People who are researching the cost of production printers know that these devices are usually large, fast, and expensive machines compared to the average desktop printer, or even a larger faster copier or MFP. But getting an accurate estimate of cost so you can make a spending plan can be challenging. If you are looking for production printers, you have come to the right place, because Edwards Business Systems is a leading seller of these systems. You should anticipate paying much more to acquire a production printer, especially a production color device. In this article, we will evaluate the factors that impact the cost of a production printing device.
What is a production printer? For the sake of our discussion we will assume that a production printer can print more than 75 pages per minute. Additionally, production printers are designed to print large volumes of output with a print quality that rivals an offset printing press. Production printers can print on a wider range of substrates than the average office printer or copier. These devices achieve overall cost savings because of their speed and efficiency.
The price range for production printers is between $25,000 and $150,000. This price range is for the acquisition cost of the device itself. Because of the cost and complexity of these machines, it makes sense to carry a maintenance and service contract on them.
Service costs are usually based on a cost per impression or cost per page basis. Ranges for cost per page are as follows:
- Service, Maintenance, and Supply costs for a Black and White (“monochrome”) production printer ranges from .002 to .005 per print depending on the volume plan and the class of device.
- Service, Maintenance, and Supply costs for a Color production printer ranges from .03 to .05 per click depending on the volume plan and the class of device.
Leasing a production printer also makes sense because at the end of the lease term, users will want a newer, faster, better machine to replace their obsolete production printing device. A lease will also simplify the payment process by combining the acquisition cost and service cost into one monthly payment.
Classes of Production Printing Machines
There are three basic classes of production printers:
Class 1 Production Printers
Cost: From $20,000 to $40,000
Speed: 75 to 90 pages per minute in color, 80 to 120 pages per minute in black and white
Monthly Volume: 25,000 to 50,000 pages per month in color, 50,000 to 150,000 pages per month in black and white
Finishing: High-capacity feeder tray and/or a high-capacity stacker or output tray
Class 1 production printers are assumed to be entry-level production print devices and are best for applications that have short peak production demands that can’t be satisfied by a non-production printer. Quality requirements for a Class 1 production print machine may not be critical, so be sure to have your dealer run print samples of your projects before making a final decision.
Class 2 Production Printers
Cost: From $40,000 to $80,000
Speed: 90 to 100 pages per minute in color, 120 to 140 pages per minute in black and white
Monthly Volume: 50,000 to 500,000 pages per month in color, 150,000 to 1,000,000 pages per month in black and white
Finishing: High capacity input feeder(s), high-capacity stacker(s) and/or a booklet maker
Class 2 production printers are a solid choice for a medium-sized company with high volume and quality requirements. They may also be a solution for franchise printers, churches, or schools. Quality requirements for a Class 2 production print machine are high, but not as high as a production printer that would be deployed in a commercial printing company.
Class 3 Production Printers
Cost: $80,000 and higher
Speed: 100 pages or higher per minute in color, 140 pages per minute or higher in black and white
Monthly Volume: 100,000 to 1,000,000 pages per month in color; 500,000 to 5,000,000 pages per month in black and white
Finishing: Multiple high capacity input feeders multiple high-capacity stackers, booklet maker, or perfect binder
Class 3 production printers sit at the pinnacle of the production printing hierarchy. They are designed for printing applications with the very highest production speed, reliability, and quality requirements. Class 3 printing machines are often placed in commercial printing and high-end print-for-pay environments. These devices are also seen in Central Reproduction Departments (“CRD’s”) in large businesses, and in large government facilities.
What Drives Up the Cost of a Production Printing?
There are many factors that can increase the cost of a production printer:
Speed is Critical
The higher the print speed, the more expensive the production device will be. There are a few exceptions to this rule. Speed is extremely important in production environments where there are very short production deadlines. Missing a deadline can mean a fine, loss of a customer or important project, or loss of revenue.
Color Adds Cost
A production printer that is capable of printing in color will be more expensive than an equivalent black and white model. A color-capable production printer will have a higher purchase cost, AND a higher cost of operation than monochrome. Operational costs include service, maintenance, supplies, electricity, and a skilled operator (i.e. labor costs).
Although the cost to produce large volumes of high-quality color output quickly is higher, the selling price for color is much higher than black and white prints.
In order to run efficiently, a production printer should have the ability to run large volumes of paper without an operator constantly having to re-load and unload material. Production printers should have a high-capacity output tray or output stacker. A small catch tray will fill up with prints very quickly and will keep the operator from doing more important tasks.
Most production printers allow for the installation of multiple high-capacity input and output devices, and when properly configured, these production printers can run for several hours without operator intervention to add or remove paper. High capacity inputs and stackers can add several thousand dollars to the price of a production printer.
A production printing device should also handle a much wider range of paper varieties than the average office copier. It should be able to print on heavy cover stocks, gloss coated papers, as well as normal copy paper.
There are many finishing options available for productions printers. Booklet makers allow a production printer to output finished booklets from the end of the machine. These booklets have staples that are driven into the fold of the booklet to bind the pages. Booklet makers have a folder to create the fold or spine where the staples or “stiches” are inserted. Folders are also a popular finishing option, but they are usually offered as a part of a booklet making capability.
A booklet maker will trim the edges of a booklet as part of the booklet making process. This is important if the booklets have “bleed” or printed image that runs off the edge of the page(s). One important feature of a high-quality trimmer is the ability to quickly and efficiently collect and eject the scrap paper that is trimmed off the edges.
Another in-demand feature is square folding. A square folding booklet maker makes two folds in the spine area of the booklet and inserts a staple in the center of the spine. The result is a booklet that tends to lie flat and looks like a perfect bound booklet.
In-line perfect binders are probably the most expensive finishers available for a production printer. A perfect binder can make large, thick paperback books to be made in-line with the printer. The pages are collected in the finisher until there are a complete stack of book pages. The stack of pages passes through a grinder where the spine or bound edge is ground in preparation for hot glue binding. The glue is applied, a cover is fitted to the stack of pages, and the three edges of the book are trimmed.
There are a wide range of costs for production printing finishers. A basic finisher can cost around $3000 to $5000, while a full-featured booklet maker with all the options can range from $20,000 to $50,000. Some of the faster, more feature-rich in-line perfect binders can cost over $100,000, sometimes more than the cost of the production printer itself.
External Print Controllers Cost More
There are a couple of different options when selecting the print controller for a production printer. A print controller takes print files from computers and converts them for output on the production printer.
There are two general types of print controllers for production printers. One type of controller is an internal or embedded controller. Embedded controllers are entry-level controllers, and they offer a basic level of functionality. The other type of controller usually consists of a standalone computer that is connected to the production printer with a set of high-speed video or HDMI cables. This type of controller is called an external controller or a Digital Front End or “DFE”. A DFE usually offers high end features and very fast processing speeds. The Fiery brand of DFE’s from EFI are common examples of external controllers with fast processing speeds and enhanced functionality like imposition (press sheet layout) software, and sophisticated color management features.
An external controller like a Fiery can add anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 to the purchase price of a production printer.
What Lowers the Cost of a Production Printer?
There are several factors that drive production printer costs down.
Buy a Used Production Printer
A production printer dealer may have a number of used devices available. These cheap production printers could be showroom or demonstration units, or they could be lightly used machines returning from a short-term (24 or 36 month) lease. Many production printers are designed to print millions of pages over the course of many years, and a used production printer might be exactly what you need. Expect to see discounts from 10% to over 50% for a used production device versus brand new.
Color is a major cost factor for a production printer. The hardware cost is higher, as is the cost of operation. Are you printing basic business documents like spreadsheets or text and numbers in a report? Are they internal documents? If so, you probably don’t need a color production printer. A price for a black and white production printer of similar speed and capability could be 50% less than a production color device.
Speed Drives Prices Up
Do you really need your production printer to be super-fast? Do you have tight turnaround or a narrow time window for your print runs? If you do, you probably really need the high speed (100 pages per minute or more) to ensure you get the job done on time. If you don’t have tight turnaround requirements, then you may be able to get by with a slightly slower machine. The cost difference between a 75 page per minute device and a 150 page per minute device could be as much as $100,000!
Is the Cost of a Production Finisher Worth it?
Production finishers are generally the most expensive accsessories for a production printing machine. Some in-line finishing gear can cost more than the printing device itself. Could an existing piece of off-line equipment like a walk-up booklet maker can do the job instead of an in-line booklet maker? A print shop usually has to have an ongoing, repeat application that runs every day in order to justify an expensive piece of in-line finishing equipment. If you have a piece of off-line equipment that will do the job, or you have a cost-effective and reliable local bindery, you may not need an expensive in-line finisher for your production printer.
Is EFI the Best Controller?
What type of printing are you doing or will be doing on your production printing machine? Are you printing in color? If you are just printing monochrome pages, you may not need all the features you will get in a Fiery DFE. If you are not printing in color you won’t need color management, or the tools that come with a Fiery controller. An embedded controller may be all you need. But if you have a color production device, you will likely need high speed processing, imposition, and professional color management. You can save $50,000 if you can get by with an internal controller instead of a Fiery DFE.
Why are Some Dealers More Expensive?
As you research copier costs, you may realize there are substantial cost and price differences between dealers, even for the exact same copier or MFP. You may ask yourself why. Here are some possible explanations:
- Some copier dealers are more expensive because experienced skilled copier technicians earn higher salaries which equates to higher cost. This will benefit you as a customer in the long run, as a cheap MFP will cost you more eventually if it is down and not running.
- Many copier dealerships charge more because of the brand of device they represent. Much like automobiles, some brands command a higher price. An Audi will cost more than a VW. A similarly featured Konica Minolta copier or MFP device may cost more than a Ricoh. Understand and communicate your device requirements when discussing copier costs with your office equipment dealer.
Why are Some Dealers Cheaper?
Like the question about why some production printer dealers are MORE expensive than others, consider the following:
- Some production printer dealers have high turnover of their service technicians which means that they may have fewer skilled people. Less experienced techs can mean that they are paid less and may have lower service labor costs. This is a bad thing for customers, as they may experience more downtime as the less experienced technicians learn on the job.
- Some production printer dealerships may sell cheaper brands of production printing machines.
- Others may be high volume sellers of production print devices which means they may have more experience placing production printers, and the efficiency they have developed allows them to charge a lower price.
- Some less honest copier dealers may be selling a production printer as a new device, but it may be refurbished or may be a demonstration unit with a large number of prints already on it. Be sure to ask your production print sales professional to tell you about the history of any production print machine you are considering buying.
Where does Edwards Business Systems Fit?
We like to think that Edwards Business Systems is the “Goldilocks” of production print dealers. Not too cheap, not too expensive, but just right. We have experienced, skilled production printing technicians and we pay them a salary that reflects their skill level. We also sell a LOT of production printing systems, so we understand our processes and can sell printer repair services with a high degree of efficiency. We also have some used production print devices in our inventory and showrooms that are available as more cost-effective options for your production printing needs.
If you are interested in learning more about production printing, please contact us and an experienced member of our production print team will reach out to you.