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Total Cost Of Printer Ownership [Buyer Guide]

Make sure you are analyzing the entire cost of ownership before buying your next printer.

There are so many things to consider when choosing your next printer. How fast do you need it to print? Will you be printing color? What size do you want to be able to print, copier, fax, price, double sided, multi-function... and on and on. The list can go on forever making it impossible to asses what truly matters when buying your next printer. Most small businesses only think about the upfront cost when it comes to picking their next printer. Never looking past what they see as the big picture when making this type of decision. There are however, a number of other factors that you need to be considering when shopping for your next printer. You need to know the total cost of ownership and how to break them down.

Total Cost of Ownership

Understanding your total cost of ownership is a little easier than you might think. Breaking down the total cost of ownership on a number of different printers can give you better insight as to what printer will really suit your needs. You might just find that spending a little more up front can save you a lot down the road or you might even find that you can get by with less printer than you thought. In order to understand your total cost of ownership you need to have a basic understanding of a couple different things. If you don't know the answer to the following questions you might want to consider a thorough print audit to help you understand your printing behaviors before moving forward on another printer purchase.

Information you need about your companies print behavior: 

  • How many pages do you print per month?  You can not find an accurate cost per page or total cost of ownership on any printer without knowing how many pages you print per month. Tip: Keep track of your paper purchases in order to get an accurate estimate of the number of pages you print per month.
  • How many color pages do you print monthly? This one is a little more difficult and requires a little more thought to figure out. You should just have a relative percentage in mind of how much you print in color. If you have no idea you might consider a complete document management solution to help you precisely understand your total color output.
  • How long do you plan to own the printer? Knowing how long you keep a printer on average will help you determine the total cost of ownership. If you have no idea you can use 2-3 years as an average for your average printer in a small business setting.

Information you need to know about the printers you are considering: 

  • How much it costs? Upfront costs are calculate in the total cost of ownership. Make sure you know how much the printers you are compare cost.
  • How many pages can you print out of the box? Most printers come with some sort of out of the box printing capabilities if only just minimal. Find out whether the printers you are looking at come with starter cartridges and how many prints they yield.
  • What does toner cost and how many prints do they yield? Always look at the cost of each toner cartridge before buying the printer. Each cartridge will also give you a projected yield so you can do some basic calculations and figure out the cost per page.
  • Extended warranty? I don't really recommend it but some people will inevitably buy an extended warranty. I would recommend a fully managed print solution before an extended warranty but if we are looking at the true cost of ownership then we need to include any of these additional costs.

Doing The Math

The cost for the printer and any additional one time costs can be set aside for the moment. You then take the number of pages you print each month, multiply it by the time you want to own the printer and you get your total page count over the life of the printer. Then apply your percentage of color prints to that number to get a color print count. Remember that black is used on color prints as well so you have to include those in the total page count. For this example we will assume you are keeping the printer for 3 years.

  • 1,500 pages per month x 36 months = 54,000 total/black pages

  • 30% pages in color = 16,200 color pages

Once you know how many pages you plan on printing over the course of owning this printer you can calculate how many toner cartridges you will need over the life of the printer. Let's say the toner cartridges for this particular printer yield 5,000 black prints per cartridge and 3,000 per color cartridge. There are other expenses to consider (fuser, drum, hopper) but those parts are either built in to the toner cartridge or have their own yield specifications so keep that in mind when looking at toner pricing as well. Remember that you might also need to subtract the starter cartridges that come with the printer from your total count.

  • 54,000 pages - 1,500 starter toner = 52,500 / 5,000 = 10.5 cartridges

  • 16,200 pages - 1,500 starter toner = 14,700 / 3000 = 4.9 cartridges

So knowing that you can not buy a  partial cartridge you have to round up. You also have to multiply your color cartridge requirements by the number used in your machine. Typically 3 colors but possibly 4. This adds up to 11 black toner cartridges and 15 color cartridges over the life of the printer. I know you wont be buying them all at once but we are trying to get to a number here that allows us to break down the cost per ownership and cost per page. Go back and grab the price of the printer and any other up-front expenses we set aside earlier.

  $350 (Price of printer)

  $35   (Up-front expenses)

  $660 (11 x $60 - Cost of black toner cartridges) 

+$675 (15 x $45 - Cost of color toner cartridge) 

  $1,720 = Total cost of ownership

You can then take this number and divide it by 36 (the number of months you plan on owning the printer) to get a monthly print cost

  • $1,720 / 36 months = $47.80 per month

or divide it by the number of pages you will print and get a total cost per page

  • $1,720 / 70,200 pages = $.03 cents per page 

This is a quick and easy way to break down your overall print costs. Whether you are looking to buy a new printer or not you should know all of these numbers for your business. The more you print the more important it is to keep track of your total print costs. You wouldn't think it but there are a number of small companies out there bleeding money because they have no idea what they spend on print. Why not take a moment to figure out if there are some simple things you can do to reduce your print costs. Who knows what you might find out.