The hidden cost of cheap printers

When it’s time to buy a new printer, the lure of a cheap printer is often so enticing that you don’t stop to calculate the operating costs. After all, what could possibly could go wrong with a $50 printer? The issue with these budget printers is that while they may have all the functionality you need and seem like a good deal, their disproportionately high printing costs will actually have you spending more long term than if you’d chosen a higher quality printer in the first place.

The general rule of thumb is: the more expensive the printer, the less the ink cartridge cost. With the lower tier printers, the ink cartridges often run out quickly and the cost to replace them is surprisingly high. Many of these “economical” printers come with a starter cartridge that has a lower capacity than those used for higher calibre printers. You may think that since you only print a small quantity of documents and photos each week, this isn’t such a big deal. But what many people find is that after only a few weeks their cartridge is already running out. “No problem,” you think… “I’ll just order a replacement”. It’s at this point you discover the replacement cartridges actually cost more than the printer itself. So what do you do? Buy another printer? It’s not a sustainable solution to replace the whole printer each time the cartridges run out – for your budget or the environment!

An analysis of a cheap printer

Let’s consider the operating costs of one of these subpar $50 printers. To replace the black cartridge, you are looking at $28 and then $35 to replace the colour cartridge. The total cost is $63.00, which is of course, considerably more than the cost of the printer. But wait, the story doesn’t end there. This particular printer uses a tri-colour cartridge. What’s that you say? Well, all three colours are part of the same cartridge which means that if you run out of yellow, you will need to replace the whole cartridge rather than the individual colour. Now let’s take a look at the cartridges and how many pages they can print. The black cartridge claims to have a yield of 190 pages and the tri-colour cartridge a yield of 165 pages. What is an average page? Each manufacturer is different; however, a standard printed page is based on 5% coverage of the page. This would be equivalent to a normal business letter with no photos. In reality, most people print a lot more than this. For example, a university essay, recipe off the internet, a photo or a map all use more than 5% coverage. So in practice, printing at this capacity on a regular basis means you may only get 40 pages out of these cartridges. You are now looking at around $1.50 per page. At this point it would be cheaper to go to your local printer and pay them to print it for you!


Page Coverage Examples

5% page coverage example

Page with 5% coverage

12.21% page coverage example

Colour page with 12.21% coverage

The features of a budget printer

Another thing to consider when perusing budget printers, is whether or not they support mobile phone or tablet printing such as Apple Airprint, Google Cloud Print and Mopria (see last week’s blog article). They typically don’t include these options, nor offer duplex (double-sided) printing.

Which Printer Questionnaire

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The hidden cost of cheap printers – The Solution

So the next time you’re tempted to replace a printer with the cheapest option you can find, remember the mantra: “the cheaper the printer, the more expensive the consumables”! Generally speaking, the more you spend upwards of $50, the best return on your investment you will get in terms of faster print speeds, more affordable cartridge replacements and online support for office printing and copying needs. Like most economies of scale however, this is only true up to a certain price point. For home use, printers or multi-function devices that range from $50 to $500 need to be carefully navigated to get the best value for money. There is no need to spend too much on a printer that provides features you will never use.

Consider your printing needs in terms of pages you print per week and the type of documents you will be printing, e.g. spreadsheets/maps/photos/reports/assignments – most of which use more than the nominal 5% coverage. Also consider the environmental impacts of buying a printer that you will probably end up throwing away when you realise how expensive it is to run! If your printing needs are minimal, you may even find it makes more sense to outsource your printing to a local printer that offers a speedy digital service.

Now to the most important question: which printer you should purchase? Fill out this quick questionnaire so we can guide you through the process. The questions will prompt you to consider the five most important things you value in a printer. After we ascertain your priorities, Rob will get back to you via email with his top picks to meet your specific printing needs. Sounds easier than figuring out how to replace a tri-colour cartridge the night before an assignment is due, don’t you think?

We hope you enjoyed this article: The hidden cost of cheap printers. Stay tuned for our next topic in 2 weeks time.