Calculating Printer Costs and TCO

I’m currently working up an article on the total cost of ownership (TCO) for printers and choosing printers for your office, but while I work on the details (including researching costs for a variety of printers) here’s some information on the calculations involved. This is important for small to midsize offices because the variation in cost between different printer manufacturers and between low-end, midrange and high-end printers can add up to thousands of dollars a year in consumables.

Currently I’m only focusing on monochrome/black & white laser printers. The same calculations can be applied to color and multifunction/all-in-one printers as far as printing is concerned, but they don’t take into account the potential added value of the additional features (and volume of color printing will vary by office). I’m also not factoring in the cost of paper, since it’s effectively a constant – it’s unlikely that paper cost will vary based on which printer is chosen.

It’s important to do these calculations when you’re purchasing printers, because if you’re doing any significant amount of printing you may end up paying thousands of dollars more than needed over the course of just a couple of years. As a simple example, for printing 2000 pages/month (4 reams of paper, non-duplexed), a low-end printer may cost well over $2000 to use over the course of 2 years, while a slightly higher-end model may be under $1000 even with the higher initial cost of the printer factored in. At higher volumes the cost differences can be even more dramatic, and not just between low-end and midrange or high-end printers – price variations between midrange printers from different vendors can be thousands of dollars.

The basic information you need to do these calculations yourself are:

  • The cost of the printer itself
  • Toner information: Cartridge price and pages/cartridge. Some printers can use high-capacity cartridges, but they’re not always cheaper per page…. The capacity of the cartridge that shipped with the printer may also be important for low-volume uses. Toner cost per page is the single most important item in determining printer cost in almost all situations. Toner cost can range from 0.4 cents per page to 4 cents per page – when you’re printing 100,000 pages, that’s $400 vs. $4,000.
  • Drum information: Some printers have the drum and toner cartridge as a single unit, some require that the drum be replaced separately. If the printer needs drum replacement, get drum price and lifespan (pages/drum)
  • Maintenance Kit information: Higher-volume printers often require a maintenance kit after 200-300 thousand pages. These kits frequently include a fuser unit and replacement rollers, and may cost several hundred dollars.

Once you have all of those numbers, it’s just some basic arithmetic to calculate how many toner cartridges, drums and maintenance kits you’ll need based on the number of pages you expect to print, then add that to the price of the printer. If you’re not sure about how many pages you’ll be printing, think about how much paper you’re purchasing – each ream is 500 sheets, each box is 5000. If you’re going through a box of paper every two months (excluding copier usage), then you’re printing around 2500 pages/month or 30,000/year.

Doing these calculations by hand is fairly simple – for example, if a maintenance kit is good for 250,000 pages and you’re only calculating out to 120,000 pages then you need zero kits.

If you’re going to be putting this into a spreadsheet for comparing different printers, then things get a little stranger. The formula I’m using will be getting a bit more complicated, but for now it looks something like this:

=PrinterPrice+
(TRUNC((PagesPrinted-StarterPages)/TonerPages)+1)*TonerPrice+
IF(AND(ISNUMBER(DrumPages), ISNUMBER(DrumPrice)),TRUNC(PagesPrinted/DrumPages)*DrumPrice,0)+
IF(AND(ISNUMBER(KitPages),ISNUMBER(KitPrice)),TRUNC(PagesPrinted/KitPages)*KitPrice,0)

That formula factors in the price of the printer, the price of toner (including the cartridge that ships with the printer), the price of replacement drum kits if needed and the price of maintenance kits if needed. Eventually it’s going to include a “maintenance kit” estimate for printers that don’t need them; that estimate will likely be a “printer lifespan” number based on the Maximum Monthly Duty Cycle number provided by all printer manufacturers and will operate on the expectation that instead of a maintenance kit the printer will simply be replaced.

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