Save Money: Compare Printers’ Cost Per Page, Not Just Purchase Price

For many small-office and home-office users, one of the first considerations when buying a laser or inkjet printer or All-in-One (print/copy/scan/fax) is typically purchase price, then maybe color-print availability, network connectivity, WiFi connectivity, print speed and scan features. The pain may come later when toner or ink cartridges run out – often seemingly very quickly – and it’s time to repurchase them. The key to saving money and avoiding this pain is to be proactive: don’t just consider the printer or All-in-One’s purchase price, or the cost of its ink or toner cartridges, but its cost per page.

While we’ve written a lot about cost per page in the past, we thought it might be helpful to review it for users who are new to the concept. Cost per page is simply the cost of the ink or toner cartridge divided by the vendor’s ISO/IEC 19752 standard page yield for the cartridge. For instance, cost per page for a black ink cartridge listing at $30.99 that will be good for 1,000 pages is 3.01 ¢. For color printers, there’s typically four ink or toner cartridges required – one each for black, cyan, yellow and magenta (CYMK). Color cost per page is obtained by calculating cost per page for each black, cyan, yellow and magenta cartridge, and then adding together the cost per page for each cartridge (for instance, if cost per page for each black, cyan, magenta and yellow cartridge is 3¢, total cost per page for a color page would be 12¢).

Most inkjet printers and All-in-Ones print in color, and have permanent print heads, so that only four consumables need to be replaced – four CYMK ink cartridges. Toner-based printers (using either laser or LED-array printing technology), use only a black toner cartridge or, if they’re color printers, use black, plus cyan, yellow and magenta toner cartridges. However, waste-toner collection boxes, imaging drums and/or fusers may also have to be periodically replaced, so the cost per page for these items must also be included.

Generally, most manufacturers sell lower-priced, standard-yield ink and toner cartridges, and higher-priced ink and toner cartridges. While it might be tempting to go for the lower-priced ink or toner cartridges, the higher-priced cartridges are always a better buy because they’re good for printing more pages and their cost per page is much lower. It may just seem like only pennies’ difference, but the more you print, the more it adds up, and you could possibly save or lose thousands of dollars over the lifetime of the printer. For instance, if my color inkjet printer has a color cost per page of 7¢ while my color laser printer has a cost per page of 20¢, if I’m printing a 1,000 pages per month on my inkjet printer, my ink cartridge cost will add up to $70 per month, while my color laser printer’s cartridges will cost me $200 per month.

At the same time, just because a printer/All-in-one’s ink or toner cartridge is less expensive than a competitive printer/All-in-One’s INK OR toner cartridge doesn’t mean the lower-priced cartridge necessarily means you’re saving money – it could be just the opposite, since it depends on how many pages the cartridge is good for printing. For instance, a $20 cartridge that yields 400 pages has a cost per page of  5¢, while a $30 cartridge that yields 800 page has a cost per page of 3.7¢.

Ink Versus Laser Cost per Page

In the past, inkjet printers were designed primarily for consumers and home use; they had very low purchase price, but cost per page was high. Today though, we’re seeing a new class of inkjet printers for business use with higher purchase price but much more affordable cost per page, such as Epson’s WorkForce series, Hewlett-Packard’s Officejet series and Lexmark’s OfficeEdge All-in-Ones. In fact, cost per page can be considerably lower with these business-class inkjets versus color laser printers/All-in-Ones – for instance, 9 cents for inkjet color cost per page versus up to 26 cents for a comparable color laser printer/All-in-One. Another advantage of inkjet printing is that it’s much more simpler in design than more complicated laser technology – there are fewer moving parts with inkjet printers, which translates into the fact that inkjet printing is a more reliable technology than laser, with less chances of malfunctioning occurring, and thus less chance of service required. Another advantage of inkjet printing is that much less power is required – well over 50 percent less – versus a comparable laser unit, so you’ll be paying much less in power consumption (as much as $30 per month at 3,000 pages per month in one of our inkjet vs./laser comparative studies).

What else can you do to minimize ink and toner cartridges’ cost?

1) Because the cost of color printing is always higher than the cost of black-and-white printing, minimize color printing. For instance, avoid using it when not required, such as when printing drafts, Web pages and in-house documents. Some office-level printers and All-in-Ones also provide controls that enable administrators to disable color printing for some users, automatically shut the printer down after work hours, and disable color printing from USB flash memory drives. You can also make black-only printing (the least-expensive and longest-lasting toner or ink cartridge) the default in the print driver.

2) When considering a color inkjet printer or All-in-One, opt for ones with four separate color cartridges, not for printers that use a black ink cartridge and a single color cartridge that contains all of three cyan, magenta and yellow inks. With these all-in-one color ink cartridges, once color ink is depleted, the entire cartridge should be replaced, even though the other two colors may still be good, wasting ink.

3) Purchase the highest-yield ink or toner cartridges available. They cost more out of pocket, but cost per page will be lower than that of standard yield cartridges, saving you money in the long run. You’ll also minimize emergency trips  to the office-supply store, saving you time and money.

Questions or comments? Let us know in the Comments section.

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