Why you're probably spending too much on printing

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Why you're probably spending too much on printing

If you are a small business that does a lot of printing, you really need to know this. Our guide to ink refills, laser vs inkjet and halving your printer bill.

If you are spending a lot of money on printing, there is the potential to save a lot. But if you only print a few dozen pages a month, feel free to skip over this article, because half of ‘not a lot’ is ‘not very much at all.’ The higher your print volume, the easier it can be to trim thousands of dollars per year from your printing budget. Gartner analyst Ken Weilerstein suggests organisations can reduce their printing costs by 10 to 30 percent


Key ways to save money:
  • It really is possible to halve your printing costs, so we could be talking about thousands of dollars a year, but the more efficient you already are, the harder it is to find big savings.
  • Generally, laser is cheaper than inkjet as page volumes increase. But there are some business inkjets with a lower cost per page.
  • Setting your existing printers from default to economical settings (eg double-sided and monochrome) is practically free (just a few minutes effort) yet saves you money on ink.
  • Promote a culture where documents are only printed when necessary.
  • Pick the right printer(s) to optimise capital and running costs.
  • Running your old printer into the ground may be false economy, as new models may be dramatically cheaper to run.
 

What can I do to save money without having to spend anything?

 
Don’t print everything
A surprising amount of printed output is wasted. Some of it even goes straight from the delivery tray to the recycling bin - yes, many of us would admit to printing something, being distracted, and then printing it a second time. That can be addressed by printers supporting ‘secure release’ (terminology may vary between vendors), which holds the job and doesn’t actually print it until a PIN is entered or a card swiped.
 
Significant savings can be made by not printing things that really don’t need to be printed. Procedures manuals, policy documents and the like can usefully be kept in electronic form and read from a screen where needed. That avoids the problems of out of date editions, time wasted filing updated pages into ring binders, and unnecessary expense. It also makes it quicker and easier to search for the right section. Alternatives include Microsoft’s SharePoint, wikis (with appropriate control over editing rights), and PDF files.
 
More generally, encourage staff to avoid printing unnecessarily. If you’re already managing email correctly, there’s no need for people to print copies of even important emails “just in case.” If someone carries an iPad or other tablet around, what’s the point of giving them printed routine reports when there’s almost no cost involved in keeping it all digital?
 
Save power
Taking advantage of power saving modes can make a difference to your electricity bill. A laser printer might consume around 15-20W when idle, but half of that or even less when asleep. Newer models tend to wake up more quickly than their older counterparts, so more aggressive sleep time-outs can be used without inconveniencing users. 
 
Some laser printers have multiple levels of sleep that progressively reduce power consumption (the Oki C831 uses just 1W when in deep sleep) but generally increase the time needed to print the first page of the next job.
 
Driver settings
It shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to set up your printer so the default settings are the most economically appropriate for your work practices. Defaulting to monochrome duplex output will save toner and paper. In environments where only a small proportion of jobs are finished work, it will probably help to set the default quality to draft (this may be called ‘toner save’ mode).
This is particularly easy to do where the printer’s internal settings determine those presented by the driver on each computer. Otherwise you may need to change the settings for each computer (and each user, where PCs are shared), and make sure ordinary users can’t permanently override your changes. 
 
The danger is that if the default settings don’t match what people actually need, there’s potential for waste if they frequently reprint jobs with corrected settings.
 
Outsource where appropriate
It can be a mistake to buy a more capable printer than you really need just to cope with peak demands. If you only produce a few A3 pages per month, or if there are one or two days a year when you crank out thousands of pages, think about buying a printer that can cope with your routine needs and going elsewhere for the special cases.
 
For example, Officeworks charges $1.73 for colour A3 printing in small volumes. So if there’s a copy shop within easy reach, you may save by buying an A4 printer and farming out the odd A3 job. Just remember to factor in time and petrol. 
 

Saving money with technology

 
Inkjet vs laser
There’s a widespread belief that inkjet printers are a lot more expensive to run than lasers. There is some truth in that, especially as low-end inkjets seem to be priced on the old Gillette model of ‘give away the razor (printer) and make money on the blades (ink).’ Ok, the hardware isn’t really given away, but the ink can be very expensive. As a general rule, cheaper printers mean a higher marginal cost per page. Generally speaking, laser (or LED, see below) technology is cheaper overall thank inkjet as print volumes increase.
 
But you will see vendors such as Epson and HP claim that some of their business-oriented inkjets deliver laser-equivalent quality at a similar or lower cost per page as comparable laser printers. Both vendors have models they claim reduce printing costs by up to 50% compared with laser printers.
 

 

HP Officejet 8100

HP LaserJet Pro P1566

Printer price

$199

$362

Cost to replace ink/toner

2300 pages per black cartridge ($52.46) = 2.23c/page (black only for comparison with the P1566)

2100 pages per toner cartridge ($116.80) = 5.56c /page

Cost to replace print head/drum

Designed to last the life of the printer

Integral with toner cartridge

Power consumption

Active: 28W; standby 3.84W; power save: 1.35W; off: 0.22W. HP does not give an estimated weekly power consumption for this model.

Active: 420W, standby: 1.2W;

power save (auto-off): 0.9W; off: 0.5W. Estimated weekly power consumption 0.668 kWh.

 
While laser printers use far more electricity than inkjets while printing (sometimes by an order of magnitude), that’s not necessarily the case in standby or power-saving modes. 
 
How are printing costs rated (are vendor estimates realistic?)
There are several components of printing costs. The obvious one is ink and toner. Cartridges generally come with an estimate of the number of pages they’re good for, but the test document may bear little resemblance to your typical pages. When comparing one manufacturer’s products with another’s, check whether they both use the same testing standard (usually ISO/IEC 19752 for mono toner, ISO/IEC 19798 for colour toner, or ISO/IEC 24711 for ink) or at least the same coverage figure (typically 5%).
 
Keep in mind is that yield figures are obtained by running the printer continuously until the ink or toner is exhausted. In normal use, inkjet printers usually waste some ink in order to prevent the mechanism drying out when idle, which means you would expect to get fewer pages per cartridge than claimed even if your documents matched those used for testing.
 
Then there are the parts that need replacing at intervals, especially printheads (inkjet) and drums (laser). Some models incorporate these items into the ink or toner cartridges, increasing their apparent cost but eliminating the need for relatively expensive replacement parts, while others - such as Epson’s WorkForce family - have non-replaceable printheads that are designed to last the life of the device.
 
Anything else?
A common practice among vendors is to offer normal and high-capacity versions of ink or toner cartridges. The latter usually represent better value for money. For example, Brother’s TN-2130 has a nominal yield of 1500 pages, and we found prices as low as $50 (3.3c per page). The high-yield TN-2150 is supposed to be good for 2600 pages yet costs as little as $58 (2.2c per page).
 
Similarly, a regular cartridge for an HP LaserJet P2055 has a yield of 2300 pages and lists at $104.20 (4.5c/page), while the 6500-page version is $191.30 (2.9c/page). If you buy the twin pack (2 x 6500) the per-page cost drops to 2.6c.
 
Remanufacturing/refilling
The use of remanufactured or refilled cartridges and ink or toner refill kits is contentious. In a business context, it’s hard to justify the effort of doing your own refills, as time is money and it can be a messy process. But refilled/remanufactured cartridges appear to give worthwhile savings as they can be around one-quarter the price of new ones.
 
In most business contexts you’re not particularly worried about the colour accuracy of the ink or toner, or whether the ink will fade in 10 years rather than 50, so the real question is whether it’s false economy. Firstly, printer vendors assert these products give significantly lower page yields than genuine replacements. HP says generic brands can give as few as half as many prints. Conversely, suppliers often claim their cartridges match or exceed the original yield.
 
Secondly, there’s the question of whether the chemical or mechanical (eg. toner particle geometry) formulation can lead to problems with the printer. It can happen, but you can also find people who have used non-genuine supplies for years with no apparent harm.
 
Some vendors take an aggressive stance: when you buy a Lexmark laser printer, the toner cartridge is supplied on terms that forbid refilling and require its return to Lexmark. The same goes for replacements unless you pick non ‘return program’ cartridges. 
 
You’ll need to make up your own mind about this issue - the potential variation in quality means we’re not going to recommend non-genuine supplies, although the price differences are so great that it may be worth sacrificing some of the printer’s useful life in return for reduced running costs. It really depends on your tolerance for risk. Weilerstein’s advice is “Stick with your original suppliers, unless you've seen independent laboratory validation of the yields, failure rates and image quality of the remanufactured supplies you are considering.” 
 
Rather than going for aftermarket consumables, a safer strategy is to make sure you get the best price when buying genuine cartridges. Shop around, take advantage of price-matching promises, and remember to include delivery charges or the cost of visiting a nearby store. 
 
Other savings
It’s not unusual for ‘laser’ printers to actually use LED technology rather than traditional laser mechanisms. LED printers have fewer moving parts giving greater reliability, and are usually smaller, quieter, cheaper, and more energy efficient.
 
Another way of keeping costs under control is to make people accountable for their printer use. Printers from companies with an office equipment heritage are more likely to include this capability, but it can be added through software. 
 
There are two main aspects. 
  • Firstly, it lets you keep track of the amount of printing each user is doing. If the volume is out of kilter with the tasks they are assigned, questions can be asked. A PIN (or sometimes a password) helps prevent people from masquerading as their colleagues.
  • Secondly, this feature often provides control over which functions are available to a user. Most commonly, this is used to stop people producing (relatively expensive) colour prints when their job function only requires monochrome. 
 
For example, the Auditron feature of some Fuji Xerox printers including the DocuPrint C2120 can count and control the number of mono and colour pages printed by each registered user. An administrator can obtain a report of the page count for each user. Other vendors offer similar functions.
 
However, Weilerstein warns that “if users are denied access to colour printers, they often waste time and money on rogue personal printers, or ask favours from other users who do have colour access, or run out to copy shops.”
 
Duplexing, which allows you to print on both sides of a piece of paper, is a desirable feature when buying a laser printer for general business use as it can make a significant difference to paper consumption - unless single pages make up the bulk of the output. In practice, a lot of emails and web pages are just longer than one page. Apart from the cost saving (easily estimated as office paper costs around 1c per sheet), you’ll waste less time refilling the paper tray. If you often mail multipage documents, there may be a saving in postage costs too.
 
Other software
Software such as Ecofont can reduce ink or toner consumption by ‘drilling out’ the solid strokes of each character with small white circles. The idea is to reduce by up to 50 percent the amount of ink or toner deposited on the page, while retaining legibility. Several of the commonly used Microsoft fonts (eg. Arial and Verdana) are supported, and the software also makes it easy to print all text in black, to print tables in greyscale, and to omit images completely or to print them in greyscale.
 
If you don’t want to go that far, some fonts use more ink or toner than others. Believe it or not, the University of Wisconsin determined that switching from Arial to Century Gothic reduces ink use by 30%. Compared side by side, Arial is clearly the blacker of the two. But there is a trap: Century Gothic is wider than Arial, so a given document may run to more pages if you make that substitution.
 
Managed print services
The basic idea of managed print services (MPS) is that you turn over responsibility for print management to a provider that determines the most appropriate type and number of devices to meet your needs, and charges on a per-page basis. For example, three or four low-end devices in one office may be replaced with one faster and more capable model with lower costs per page. 
 
It’s up to the MPS provider to maintain the equipment and keep it supplied with consumables. You’re still left with the job of ensuring that people don’t print unnecessarily or inappropriately.
One example is Fuji Xerox’s PagePack program. Delivered through resellers, it provides all consumables plus servicing for a fixed cost per page. Customers may include hardware in the contract, or purchase or lease the equipment separately. The company claims PagePack can reduce printing costs by at least 23%, and sometimes a lot more. There is no minimum volume or minimum monthly charges under PagePack contracts, which normally run for three years (usually with no penalty for cancellation during the third year).
 
An MPS contract may lock you into the agreed price per page even if your usage increases markedly during the contract, which would normally lower the cost. Conversely, a fixed price may be beneficial if your usage falls before the contract expires.
 
When to replace
On the face of it, you can save money by keeping your printer for as long as possible. That way you amortise the purchase price over a larger number of pages, and you delay the investment in a new printer.
 
But it’s not that simple. That thinking overlooks technological advances that reduce running costs. In some cases, a replacement printer can pay for itself within a year thanks to reduced power consumption and cheaper toner.
 
For example, specialist travel agent Away We Go Tours was using a five-year-old Fuji Xerox Phaser 7300DN printer, and manager Karen Peters realised the business was spending a lot on toner and other consumables.
 
After getting recommendations and doing her own research, she purchased a $2289 Oki C711DTN colour printer. During the last 12 months that the old printer was in use, consumable costs were nearly $6000 (the company produces around 35,000 to 40,000 pages per year). Yet Away We Go Tours only spent $2500 on consumables during the first 14 months after the Oki was installed (but bear in mind that a new printer comes complete with toner). So the new printer effectively paid for itself in around eight months.
 

The options

Before you buy, consider what type of documents you need to print and in what volumes. Make sure the printers you consider can handle that volume on an ongoing basis - the important number is the recommended monthly usage, not the duty cycle, which is a much bigger number.
Also think about the features you need. Colour or monochrome? Ethernet or Wi-Fi? Printer or multifunction - and if the latter, with or without fax?
 
There are plenty of brands to choose from, including Brother, Canon, Epson, Fuji Xerox, HP, Konica Minolta, Kyocera, Lexmark, and Oki. Resellers include general computer or office supplies outlets (including online), as well as more specialised companies that may be better placed to advise on high-end units if you’re not sure exactly what you need.

 

 Business scenario 1

Workshop with 2 PCs that needs a shared printer to print invoices and supplier orders. Printing load 50 invoices a day and 100 supply orders a week. 

Suggested Product

 

Epson WorkForce Pro WP-4090

 

 Why

 

Lower running costs than comparable laser printer. High capacity cartridges should last two months. Smudge-resistant ink.

 Price

 

$299

Notes

Two-year on-site warranty if registered online.

 

 Business scenario 2

One-person small business. Printing limited to occasional correspondence, travel itineraries and tickets. Owner is keen to print directly from iPhone without special apps. Sometimes needs to copy or scan paper documents.

Suggested Product

 

HP Officejet 6600

 

 Why

 

Moderately priced multifunction inkjet. Water-resistant inks. AirPrint/Wi-Fi support for iPhone.

 Price

 

$199

Notes

No automatic duplex printing, but unless special paper is used, double-sided inkjet printing is rarely satisfactory.

 

 Business scenario 3

Marketing department producing modest runs of colour marketing documents on a variety of media. Wants job accounting to help match usage against invoices to projects.

Suggested Product

 

Oki C831

 Why

 

Speedy (35ppm for A4). 1200 x 600 dpi. Handles postcards through A4 and A3 to banners. Optional second tray. Job accountin

 Price

From $2859

 

Notes

Three-year warranty if registered online.

 

 Business scenario 4

Events management business spending large amounts at the local print shop on booklet printing etc. Requires high-quality colour.

Suggested Product

 

Fuji Xerox Phaser 7800

 Why

 

Fast (up to 45ppm), 1200 x 2400dpi. Pantone compliant. Media up to A3 and 350gsm. Up to 10,000 pages per month ongoing. Extensive finishing options.

 Price

From $7699

 
 Notes Automated booklet production requires extra-cost Professional Finisher or Office Finisher plus Booklet Maker. Fully optioned price around $15,000.

 

 Business scenario 5

Car dealership with 45 employees, and a mixed fleet of 24 printers and copiers used for diverse purposes (totalling around 2800 mono and 250 colour pages per month). Concerned about high printing costs (over $21,000 per year).

Suggested Product

Fuji Xerox WorkGroup 340A 

 Why

 

Managed print services puts the onus on the provider to rightsize the printer fleet, substantially reducing average cost per page.

 Price

Approximately $12,000 per year, averaged over three years.

 

Notes

Also eliminates consumables management issues – paper, toner, etc. arrive just before they're needed.

 

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