How Much Are Cheap Printers Really Costing You?

When the internet first made inroads into the commercial world, back in the 1990s, the printer industry must have thought their businesses were going to crumble. Suddenly, the need to store information on paper was going to be superseded by a global network of computers freely sharing everything.

But the reality is different. We now print more than ever before and that's costing us a pretty penny. But just how much is printing costing us?

I see a lot of people buying printers and there's a lot of temptation to hit the local electronics or appliance retailer, or even the post office or supermarket, to pick up an inexpensive printer. But the reality is those low up-front costs are often offset by higher operating costs. In particular, inks and toners can set you back significantly in the long term. It's like the razor industry; the handle is cheap but the replacement blades cost plenty.

The other gotcha is that not all replacement inks are created equally. While the consumables for Brand A might cost the same as Brand B, you might find one cartridge is rated to deliver more pages than the other. So, look carefully at the capacities of different cartridges before committing to your new printer. And then there's the question of OEM versus third-party inks.

Laser and LED printers have more expensive consumables than inkjet but they typically measure capacities in the thousands of pages and not hundreds. So, while a black inkjet cartridge might cost $60 and the laser toner costs $120, the laser may give five times as many pages. However, if you only print a few pages per month at home or in the home office, that might be acceptable as you only need to "find" $60 at a time rather than over $100.

Power consumption is probably the trickiest cost to calculate. But, for starters, look for a printer that has automatic shutdown features so it powers down when idle. My old inkjet has an option to shutdown completely after 30 minutes of inactivity but my newer LED doesn't have such an option. It does however, have an option to set when it goes into low power mode although I prefer to have it completely turned off when it's not needed.

Most printer spec sheets do list power consumption when active and idle and they're worth checking. But working out how much juice your printer will precisely use can be difficult depending on the sleep times you set and how long it takes for the device to actually print a page. For example, one printer I looked at says it's power consumption is "27 watts maximum, 5.5 watts (Active), 0.29 watts (Manual-Off), 1.21 watts (Sleep)". But another listed the power consumption as "Max 1,320 w or less Low 15 w or less Sleep 1.2w or less".

So, while the devices are sleeping they're about the same, during active printing there's a massive difference. However, the first printer is an inkjet and takes longer to print a page than the second printer, which is a laser. So, the actually energy needed to print a page is harder to determine.

When I've been involved in buying printers, this is the model I used to compare costs. My assumption is that the printer will be used for three years, have no non-warranty repairs and deliver an average of 1000 pages per month. I haven't included power costs. If I was going through an exhaustive process where I compared multiple models, I'd give that more attention and use it to separate functionally similar models if there was a substantial difference in the power consumption specifications.

Printer 1 Printer 2
Upfront cost $1000 $300
Ink/toner $400 per 5000 pages ($0.08 per page) $120 per 500 pages ($0.24 per page)
Paper $6 per 500 sheets ($0.012 per sheet) $6 per 500 sheets ($0.012 per sheet)
Three-year cost $1000 + $2880 + $432= $3312 $300 + $8640 + $432 = $9372

Even though Printer 2 costs less than a third as much as Printer 1, it will cost a lot more over to run over three years.


    I went through an entire University Degree before realising about

    Holy Sh*t was I mad that I had wasted so much money on official brother cartridges when there were third-party replacements for less than 1/6 of the price that performed just as well.

    Brother HL1110 $69
    Brother Ink via eBay $ 8.75 for 1.5K pages printed

    3Year Cost: $711

    $300 Brother Printer - MFC - HL-L5200DW
    Ink Cost - $22.30 for 8K page toner.

    3 Year Cost: $832.35

    $999 Brother MFC-L6700DW
    Ink Cost $20.96 per 8K Page Toner

    3 Year Cost $1525.32

    If I stick to B&W, which is all I usually need, a $30 2nd hand laser printer is slightly cheaper :)

    Those with low volume, infrequent use are not necessarily better off with an inkjet. Most cartridges don't tolerate being unused for long periods and the nozzles gum up. This will either reduce print quality resulting in wasted ink, or the printer will insist on "cleaning" the nozzles resulting in wasted ink.

    Even the cheapest laser printer will come with a toner good for at least 500 pages. And won't waste that toner regardless of how infrequently its used. If only printing a few pages a month, that toner may outlast the printer and never need changing.

    Last edited 08/02/18 10:54 am

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