Why Is Color Printing So Much More Expensive Than Black & White?

black and white and color city painting

(6.5-min read)

“I mean, it’s all just toner, right?”

If you’re in the market for an office printer or ever have been, you’ve likely noticed a stark difference in the cost of color printing versus black and white printing (also known as monochromatic printing). Whether you’re using a laser printer that uses toner or an inkjet printer that uses ink, color prints can average nearly two-thirds more expensive than black and white copies.

“What gives? Why are color prints so much more expensive?”

Reason 1: Page Coverage

If you were to lay the average color print on your desk alongside an ordinary black and white print-out, you’d likely notice many differences in the style of document you’re printing aside from popping colors. The color print-out will most likely be more graphic based. These graphics can include logos, graphs, photos, and other dense images. These images leave considerably much less white space on the page, filling up this area with either color ink or toner. Take a look at the black and white document. Notice anything different? Yep — tons of white space. Documents that you feel ok about printing in black and white are usually more word or spreadsheet-centric, leaving a massive amount of untouched white space. This means that black and white documents will simply require less ink or toner just by default of the style of document you’re likely printing.

Reason 2: More Parts

Let’s say that office tasks were being distributed among your staff. One job required changing out the color printer toner or ink cartridges. Another assignment required changing out the black and white toner or ink cartridges. If you had to choose, which task would you prefer? If you’re honest with yourself, your hand would likely shoot up into the air once the black and white cartridge change-out job was offered. Why? Because you probably understand that this is a much easier job. For most models of printers, you’d be correct. For many of the same reasons, it’s also why color printing is more expensive — more parts!

Though most printer manufacturers have made changing out printer cartridges relatively painless, there is still somewhat more involved in changing out color cartridges. To be able to print most colors, this requires a mixture of some basic colors. For the average printer, this means mixing cyan (a blue hue), magenta (a red hue), and yellow. For more advanced printers, additional colors will be necessary. Each one of these colors requires its own ink tank or toner reservoir — each separate from the other. This means that more parts are needed. More parts mean more maintenance, more material, and yes, a higher cost to the consumer.

Reason 3: Mixing Colors is “Costly”

It’s truly amazing just how many colors can be achieved with the careful mixture of three or four ink or toner hues. While the process grows more and more efficient with every new model, certain toners will drain specific colors more than others. In some instances, a particular color that needs to be printed will significantly bleed one color. Also, if the black ink or toner cartridge is low in a color printer and the operator needs to print black, some printer models may composite black by mixing colors. This process can significantly deplete more costly color ink or toner.

Another reason why color mixing is more “costly” is due to the inherent inefficiencies in mixing colors to create specific hues. While the technology is growing more and more efficient, there will always be some inefficiencies in the color mixing process that is less present in black-and-white-only printers.

Reason 4: Printer Wear & Tear

As we mentioned in Reason #2, when printing with color, there will be significantly more parts engaged in the process. When this is the case, there is considerably more activity within the printer and more wear-and-tear on the printer itself. This increased wear on a printer model can increase the total calculated cost-per-copy of a printer model.

“Should I get a color or black and white printer?”

After reading the material above, you may feel like color printing isn’t worth the money and hassle. However, the decision to purchase a solely monochromatic printer over a color one largely depends on the type of documents you need to print. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to determine which style of printer is more appropriate.

“What kind of documents do I print the most?”

Depending on your industry or even your department, the style of documents you will need to print regularly may vary. If you mostly print very basic spreadsheets, word documents such as letters or emails, and the like, you may only need a monochromatic printer. However, if you’re printing presentations, graphics, logos, or any document that can use a dash of personality, a color printer is worth the investment.

“Is color printing a must-have or a nice-to-have?”

Knowing what we need versus what we want can be tricky. A basic commuter car can likely suit your needs as well as a luxury car. Still, if you’re needing to treat clients somewhat lavishly and convey success, picking them up to go out to lunch in a luxury car may be a genuine business need. By the same merit, you may be in a situation where you’re not going to close the deal with a client because your documents didn’t pop, or your pie-chart won’t make any sense with various tints of gray. Still, if these don’t apply, your office may manage just fine with a monochromic printer.

How about a little of both?

Just like your office commuter car can get you from A-to-B while your luxury car awaits in the office garage for that fancy lunch, having both a color and a monochromatic printer can serve both purposes. You may consider having a black and white printer for more text-rich documents and a color printer solely for images, graphs, and the like. For the best of both worlds, there is a growing number of office printers that can efficiently handle both color and monochromic printing needs.