What You Should Know About The Hidden Costs Of Printing

Color Laser CPP and TCOBefore you buy a printer, you should be aware that there’s more to a printing system’s cost per page than just the cost of ink or toner.  In fact, many vendors quote a cost per page figure that only includes the cost of ink or toner.  That’s misleading and a reason that we include all consumables in the CPP (Cost Per Page) and TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) calculations in our Wirth Consulting WYSK (What You Should Know) Product Evaluations and Head2Head Product Comparisons.  Note that the hidden costs of other required consumables may add as much as $0.006 to your cost per page–about as much as the cost of a sheet of low-grade paper.

There’s almost nothing worse than a printer that stops printing right before it’s finished printing that big presentation or homework project.  Consequently, following are some items whose life you should monitor and which you should have on hand before that occurs.  What makes these items even more critical is that you usually can’t purchase them at Walgreens or Best Buy when the time comes to replace them.  What’s worse is that printer vendors don’t commonly list these items and you must sometimes perform a determined search to find and order them.

Note that not all printers have “hidden” printing costs, as most printers that have all-in-one ink cartridges (print head and ink) and toner cartridges (drum, toner and waste toner collector) have fewer ancillary supplies.  Additionally, printers with all-in-one cartridges may have an apparently higher cost per page, but there are less surprises down the road when you must find the funds and resources to replace an imaging component that has unexpectedly become depleted.

Following are some examples of some common “hidden” supplies and a common cost/page yield.  Once again, please note that not every printer has these supplies to replace:

Ink-Jet Print Heads – Average Price:  $39 per color/page yield varies.  From experience, we’ve seen users who run out and buy ink cartridges only to find out afterwards that the print head has failed.  This results in yet another trip to the store to attempt to return the unnecessary ink cartridges and find the proper print-head replacement item.  Note that there is a print head for each ink color, so you may have to replace from one to four print heads (each of which it seems is destined to fail at the most inopportune moment).  Note that when a print head fails, the unit may “lock-out,” or the image quality for that color will be unacceptable.

Toner-Based Drum Units – Average Price:  $75 per color/20,000 pages.  Printers that do not utilize all-in-one toner cartridges may initially have a lower cost-per-page, but when the drum unit reaches its capacity, look out.  Note that there is drum unit for each toner color, so you may have to replace from one to four drum units.  Thankfully, most printers’ Web-based home pages indicate the remaining life of each drum unit, so that you can monitor life, and can purchase a drum unit and have it on hand before it fails.  Additionally, most toner-based printers do not “lock-out” when a drum unit has reached its projected yield, and you only have deal with degraded image quality until the drum unit is replaced.

Toner-Based Transfer Belts – Average Price:  $200/60,000 pages.  Printers that do not utilize all-in-one toner cartridges may initially have a lower cost-per-page, but they also may employ a transfer belt in addition to the aforementioned drum unit(s).  Once again, most devices’ printer home pages indicate the remaining life of the transfer belt unit.  This means that you can purchase a transfer belt unit and have it on hand before it fails.  Additionally, most toner-based printers do not “lock-out” when a transfer belt unit has reached its projected yield, and you only have to up with degraded image quality until the transfer belt unit is replaced.

Toner-Based Maintenance Kits – Average Price:  $270/200,000 pages.  Since toner-based printers use heat and pressure to fuse the powdered-toner image into the paper, most maintenance kits involve replacing components in the fusing section.  Once again, most devices’ printer home pages indicate their maintenance kits’ remaining life, so that you can have one on hand before the printer fails.  Additionally, most toner-based printers do not “lock-out” when a maintenance kit has reached its projected yield, but you can expect paper misfeeds and image-permanence problems until the maintenance kit is replaced.

Whenever possible, we include Toner-Based Waste Receptacles.  These are usually very low priced ($25), however, with a high capacity, but some can be more than this.  There is usually no warning when this item reaches its capacity.  While some devices allow you to simply empty them, other don’t, and must be purchased and replaced.  With the latter kind, they use an optical sensor to gauge their “fullness” and the sensor window remains translucent even after the toner is emptied from the container.  Regardless, we’ve tried re-using these kinds of waste-toner containers on numerous occasions in the past and found it to be a messy, environmentally unsafe and unhealthful process, with the result being powdered toner flying everywhere about and into our lungs.

In summary, regular printer monitoring and maintenance is insurance that your printer will not give up the ghost at the worst time.  Additionally, it allows you to budget for required consumables and have them on hand before downtime occurs.  Finally, usually you can easily monitor the status of any network printer using your Web browser to check the status of supplies.  If you are using a local printer that is directly connected to your PC, the vendor usually supplies software that you can use to monitor the status of key consumables.

Happy reading,
Terry Wirth

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