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The Real Cost of a Printer

November 2005
Before buying any printing device, calculate the total cost of ownership. You may be surprised at what you find.

By Dennis Walthers

If you are considering the purchase of a new printer, take a few minutes and research the total cost of ownership. The TCO varies by printer technology. While technologies like ink-jet have a low initial cost and are well suited for day-to-day correspondence, they are not intended for the business that needs to print 10,000 color pages per month.

Printer technology has changed rapidly in the past 20 years and even more so just in the last 10 years. Affordable color printing technology was not even available until the mid-1990s. Since then the technology has evolved rapidly and prices have dropped significantly.

When you are looking at printer features, pay close attention to how the specification is measured. It does you little good to purchase a printer that says it can print 20 pages per minute in draft mode unless draft mode is acceptable to you. Likewise, when you look at cost per page, consider that, in most cases, manufacturers use five percent coverage as a guideline. Five percent coverage is a short business letter with a small color logo. For full-page color, your cost per page will be much greater.

Items like network adapters, cables, memory, paper trays and print servers can quickly add to your TCO. If you need a network printer, look for a printer that has this feature built in.

What follows is an overview of various printer technologies.

Laser Printers

Laser technology has proven itself to be reliable for the heavy printing needs of small offices and large corporations. The advent of color laser technology has allowed these printers to gain popularity and market share. The price of color laser technology has come down considerably in the last few years.

However, there is a bit of hidden cost that needs to be considered when looking at laser technology. The printer uses a drum and fuser assembly to print a document. These components must be replaced every 10,000 to 100,000 pages and can cost up to 50 percent of the price of a new printer. In the case of a color laser printer, you can have four drums and fuser assemblies to replace. Fuser oil and waste bottles will also need to be replaced on a regular basis. These factors may increase your TCO.

Laser offers advantages of speed and the ability to support a work group through a network. This can reduce the total cost by sharing the printer among many users. Black-and-white laser printers have a cost per page of approximately six to eight cents while color laser printer costs will top 12 to 25 cents per page.

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