How Much Will Your Printer Actually Cost? [2022 Guide]

On a tight budget, or simply want to make sure your printer won’t cost you way more than you thought? Here’s an easy way to calculate what you can expect to pay out over the lifetime of your printer.

October 19, 2021  MIN READ

Last Updated on 30 April 2022

Here’s the truth: most often, the most expensive part of owning a printer is the ongoing cost of replacing ink and toner cartridges.

This means that if you really want a cost-effective printer (and not just one that’s cheap to buy) then you need to look at the printing costs — that is, how much it costs you to print a page.

The general rule is that the cheaper the price for a printer, the more you pay for ink and toner cartridges. But sure — if you keep your printing costs low (you don’t print very often), then the total cost per page can still make the cheaper printer a better deal for you.

What is Cost Per Page — and Why is It Important?

The cost per page for your printer is the amount you pay for each page that you print. Commonly, the calculation is based on the cost of the ink or toner the printer uses and does not include other printer costs such as paper, power, and replacement parts.

How much you pay for each page you print varies widely between printer models, as well as between OEM (manufacturer) ink and toner cartridges for the same printer and their compatible or recycled equivalents. The difference, particularly if you’re printing a lot of pages, can prove very expensive over time.

When you know a printer’s cost per page, you can calculate how much it will cost you to keep it running over its lifetime, whether that’s three years, five years, or more. That can help narrow down your choices when you’re deciding which printer to buy. Also, if your current printer is expensive to run, knowing what cost per page you could be paying will help you decide if it’s time for an upgrade.

How to Calculate Cost per Page — the Simple Way

You can calculate the cost per page for most printers quite simply.

Look at the price tag for the black cartridges used by your printer. Then divide this number by the average number of pages printed with those cartridges before they are empty — look for the manufacturer’s estimated “page yield” (which is usually prominently promoted on the packaging).

This gives you the cost per page for black and white prints.

For colour printers with more than one printer cartridge, you will need to calculate and total the cost per page for each cartridge to get the cost per page for colour prints.

There are no industry standard page yield tests for photo printers and wide format printers. The reason for this is that the actual yield varies considerably based on the content of the photos, how often you print, the printing paper you use, and other factors.

Printer manufacturers have instead developed their own yield measurement methodologies. This means that you can reliably compare the page yields across a single manufacturer’s range of photo printers and wide format printers, but not with another printer brand and model.

But wait — what is Page Yield and how is it calculated?

The estimated page yield for the ink or toner cartridges your printer needs is the number of pages you can expect to print with each new refill.

It’s important to note that ink and toner manufacturers calculate page yield based on an average five per cent coverage — meaning that only five per cent of the page has been printed with ink.

While this is the ISO/IEC standard and it does the job of providing a common apples-to-apples comparison point when choosing between printers, it is a guide only. If you rely on the manufacturer’s cost per page estimate, you may be underestimating (or overestimating) your actual running costs.

If your typical usage is higher than the five percent ink coverage per page average, you will need to replace ink cartridges or toner cartridges more frequently than the stated page yield would suggest.

That means that your printing costs will be a lot higher and the number of pages you can print from each printer cartridge will be much lower, for instance, if you’re in the habit of printing full-colour images and photos. Alternatively, if you are printing text-only documents in draft mode your ink consumption is likely to be lower than the manufacturer’s estimates, and replacement printer cartridges will last you longer.

For a simple comparison of the running costs for different printers, you can safely use the manufacturer’s stated Cost Per Page figures. You will have enough information to work with if the printers you are looking at have a similar purchase price and comparable features.

How to Calculate Your Actual Printer Running Costs

If you really want a reliable estimate of how much a printer will cost you over the long term, the calculation is a little more involved.

Why bother? Let’s say you are looking at two inkjet printers, one much cheaper than the other. Both give you what you want in terms of features, but the cheaper one has a higher cost per page (which is typical).

Whether or not the cheaper inkjet printer is a better buy will depend on how much printing you do. At the budget end of the market, not only do ink refills cost more but cheap inkjet printers aren’t designed for heavy workloads and, if over-used, parts will soon need replacing.

But if you are not printing a lot then the cheap inkjet printer might be your best option.

Perhaps you are weighing up whether or not you need a printer at all. You’ve been using your local print or copy shop but having your own printer would be more convenient if it’s not going to be too expensive. You need to estimate your likely running costs before you can decide.

First, work out how much printing you do

Firstly, find out how many pages you typically print every month. Include everything from business cards through to A4 colour prints, and even printer calibration pages. Don’t forget, if you are looking at an all-in-one (multifunction) printer, to include printouts from scans and faxes.

If you’re not sure how much printing you do, look at how often you purchase printing paper. Each packet is a ream (500 pages) of paper.

Next, divide the total by 12 months to get your monthly output figure.

Now look at your actual page yield (here’s why)

To calculate the true cost of printer ink or printer toner, you need to look at the sort of printing you normally do — the type of content and document.

True, there are many other factors such as the type of paper you use, and your print mode and driver settings, that determine how many pages you will get from a new refill. Even the font you use, and the temperature and humidity will have an impact.

But if your average page coverage is much higher (or lower) than 5%, your actual cost per page will be significantly different from the figure you get based on the manufacturer’s expected page yield.

What does 5% page coverage look like? It depends what you’re printing. The two pages shown here both have 5% page coverage.

Page Print Coverage Rates - 5%

For comparison, here are some examples of 10% and higher page coverage. Which most resembles your typical printout?

Page Print Coverage Rates - 10% & 30%

What about other costs like paper and replacement parts?

Good question. Ever wonder why the cost of ink and toner is so much more for an inexpensive printer?

Cheaper printers generally have cheaper parts that need to be replaced more often. So when you buy a new inkjet cartridge it may also include four new disposable printheads, sold together as a single unit. Buy a new toner cartridge and it may include a replacement toner drum and waste toner bin.

You are not just paying for the ink or toner. The inkjet/printhead and toner/drum combination cartridges are more complex, costing more to manufacture.

If you are looking at one of the cheapest inkjets, very few parts are replaceable — when something goes, you have to get a new printer. Any parts that can be replaced can cost as much as the original printer.

On the other hand, more expensive printers include parts that last longer, are sold separately, and are easy to replace (you won’t need a service technician).

Most laser printers use a toner cartridge that includes the imaging drum unit with the cartridge. Some, including most Brother laser printers, keep the toner and drum unit separate. When the imaging drum unit is separate, you should get an alert after you have used 3-4 toner cartridges to tell you that it needs to be replaced. The drums in workgroup and larger laser printers, however, will last much longer. In any event, if you start to notice black spots or lines on the page, it is probably time to replace the drum.

Adding to your printing costs, you will eventually need to replace your laser printer’s waste receptacle (at about 50,000 pages) and the belt unit (at around 100,000 pages).

The fuser (a pair of rollers that apply the toner) should be cleaned regularly but may also need to be replaced at some point. For desktop printers, this is usually after printing 50,000-200,000 pages, but the fusers for workgroup printers last longer. It may be time for a new fuser kit (which is easy to replace, but can be expensive) when you start having problems such as paper jams and when printed pages are wrinkled.

As for inkjet printers, you will eventually need to replace the print heads (if they are separate components and not integrated with the ink cartridges) but, if well-maintained, they can last years. 

Make it a point to keep the heads clean, and you will know it is time to change the print heads when you get an alert from your printer to do so, or you start seeing a noticeable deterioration in print quality. At that point, if yours is a comparatively inexpensive inkjet printer you may be better off getting a new printer. For workgroup-class inkjets, however, look for new print heads, as replacing them will be your best option.

Now you know your printer’s running costs

Once you have an estimate of the printing costs for your printer you can determine the lifetime cost. But how long will your printer last?

While printers will often last a lot longer, industry expectations are that inkjet printers will have a three-year lifetime, with most desktop laser printers lasting for about five years. Workgroup and larger printers are more durable and will last longer

In reality, how long your printer will last is dependant on how many pages you print (as well as the printer model and operating conditions).

Personal and desktop printers may only be able to handle a few thousand pages per month (what’s known as the ’recommended duty cycle’). Exceed the duty cycle and printer parts can quickly wear out. On the other hand, workgroup and larger model laser printers can usually print upwards of 100,000 pages a month.

Forecast your lifetime costs with this in mind, knowing that cheaper printers may not go the distance, while the reward for investing in a more expensive one is that it is likely to outlast your expectations.

Once you have estimated the lifetime costs for your printer, make sure to add in the initial purchase price, including any installation and setup fees if applicable.

Now, when you compare the total costs of a cheaper printer with a more expensive one which one is actually cheaper?

Newer printers tend to be more efficient and have a lower cost per page — if you are deciding whether or not to replace an old printer, does getting a new printer make more sense?

About the Author

Our gadget guy. Jeremy’s love for new technology dates back to his first computer, a Mac SE with 2MB RAM and a 20MB hard disk. A former editor of Australian MacUser, he has been writing about the internet, consumer technology and software for over 30 years.

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