or toner, for laser and laser-class printers).”

In many cases, that’s oh so true, especially in high-volume print environments. It’s easy to spend as much on consumables as you originally spend on the printer several times over—and then some—depending primarily on your print volume. Printing thousands of pages each month can cost hundreds, even thousands; you'll want to make sure you're using the right printer.

Printer makers publish all sorts of stats and ratings about their printers, such as pages per minute (ppm), resolution, or dots per inch (dpi), and so on. An important rating is the machine’s maximum monthly duty cycle, which is the number of pages the manufacturer suggests you can print without undue wear on the printer. Low-volume printers, such as HP’s Envy 5530 e-All-in-One, have small duty cycles of a few hundred to a couple thousand pages, where high-volume models, like Epson’s WorkForce Pro WP-4590, have big duty cycles sometimes consisting of as much as 80,000 to 100,000 pages or more.

High-volume printers, of course, cost considerably more than their lower-volume counterparts. The two printers in the above paragraph, for instance, have nearly a $300 price spread between them. But as I’m about to show you, buying a low-volume model when your environment really calls for a high-volume model can turn out to be a costly mistake.

CPP - a quick tutorial

The ink or toner cartridges, the consumables, also come with various ratings, including “page yield,” or the number of pages each cartridge can print, and cost per page (CPP). The CPP is the ongoing cost of using the printer on a per-page basis, which we derive by dividing the cartridge price by the manufacturer’s page yield ratings, and then multiplying that sum by the number of cartridges. (Yes, I know this sounds complicated, but, as you can see in this article, “How to Estimate a Printer's Cost Per Page,” it’s not really.

The CPP varies widely from printer to printer, by as much as four or five cents for monochrome, or black-and-white pages, and sometimes more than 10 cents for color pages. With per-page cost differences this steep, it’s easy to see how one printer, at, say, 15-cents per color page, would cost you a lot more to use than another model with a low five-cent CPP. Printing one hundred pages on the former will cost you $10 more than printing the same 100 pages on the latter. If you print 1,000 pages per month, you’ll spend an additional $100 each month—that’s over $1,000 each year!

The Power of the Penny

But what if there’s only a one-cent, or perhaps half a cent, difference in the CPP between one printer and another? A penny per page doesn’t sound like much, does it? If you print only 100 pages each month, it’s not. But if your home-based or small office churns out thousands of pages each month, a one-cent difference can cost you plenty. At one cent per page, 10,000 pages cost an additional $100 each month, or $1,200 per year—you can buy three or four high-volume models for that!

High-volume printers can also save you money in a few other ways: They’re faster, and time is, after all, money. Also, since they’re built to print substantially more pages than the cheaper low-volume models, they’re much more likely to hold up to the heavy work load you put on them. In addition, most high-volume printers support larger, higher-yield cartridges, which means you won’t have to replace them as often.