Why Is a $300 Printer Cheaper than a $99 Dollar Printer?

It is called Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). Simply, how much does it cost to buy and run a printer over time. This is also way, for many printers, $100 toner is cheaper than $35 ink. This is frequently called the Gillette Principle. Give the razors away for free and make a fortune on the blades. While King Gillette (a beard wearer who sold razors) did make a fortune on razor blades, it was his competitors who developed this principle, at least according to Wikipedia.

A typical ink jet printer is around $100-$300. It prints in color. It probably scans, copies, and faxes. It uses liquid ink. Typically it uses two ink cartridges, black and tri-color. The tri-color combines cyan (light blue), magenta, and yellow in one unit. For some models, each color is separate. Most new printers need all four colors to print, even to print black only.

A laser printer can also print in color. Its toner is a power. Each of the four colors are separate. Again, most printers need all four colors, even for black only printing. Typically laser toner is much more expensive on the shelf. Over $100 each. But they also print thousands of pages per cartridge. Inkjet ink cartridges are about $3-50 each. But some print less than 100 pages.

Math Time

This is so much easier with a spread sheet. There is one attached below.

What you need to do your calculations:

  • The price of the printer
  • The price of each of the inks that printer needs. The number of pages each ink prints.

The Gotachas:

  • Use the same store if possible for the price of everything. For the inks, use the same store or the printer manufacture's website. Yes the ink can be had cheaper. But you are comparison shopping. Look for the good deal after you have chosen your new printer.
  • Some companies ship a new printer with a half sized toner. Some a full sized toner. No one ships the XL sized toners. I do the math based on no toner shipping with the unit. It saves the time of finding out what is in the box.
  • Some printers have other parts that get worn out and need to be replaced. The spreadsheet is set for 10,000 pages. That is quite a bit for a home user. Most printers will not need parts other than toner in 10,000 pages. If one you are looking at does, you will need to add it in.

The Math

For each ink you will need to divide 10,000 by the number of pages used. Then multiply that by the price of the toner. Do this for each ink you will need. Thankfully on color lasers the price and yield is the same for all of the colors. The spreadsheet does the math once and then multiplies that by three. My example spreadsheet includes a great deal on the inkjet printer. It works out to 18 cents a page. This is about half what most inkjets cost per page.

So, what printer to buy? The $60.00 HP 4520 or the $400 HP M426? The HP 4520 comes in at $0.178 per page. For an inkjet, an outstanding price per page. The M426? $0.127. About average for a color laser.

Color laser looks so much better. Put your $60 a side each week and go for the laser. In two years, buy something nice with the $500 you saved.

Printer TCO.xlsx for Office 2013 and above
Printer TCO.xls for Office 2010 and earlier