Cost of Printing

After seven years of output, the HP ink jet printer had finally stopped working. Because it was never intended to be serviced by mortals, it was time to find a new one. Choosing a model can be as difficult as you want to make it because HP has an estimated six billion models. For once, I delegated the obsessiveness in culling the list of models down to three.

It doesn’t take an MBA to realize that the companies make their money on the cartridges. How much was the question.
I constructed a spreadsheet to determine which model would be most economical over its lifetime.

The three models came out as follows:

  • D5069 – $78. Uses HP98 black ink cartridge, HP95 color
  • 6940 – $130. Uses HP96 black ink cartridge, HP95 or 97 color cartridge
  • K5400 – $160. Uses HP88 or HP88 XL cartridges. There are four: cyan, magenta, yellow and black.

To estimate the cost of printing, I used this simple formula:

pages/2 years pages/2 years

* # color cartridges + printer cost


  • When a “large capacity” cartridge was available, I chose to use that instead of the smaller one. It’s always cheaper.
  • Printing is about 2,500 pages a year, mostly text with occasional color use.
  • A printer has a service lifetime of at least two years.
  • The cost includes the black and color cartridges. The manufacturer’s estimated page counts for each cartridge are optimistic assessments, but they’re consistently so. (For a more thorough analysis, see Rob’s site, warning: possibly NSFW.) I print mostly text, with an occasional web page or map, but not full size maps.
  • The third printer takes three cartridges. I assumed it would use each color at the same rate.
  • Printer cartridges would be purchased new, never refilled.

Not surprisingly, the cost of ink dominated the total cost of ownership. Printing costs ranged from $0.09 to $0.16 for ordinary documents. If I printed photos, you’d hear sucking sounds as my wallet was cleaned out by HP. The “cheap” printer would ultimately cost twice as much as the better featured one.

Model Cartridge type

Print TCO Cost per page
Black Color
D5069 $249.88 $480.58 $78.00 $808.45 $0.16
6940 $187.44 $388.78 $130.00 $706.22 $0.14
K5400 $74.45 $312.38 $160.00 $546.82 $0.11

4 thoughts on “Cost of Printing”

  1. Gardner Cohen

    You ought to compare these costs with a cheap color laser. When our DJ880C dies, that’s the route I’m taking.

    There are websites that sell HP remanufactured ink cartridges for less than half the price of real/new ones.

  2. Good point, Gardner. If I have time, I’ll dig up those numbers.

    I found this comparison of various third-party inks:

    The highest score for a paper and ink is shared by three different combinations, on three different printers, all of which scored 8.29/10 overall: […] HP machine printing on HP paper with Cartridge World ink […]”

    They’re still looking into the longevity claims — which are specious for me since my printing is rarely “preserving documents ten years.”

  3. I suspect you’ll find that the K5400 turns out to be even cheaper to operate than you’ve calculated, because you *won’t* be using up the C,Y & M at equal rates.

    Many years ago we had a HP XL300 at work that managed to chew through the (horribly expensive) yellow cartridges at about double the rate of the other three colours. If it had used combined CYM cartridges we would have been even less happy than we were. We eventually replaced it with a HP 2500CM, which paid for itself inside a year in what we saved on cartridge costs over the XL300.

  4. If anyone reading this on the greater Eastside has a printer that’s limping along that needs a home…my friend who has just escaped an abusive marriage needs a printer for her school work. She is in a special program for homemakers returning to the workforce, and so has access to a printer at school, but it would be helpful to be able to occasionally print things out at home, too.

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