Calculating the actual cost of your printer – Printers are a funny thing. They feed on paper and some form of ink and then return marks on that paper. If you’ve ever had to buy supplies for a printer, though, it seems they are a money pit, because operating a printer is expensive. Given our trajectory into a digital world, though no company is ready to go completely paperless, paying for printing should be worth the benefits it offers.

printer ink

All images credit: Jeremy Lesniak

Whenever I consider printers, I’m reminded of a comic from The Oatmeal (warning, some of the comics use strong language) where an ink cartridge is compared to a pen – both being small pieces of plastic containing a small amount of ink. Yet, of course, they vary wildly in price.

Printer manufacturers have continued to confuse us by not providing accurate figures for cost per page. That’s why we need to figure it out on our own. You may find some similarities between this article and one I wrote recently about return on investment (ROI).

Doing the math

Our first step is to add up all of the one-time costs. These would include the printer, accessories, installation, maintenance plan, and any other items that won’t be used up. I’m going to use the example of a Brother MFC-9970CDW. This is a color multi-function printer that I found at for $699.99. I’m not endorsing this printer or Staples in any way, simply offering it as an example.

calculating printer costSecond, we make a list of the consumables. You’ve got paper, four-toner cartridges (black, cyan, yellow, and magenta) as well as a drum. Some printers don’t use separate drums, but this one does. Many larger printers require accessories such as a waste toner bottle, maintenance kits, and other related items. The specifics of the parts don’t matter, we just need a list.

Third, we need a list of all the costs and page counts for the consumables. Once we have that, we can divide the cost by the number of pages. Our sample printer has a drum that costs $164.99 and is good for (up to) 25000 pages. That yields a per-page cost of less than .7 cents / page. High yield black toner, on the other hand, is $102.99 and good for up to 6000 pages, or a bit over 1.7 cents per page.

I find it best to do these calculations in a spreadsheet, as most of the numbers will end up carrying out a few decimal places. Sure, 1/100th of a cent doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re printing 30,000 pages a month, it can add up.

Now you add up those numbers to get a more accurate cost per page than the manufacturer provides. I’ve seen these calculations, which tend to be closer to real-world outcomes, vary quite a bit from the manufacturer’s marketing materials. I don’t know how they develop their figures, honestly, but I’d like to live in their fantasy land. Our example printer costs 2.7 cents per black page and 14.8 cents per color page – and that’s with the high-capacity cartridges. I spent some time researching and couldn’t even find an official claim from Brother as to the “official” cost per page.

For some larger and more complicated printers you may find it easier to download a copy of the manual and locate all of the part numbers for the printer there. Even larger online outfits might not list all of the consumables with the printer. After all, that might scare you out of buying it! Our example printer falls into this category – requiring a waste toner bottle and belt unit that doesn’t list as accessories. These two items add .3 cents per page.

As you can see, digging out the hidden costs before you buy does give you a realistic picture of what your printer will cost you. Also factor in how long you will use the printer before you upgrade. Are there other things your company takes into consideration? Drop me a line.

Jeremy Lesniak
Based in Vermont, Jeremy Lesniak is managing editor at and founder of Vermont Computing, Inc. and Email him [email protected]
Jeremy Lesniak
Jeremy Lesniak
Tags: Gadgets & Devices,Technology
  • Sandy Berger

    This is a great article because it gets down to the nitty-gritty and you warn people about the fact that there are sometimes consumables that are never mentioned. I have an Epson printer that needs a “maintenance box”. I did not know anything about it until I started using the printer.

  • Mindy Thompson Loveall

    What I’d love to see you add to this is an article whether by you are someone else where the most recent printers are shown on a comparison chart, being sure to include the per page cost. :)