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Understanding the true cost of printing

Although there is considerable focus today on cost per page due to the increasing adoption of managed print services, there is little focus on understanding the total cost of printer ownership. When purchasing a new vehicle, it is in our best interest to not only focus on MPG, but also on anticipated maintenance costs, life expectancy, function & capability, comfort, safety, emissions, and much more. When selecting printers that are to produce the business-critical documents needed for the manufacture or movement of goods, likewise, it is in the best interests of businesses to consider far more than the cost per page.

Decision managers of companies required to print moderate to high volume or in harsh environments cannot rely only on cost per page to decide the best technology. It is necessary to consider the following aspects:

  • Life Expectancy: Printer lifespan is based on the company’s usage and print requirements.

  • Function & Capability: How the technology will withstand the environmental conditions to which it will be submitted.

  • Day-to-Day Operating Cost: Aspects of daily use to be considered, such as consumables costs, paper, required user intervention, e electricity.

  • Sustainability: The benefits of choosing a more sustainable technology.

Check out more details on how to calculate the cost of ownership and which aspects to consider when deciding the best print technology for your company.

Life Expectancy

Most IT personnel would unanimously agree that the longer an asset can last, the better, as much time and expense is involved in refreshing installed equipment. The average life span for a business Laser printer is 3-5 years, assuming

 1.) Print volumes are on the low end of the recommended monthly duty cycle, 

2.) The environment is climate-controlled with virtually no fluctuation in temperature or humidity, and 

3.) The air is free from any airborne contaminants such as dust.

In contrast, the average life span of a line matrix printer is around 7-10+ years, regardless of environment or monthly print volume.

Function & Capability

For the same reason it is unwise to consistently haul more payload than a particular truck is rated for, inappropriate printer technology placement will lead to an increasing frequency of downtime, and ultimately premature failure. Laser printers by design require clean air and precisely controlled temperature and humidity for optimal functionality and longevity. Extreme temperatures, or even variations in temperature, can cause condensation to occur within the device which can lead to electrical component failures. Airborne contaminants will build up over time on the rollers and drum which ultimately cause more frequent paper jams and print quality degradation. Humidity can cause cut-sheet media to curl, which will also lead to more paper jams, and static electricity can cause multiple sheets to stick together … again, leading to more paper jams.

Line Matrix Technology is designed to tolerate a much broader range of environmental conditions as the stored energy shuttle matrix print engine is virtually impervious to temperature swings, humidity, and airborne contaminants.   For this reason, Line Matrix remains the technology of choice for businesses that need to print documents or labels within industrial environments and are unwilling to compromise on output reliability.

Day to Day Operating Cost

From a day-to-day standpoint, the hard operating costs include paper, toner/ribbon, maintenance kits (Laser only), and electricity. The soft operating costs include user efficiency related to required user intervention. Laser typically gets the win on the cost of paper, as cut-sheet paper is more widely used and therefore, is more competitively priced. Line Matrix is the winner on energy consumption, and non-paper related consumables as the consumables cost per page of a typical business Laser printer is 5-6X that of a Line Matrix printer… the reason for this is the complexity and cost of Laser toner cartridges which contain chemical toner and many other components including rollers, blades, and a toner waste bin. As for soft costs, either Laser or Line Matrix could get the win as both have unique advantages. In some cases, Laser may be favoured if the business prefers to deal with separate cut sheets of paper, however, in other cases continuous-form media holds an intrinsic value in terms of maintaining the order of printed sheets and the integrity of a multi-page document.


10-15yrs ago sustainability didn’t have nearly the focus it does today, however, now most large enterprises have dedicated Sustainability Officers whose sole objective is to ensure the company is engaging in proactive initiatives to minimize the total environmental impact. Even though Line Matrix may be perceived by many to be an old technology, it remains the most sustainable method of printing from the standpoint of 1.) Energy consumption – ~30% less than a typical business Laser printer, 2.) Longevity – 2-3X the lifespan of Laser, 3.) Far fewer chemicals & materials are used in the manufacture of the consumables – Printronix Line Matrix Cartridge Ribbons consist only of a plastic housing (made from 100% recycled plastic resin), ribbon fabric, ink & gears, and 4.) Considerably less consumables waste.


In summary, Laser and Line Matrix printers each have their strengths and weaknesses, however, for moderate to high volume print requirements Line Matrix is the clear winner, regardless of office or industrial environment, from the standpoint of lifetime operating cost and environmental impact cost. When printing within industrial Environments, the lead of Line Matrix will be much greater considering the environmental forces that will likely cause premature failure of Laser technology devices.



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