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Price vs Value - Part 1 - Printers Why getting a "good deal" really isn’t!

Knowing the difference between saving money, getting a good deal, and making a good investment can be tricky when looking at the multitude of options available in the current electronics market. The biggest “gotcha” purchases that I see happening in small business are both related to buying consumer grade equipment rather than products designed for business use.

First up, I often see companies purchasing printers designed for home use. These are usually small, stylish and affordable upfront but come with a few gotchas.

When choosing a printer, the main thing to consider is the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). Let’s start with a little printer 101. There are primarily two types of printers: inkjet, which use ink that is applied to the paper using small nozzles (jets), and cured with light or through exposure to air, and laser, which use toner that is applied via a rolling drum, and is fused to the paper through heating, kind of like a clothing iron. With both types of printers, the cost of consumables (ink or toner) over the lifespan of the printer is frequently as high as 90% of the overall cost. The cost of the physical unit is typically a very small part of the TCO, often as low as 10%. Cost per page is determined by dividing the average cost of ink or toner cartridges by the expected number of pages the ink or toner cartridge will print. Now that you know these things, let’s look at the cost of consumables on a per page basis. On average:

Laser (uses toner): Cost of printer: $200 - $500 Black & White (B&W) printing: $0.04/page Color printing: $0.12/Page TCO, assuming $500 printer cost, 3-year lifespan, 5,000 pages/month, 75% B&W: $11,300

Inkjet (uses ink): Cost of printer: $50 - $250 B&W: $0.08/page Color: $0.25/Page TCO, assuming $250 printer cost, 3-year lifespan, 5,000 pages/month, 75% B&W: $22,300

Of course, these are just averages, and ink cost can be significantly higher depending on brand. The other bit of info is knowing what the printer is doing when you are not printing. Inkjets must run cleaning cycles regularly to keep the print nozzles functioning. There is a literal waste bin inside of all inkjet printers designed for this function where it deposits your expensive printer ink to never be seen again. Toner on the other hand is deposited through positive/negative charged rollers and the toner just sticks to the paper before it is baked on. This results in much less (nearly zero) wasted consumables and toner has a longer shelf life due to the lack of solvents/curing agents.

What does this mean? Although it seems logical to purchase an inkjet that is affordable, the TCO is going to be higher after only a few resupplies, and the difference is compounded if your business does a lot of printing. Additionally, laser printers are functionally simpler machines and therefore have fewer moving parts to break. This means that, in many circumstances, if a quality laser printer is having issues, it can be repaired at a small cost. For most businesses, laser printers are the best long-term value option.

Keep an eye out for the next newsletter, when I address the second issue: why buying computers “off-the-shelf” isn’t the great cost saving it looks like.

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