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The Total Cost of Ownership

Shopping for your next printer, copier, scanner, or multifunction device means looking at more than just the price of the hardware. It means understanding available add-ons, print speeds, your own expectations of workloads, and so much more. Because the final price and your bottom line depend on your understanding of the total cost of ownership before you buy a single machine.

What’s the total cost of ownership, (or TCO)? Well, that’s the whole sum of what this purchase will really cost you when it’s all said and done. More than just the MSRP or sticker price, and more than just adding in finance charges and fees, the TCO factors in the actual costs associated with running the machine for it’s expected life. Hard costs like toner, supplies, paper, repair, support fees, maintenance kits, and more along with soft costs or time investments all play a part in whether or not one machine is really cheaper than the next. Because, let’s face it – that low initial cost doesn’t mean that machine is actually cheaper.

Breaking down the total cost of ownership on a number of different devices can give you better insight as to which one will really suite your needs. In fact, you might find out that spending a little more upfront can save you a ton down the road. In order to get started finding the total cost of ownership, you need to figure out a couple other things first.


Company print and copy behavior

How many pages do you print and/or copy per month? You may not know this number if you’ve not been monitoring or have some print management software that monitors for you, but you can get a rough idea of your printing load by looking at your paper purchases. Just keep in mind that you can’t find an accurate TCO on any printer or copier without knowing how much of each you use a month. So if you’re guessing here, the TCO will be based off that guess rather than fact.

How many color pages do you print per month? You probably already have a relative percentage in mind of how much color printing your office does, but if you don’t you might consider managed print services to monitor this data going forward.

How long do you plan to own the printer or copier? The average for a small business setting for an average printer is 2-3 years. But your needs and plans can vary greatly, so it’s a good idea to know roughly how long of a life this device is expected to have when determining your total cost of ownership.


What you need to know about the device or devices you are considering

How much does the machine cost? Here we’re looking at the sticker prices or up-front costs for this part of calculating the TCO.

How many pages can you print with the supplies provided at purchase? When you’re looking at printers, most come with starter cartridges or toners, and the box often tells you just how many prints you can expect from what’s provided with the machine.

What is the cost of toner or print cartridges and how many printed pages do they yield? The cost of the ink or toner probably seems obvious, but knowing how many pages you can expect to print off each replacement is a major factor when figuring out the total cost of ownership. This is a statistic you can usually find on the box or manufacturers website.

What are the cost for other consumables? We’ve talked about toner and printer ink, but what about maintenance kits, fusers, drums, the cost of carrying a ready supply of these items, not to mention the paper you’re printing and copying with.

Don’t forget about warranties, support, and maintenance. Many machines offer some type of warranty, but it can be pretty limited. If you’re looking at lower-end machines you’re probably used to seeing extended warranties, but when those aren’t available you’re probably being presented with support and maintenance agreements from your local dealer. In addition to these costs, you’ll also need to figure out the cost of service for internal IT staff and any training for employees to be able to operate the machine properly.

There are some additional hidden costs also that factor into the TCO like network infrastructure, energy use, employee productivity as it relates to the machine, and time invested when the machine needs repair. These costs might be a little harder to estimate, but all of these can play a part in the total cost of ownership for these devices.


Time to Do The Math!

Let’s get started figuring out the TCO. Start by taking the number of pages you print each month and multiply that by the time you want to own the printer to get your total page count for the life of the printer. Then, apply the percent of color prints to that number to get a color print count. So, your math will look like:

# of pages printed each month x total time in months you will own printer = total print page count

For a quick example, let’s say you estimate you print 1,000 pages a month and plan to keep the device for 4 years.

1,000 pages per month x 48 months = 48,000 total pages

Then, let’s assume 20% of your printing is in color.

48,000 total pages x .2 = 9,600 color pages

Next, you’ll be figuring out how ink or toner cartridges you will need over the lifetime of the machine. You’ll take the number of pages you figured out above (in our example that was 48,000 pages) and subtract any starter cartridge figures from this number.

# of lifetime printed pages – starter black ink or toner # of pages = # of black pages you’ll be buying for


# of black pages you’ll be buying for ÷ black ink or toner pages per cartridge = # black cartridges

For color,

# of lifetime printed pages – starter color ink or toner # of pages = # of color pages you’ll be buying for


# of color pages you’ll be buying for ÷ color ink or toner pages per cartridge = # color cartridges

Let’s use some example numbers to better understand this math. Let’s assume that your device came with some starter toner for both black and color. Let’s also assume that your black cartridges yield 5,000 black printed pages per cartridge and 3,500 per color cartridge. The math for this would look like:

48,000 total pages – 1,000 starter black toner = 47,000 pages ÷ 5,000 = 9.4 black cartridges

9,600 color pages – 500 starter color toner = 9,100 pages ÷ 3,500 = 2.6 color cartridges

In this example we end up needing partial cartridges since these are not whole numbers, so we’d need to round up; 10 black cartridges and 3 color cartridges. From there you have to multiply the number of color cartridges (in this example, 3) by the number of color cartridges your machine requires; typically that’s 3 but sometimes it’s different so you’ll have to look at the machine to determine what’s needed. Let’s use the standard, though, so the total number of color cartridges would actually be 9 over the lifetime of the device.

Next, we’ll look at the price of the printer and any other up-front expenses. Let’s say we’re looking at a simple all-in-one that’s great for a small business.

Price of Device = $1500 (sticker price)

Leasing? = $0.00 (you’d factor in any fees or leasing costs if you plan to lease, but in this example let’s say we’re not going to lease the device)

Additional up-front expenses and consumables = $200

Cost of black toner cartridges = $50

Total cost of black toner cartridges (lifetime) = $500 (x10 cartridges we determined earlier)

Cost of color toner cartridges = $40

Total cost of color toner cartridges (lifetime) = $360 (x9 cartridges we determined earlier)

Total cost of ownership = $2,560

(sticker price + additional fees + lifetime black cartridges + lifetime color cartridges)

If you divide this by the total number of months you plan to own the machine, (48), you can determine your monthly cost.

$2,560 ÷ 48 = $53.33 per month

If you divide the TCO by the number of pages you will print (56,100) you can determine the total cost per page.

$2,560 ÷ 56,100 = $0.05 cents per page


Looking past the sticker price

In the end, if you’re planning on buying a new printer, copier, or multifunction device, you simply have to look past the initial cost of the device and look at the total cost of ownership. Or, at the very least consider the cost per page when looking at the machines to determine if it’s going to be a more cost effective solution for your office. Your staff and your bottom line will thank you for the effort.

For even more help calculating your TCO or purchasing your next office machine, our partners are knowledgeable copier experts who are ready to help you answer all these questions and get you the best machine for your needs. Get started with a quick questionnaire located on the side of this page, and they’ll handle the rest.

About Kristen Lance

Kristen is a Marketing VP for a popular B2B software company. She has roughly 15 years of professional photography experience; primarily known for her visually stunning themed portraits. When she's not behind the camera or computer, you can find her creating fun and inspiring children's toys for her Etsy shop, or spending time with her husband and two girls.

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