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Grow Your Business Technology

Color Ink vs. Black-and-White Printing Cost Analysis

image for A_stockphoto/Shutterstock
A_stockphoto/Shutterstock

One of the costliest routine expenses for a business is printing. Despite the advent of digital technologies like document management systems and collaboration tools, most businesses continue to print, churning through paper and ink supplies to make it happen. If your business prints or copies in any degree, you or someone in your organization likely has to regularly replace the ink for those machines. This has many businesses on the lookout for the least expensive way to go about it: Is it black-and-white printing, or color? Is color really as expensive as it seems to be?

It's widely perceived that black ink is significantly cheaper than color ink. However, while costs can vary by the brand of the ink, machine and even paper you use, the cost difference between black and color ink isn't always straightforward. One of the biggest myths in the printing world is that color ink is exponentially more expensive than black. It doesn't have to be. You need to evaluate your goals with your printing model and do some cost comparisons to get a better picture.

What you'll likely discover is that printing costs vary widely. The cost of ink can range from $20 to $100 for a replacement color ink cartridge, and $5 to $50 for a replacement black ink cartridge, depending on the brand and whether you are using an inkjet or laser printer. As for the cost per page, an average black-and-white copy could be around 5 cents, while an average color copy could be 10 to 15 cents. Depending on the brand of copier and ink you use, as well as how much of each page you are actually printing on, the cost can differ significantly.

Editor's note: Looking for a digital copier for your business? If you're looking for information to help you choose the one that's right for you, use the questionnaire below and our vendor partners will contact you with information for free:

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If you are using the highest-quality printer with the highest-quality ink, then the cost of color ink could be double or even triple that of black ink. But if you are using a middle-of-the-road or lower-quality printer with generic ink, the cost difference could be a matter of cents.

Perhaps it's not the ink itself driving up your costs but the printer. Printers vary drastically in costs per page, maintenance requirements and supplies. An enterprise that needs to print booklets and vibrant presentations in-house has far different needs from a small business humming along with a basic desktop printer.

But what is the most efficient printer you can buy? Generally, your business will get the most value out of its copier by purchasing a multifunction printer (MFP). Your cost to print will be the lowest possible by using an in-house MFP. MFPs are an investment, but in the long run, they will typically cost you only 5 cents for a color page and less than 1 cent for a black-and-white one. If printing in color is a priority for your business, then the most affordable way to do so is by investing in an MFP. There are models suited for enterprise and large workgroups, as well as models that fit in-home business and less frequent printing. A good place to start is to think about how often you print and what your needs are. [Interested in buying a copy machine for your business? Check out our buying guide.]

If you are willing to pay more upfront for efficiency, look into a laser copier instead of inkjet. These will cost you double or triple the amount of the machine and replacement cartridges, but they print at much higher rates, and the cartridges do not need to be replaced nearly as often. For large businesses that need a fast printer for multiple high-quantity jobs per day, a laser printer is the best option in terms of efficiency and convenience.

If your top priority when it comes to printing is saving money, here's how to do it: To start, purchase an MFP so you can use one machine for all of your printing needs. Don't change your cartridges unless you absolutely have to. Once you do replace your ink cartridges, look into using compatible generic ink instead of a name brand. This can save you money upfront and over time.

The cost of black versus color ink cartridges may seem significantly different upfront, but the cost can be much less than you expect when considering investing in a good printer or copy machine.

Joanna Furlong

Joanna Furlong is a freelance writer and content strategist based in Southern California. Her background is in digital marketing, but she’s been writing professionally for more than 10 years. She partners with startups, technology companies and small businesses across the U.S. to tell their brand stories through compelling content. And, she loves to report on the intersection where business, management and technology collide.