There’s a polite yet onerous four letter word that plagues many a printer owner and it’s probably more often than not followed by a less polite one. The word is COST.
A business must run efficiently, and unfortunately in most cases you can’t help but guiltily slay another tree with your axe, contributing to a warmer globe by needing to print that purchase order, account form, client proposal and hopefully many an invoice! So you authorise a printer cartridge invoice with a hint of reluctance.
When you get to the 10th invoice your blood may start to boil a little with more reluctance, so you start to look for alternatives.
Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM’s) sell cartridges at a comparative premium. The cost of ink and laser printers has dropped over the years, whilst toner and ink prices have soared as repetitive sales of consumables provide better sustainable margins, (that’s the non-tree saving sustainable I refer to). So, what are the alternatives?
In no particular order, there are refills, compatibles and remanufactured printer cartridges to choose from.
- Refills speak for themselves, where a cartridge is simply refilled with ink or toner and reused.
- A compatible cartridge is a cartridge that is newly built and attempts to mimic an OEM cartridge.
- A remanufactured cartridge is where the casing of the cartridge is used and new parts replace old ones, whilst new ink or toner is put into the cartridge.
The perception that most virgin users of non-OEM cartridges have, is that the quality is substandard to the OEM cartridge. Will it leak over the antique home office desk? Might it squirt into the eye of the employee who most loves court cases, or will it simply make the printer explode? Large retailers with many printers may even be concerned with a higher resultant wear and tear of their printer.
The truth is, as with many industries, producers of grey products and re-furbishers have managed to improve the quality of printer cartridges, specifically laser cartridges, over the years. Good quality aftermarket manufacturers have improved the overall cartridge quality to ‘very close to’ the OEM cartridge quality and they outweigh the high cost of the comparative OEM cartridges. An example is large global retailers who have enjoyed these “low cost” alternatives, even at the expense of a few quality issues, and continue to do so.
Of the 3 alternatives, re-fills and compatibles offer the “lowest” cost at face value, whilst re-manufactured toner cartridges, certainly coming out of quality remanufacturers, offer a “higher” cost alternative at face value, although the savings on the OEM can still be 50% (depending on cartridge type).
You may have noticed the use of inverted comma’s in the previous 3 lines highlighting the words, lowest and higher! These are the type one gesticulates with your fingers when expressing caution or wariness on a subject which brings me to the heading of this blog.
Lewis Carrol wrote the famous poem Jabberwocky and the second stanza starts with, “beware the Jabberwocky my son". She writes of snapping jaws and flaming eyes (dramatic I know) and it really has absolutely nothing to do with the cost of printing in the slightest. However, beware the printer cartridge! Caution is required when making a decision on which alternative cartridge to buy and to understand real cost, one needs to understand cartridges in more detail.
A cartridge always has a stated yield, which refers to the number of pages it will print. This yield is dependent on a number of different factors.
- Stated yields are based on toner or ink coverage, where the more ink there is on the page the less printed pages the cartridge will yield.
- Another factor is the toner quality and its relationship with components of the cartridge. Poor quality toner is often utilised less efficiently and so less pages are printed.
I have gotten technical here and have not yet slayed the Jabberwocky! Going back to the words face value I used earlier, I was referring to the unit cost of the cartridge. Refills and compatibles typically have a lower unit cost than remanufactured cartridges, however does this make them cheaper?
It really comes down to the yield and to some basic maths. Let’s say a compatible cartridge is R250 and has a yield of 5000 pages. When we calculate the cost per page (R250 / 5000 pages) we arrive at per page cost of 5 cents. The same model cartridge, now a remanufactured one for arguments sake, has a cost of R300 and a yield of 9000 pages. When we calculate the cost per page we arrive at 3.3 cents per page!
It follows then that a higher cost cartridge with a higher yield can ultimately be less expensive than a less expensive cartridge with a lower yield.
The advice I can give when wanting to reduce cost and look for alternatives to expensive OEM cartridges is, follow these steps:
- First make sure your printer is in good condition.
- Make sure you are happy with the quality of print from the cartridge.
- Take the starting device page count.
- Print a nice big print job (ask for forgiveness from the forest goblins), run an OEM printer cartridge on the print job.
- Then run two alternative cartridges (compatible and remanufactured) using the same print job. This way coverage remains constant and your yield measurement will be consistent. Stop the test when your cartridge starts printing light (some devices will stop printing automatically, when toner is too low).
- Take an end page count off the printer at the end of the test. Subtract your starting page count from the end count. This will be your cartridge yield.
- Divide the cost over the yield and you will arrive at the real cost of your printer cartridge (cost per page).
- Analyse the data and make an educated procurement decision.
A word of caution, try and source printer cartridges from a vendor’s general stock and not from their “special” stock, as they may pop in a little more toner for your testing purposes!!! Beware the printer cartridge, for its cost is in the page it prints!!