I’m regularly asked by customers “Which laser printer should we get?” or “What’s the cheapest good laser printer?” Here’s an initial stab at answering those questions. I’ve been pulling together some numbers on the costs to purchase & run assorted monochrome laser printers. While there’s still work to be done on tracking down some items like maintenance kit part numbers and prices, none of the outstanding information is likely to lower the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of a printer.
The preliminary numbers have surprised me quite a bit.
- Brother – a company I’ve always looked at as being a good choice for a home printer – is hands-down the winner on a pure cost standpoint over almost the entire range of print volumes.
- Hewlett-Packard/HP, which I knew would command a price premium, is never even within 15% of the best TCO, with toner costs in its low- to mid-range LaserJet printers more than twice most other manufacturers.
- Lexmark, another brand that I expected to be somewhat pricey, was within 15% of the best TCO only with one low-end printer under very light loads typical of household use.
- Dell, while the numbers are incomplete, looks like a very solid value for higher-volume printing or over the long term (300,000+ pages)
Read More for print volume numbers and some specific printers.
While there is some information I haven’t either found or determined not to exist (e.g. do the midline Dell printers require maintenance kits/fuser replacements and how much do they cost if so?), none of what’s missing is going to lower the calculated costs of running a printer. For the Brother printers that lead the pack, I either have all of the maintenance prices and intervals or I’ve used a guess at how long a printer will last and listed the full replacement cost as the “maintenance kit” price.
This information is comparing Brother, Dell, HP and Lexmark monochrome laser printers; I’m aware of Kyocera printers but pricing is hard to come by. I do not currently have multifunction copiers from any manufacturers, but I expect that I’ll be adding many of those multifunction devices in the future. I may not include the truly high-end copier/printers since those are frequently leased rather than purchased and may have widely varying terms. That said, for very high volume printing you should definitely check on what your vendors can offer you – I only ran calculations out to 750,000 pages (still less than $9000 TCO).
All printers listed have network interfaces; I feel that for business environments the cost savings of cheaper non-networked printers disappears when you need to hook even one of them up to the network. Other than networking, the numbers presented here do not account for printer features or accessories such as extra trays – prices for those will probably not vary too much between brands.
I’ve added links to many of these printers to the Fencepost Software Amazon Store, and I’ll link to some of them from this article. I encourage you to read reviews of specific printers and shop around – Amazon has decent prices, free shipping for many items and a good reputation for dealing with returns, but it’s entirely possible that you’ll find some of these printers available for less. For the smaller printers, you may even find them on sale for less at office supply stores in your area if you’re not in a hurry.
In the low-volume category, which I’ll count as anything under 5000 pages for the life of the printer, the Brother HL-2170W is a solid winner at $135-250 depending on volume and the need to replace the toner cartridge (it starts with a 1000-page “starter,” regular cartridges are 2600 pages for $49 or less which is ~1.9 cents/page). The Lexmark E120N is slightly higher but still fine for light usage – base price is similar, but it comes with only a 500-page starter cartridge & replacement cartridges are 2000 pages for $74 or ~3.7 cents/page).
For higher-volume printing, the Brother HL-5370DW (or 2-tray Brother HL-5370DWT) has a very wide “sweet spot” from 10,000 up to 90,000 pages. No other printers are within 15% of the TCO except at specific narrow performance points or at the high end of the range. This is a combination of a low cost for the printer ($215) and toner at 1 cent/page (8000 pages for a $80 cartridge), plus low-cost drum replacements. I based this on an anticipated printer lifespan of 90,000-100,000 pages, but these are still the best TCO for the print volume even if you change the expected lifespan down to 75,000 or up to 150,000.
Starting around 100,000 pages and going up to around 300,000 pages, the Brother HL-7050n is your best performer, while from 300,000 up to 750,000 it alternates with the Dell 5330dn (also at Dell). Either should be a solid choice, but if you need duplexing go with the Dell – it’s included on that one where it isn’t included on the Brother.
In the attached spreadsheet PDF (see below), the cells with a green background have the lowest price for the number of pages printed. Cells with bold text are within 15% of the lowest cost. Cells with the numbers greyed out are either higher than the median cost for that number of pages or are more than $0.50/page – either way, that printer is overly expensive for that number of pages. Cells with no special formatting are less than the median cost, but are more than 15% higher than the lowest-cost option.
Some areas of the spreadsheet will be changing – for example, I’ll be adding an estimated lifetime number of pages for many of the printers and modifying the calculations to assume purchasing another of those printers when that lifetime is hit. Right now that is accomplished on a few printers by setting the maintenance kit cost to be the price of the printer itself, with the kit interval as the expected lifespan. Those cells are mostly highlighted in yellow.
Printer TCO Calculations-20091230 (PDF Download)
The printers compared in this spreadsheet are: Brother HL-2170W, Brother HL-5370DW, Brother HL-6050DN, Brother HL-7050N, Brother HL-8050N, Dell 2330dn, Dell 3330dn, Dell 5210dn, Dell 5330dn, Dell 7330dn, HP P1505n, HP P2035n, HP P2055dn, HP P3005n, HP P3015dn, HP P4014n, HP P4015n, HP P4515n, HP 5200tn, HP 9040dn, HP 9050n, Lexmark E120n, Lexmark E260dn, Lexmark E360dn, Lexmark E460dn, Lexmark T650n, Lexmark T652n, Lexmark T654n, Lexmark T656dne, Lexmark W840n
Update: For many older printers, you may find the information at PrinterDB.com interesting. While I didn’t use their formulas in creating this page, I expect to check on their color calculations when I add color printers.
Update 2: Revised links to go directly to the product pages (with reviews) at Amazon, plus one directly to Dell. If there are printers that you’re aware of that I have not included, feel free to ask me to add them to the list – I’ll be updating it with additional printer models including multi-function printers.
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