Why should I consider using aftermarket ink & toner in my printers?

January 16, 2018 | Guy Brown

Topics: Longtail Spend, Printer Cartridges

In the second half of the 1980s, desktop laser printers became widely available as the personal computer revolutionized our lives, first at work and then, later at home. To begin with, PCs and printers were expensive and, by today's standard, printing speeds slow and print quality poor.

Still, in comparison to the typewriters and dot-matrix printers they replaced, laser printers were a huge advance. The Hewlett Packard LaserJet printer introduced in 1984 cost $3,495 which, in 2018 dollars, is the equivalent of almost $8,500. It printed at 8 pages per minute, with a resolution of 300 dpi and was quiet, at <55dBA compared to the dot-matrix printers and typewriters it replaced.

Fast forward to 2018, where it's now possible to purchase an HP monochrome laser printer, such as the LaserJet Pro M102w, which prints at up to 1200 dpi, up to 23 pages per minute, and can be purchased for around $120. So, it prints at almost 3x the speed, at 42x the dpi, and costs only 1% of what it did in 1984 equivalent dollars!

300 dots per inch (DPI) horizontally and vertically equals 90,000 dots per square inch. 1,200 DPI vertically and horizontally equals 1,440,000 dots per square inch, or 16x the print density!

HP LaserJets 1984 Vs 2017_4.png

We thought it would be interesting to compare the 1984 value proposition to the present day. As we just explained, the HP LaserJet printer in 1984 at $3,500 is the equivalent of $8,300 in 2018 dollars. So, the current M102w printer at $120 is a little over 1% of the price of the 1984 device, and it comes with substantially higher performance characteristics.

However, when we compare the total cost of ownership (TCO) in 1984 for a LaserJet printer and in 2018 for a M102w LaserJet Pro, an interesting picture emerges.

TCO Comparison 1984 Vs. 2018_2.png

  • Example A: HP LaserJet in 1984
  • Example B: HP LaserJet in 2018 dollars (inflation adjusted)
  • Example C: HP LaserJet Pro M102w (released 2017)
  • Example D: HP LaserJet Pro M102w (released 2017) using aftermarket cartridges

In equivalent 2018 dollars, and as illustrated in example B above, the LaserJet, during 4 years of printing an average of 1,500 pages per month, had a TCO of around $14,000 or 1.7x the inflation adjusted purchase price. The M102w printer (using OEM brand replacement cartridges) has a TCO (Example C) of just over $3,000 (75% less in equivalent dollars) but, that TCO now represents over 17x the original purchase cost.

In other words, the cost of the equipment has fallen at a much higher rate (99%) than the cost to print a page (47%). Note, in making this comparison, it's important the cost per page metric is considered, not the cost per cartridge because the page yield of the cartridge has been reduced by nearly 50% (1,600) compared to the original LaserJet cartridge with 3,000 pages. So, although the M102w cartridge cost is 70% lower in equivalent dollars, the cost per page is only 47% lower.

Comparison HP LaserJet Vs. M102w in 2018 Dollars


1984 ($)


2018 ($)


2018 ($)


Printer Cost $3,500 $8,341 $120
% Change   +138% -99%
Cost per cartridge $99 $236 $60
% Change   +138% -70%
Cartridge yield 3,000 3,000 1,600
% Change   0% -47%
Cost per page $0.03 $0.08 $0.04
% Change   +138% -47%


Perception of Risk with Re-manufactured Cartridges

Back in 1984, the ratio of the cost of the ink and toner cartridges to the cost of the machine was around 3% whereas today it's 55%. Over a projected 4-year lifetime, the ratio of the total cost of ownership (TCO) to the initial purchase cost was 1.7 and is now 17.5. Far more is spent nowadays on replacement cartridges in relation to the initial cost of the machine.

Back in 1984, it was understandable that owners of relatively expensive printing equipment would be less likely to take a perceived risk with their equipment they may have believed they would be taking with the use of third-party replacement cartridges. The perceived risk meant putting a piece of equipment that cost $8,500 (in today's dollars) potentially in harms way.

Today, in our comparative example, the printer investment potentially at risk is a little over $100. Because this upfront investment for an entry level printer is virtually insignificant compared to the amount that had to be invested in the 1980s, the perception of risk resulting from the use of lower cost third-party cartridges is also virtually eliminated.

Of course, not all printers are as inexpensive as $120. Higher-end machines with much higher duty cycles cost a lot more than the lower-end machines. So, just like it was the case back in the mid-1980s, it's still more likely for a consumer to be concerned about the use of third-party consumables on a printer that may have cost five or ten thousand (2018) dollars than one that cost a little over $100!

However, the sophistication of the aftermarket manufacturers and the quality of their products are at a very different level compared to when the remanufacturing industry emerged in the late 1980s.

Improving Quality of Aftermarket Options

When the HP LaserJet came to market in 1984 there were no alternatives available in terms of replacement toner cartridges. The only option was the $100 original brand cartridge from Hewlett Packard.

This situation led to the development of a cottage industry which spotted the opportunity to offer refilled toner cartridges at significantly lower prices than new OEM brand cartridges. However, the trouble was, a big trade was required in terms of a reduction in printing quality and reliability that came with the refilled cartridge and its lower price point. In those early days of the emerging market for laser printers (later followed by ink-jet printers) there were few high-quality sources of parts and supplies necessary to support high-quality aftermarket ink and toner products.

Over the intervening 30+ years, this situation has changed dramatically. Millions of dollars have been invested globally into technologies for producing high-quality remanufactured and new-build compatible cartridges. No longer does a consumer have to rely exclusively on high-priced OEM brand cartridges to replenish its printers.

Original Equipment Manufacturers

Anyone familiar with the OEM managed print programs may already know that the OEMs provide aftermarket printer cartridges to fulfill their contract obligations on third-party equipment under their management. Clearly, for example, if an OEM such as Lexmark wins a managed print account that includes non-Lexmark equipment (i.e. HP), then they're not going to go to HP to try and buy original brand HP cartridges. Instead, they (Lexmark) go to a reputable aftermarket manufacturer and purchase aftermarket cartridges to fit on the HP machines. This type of practice, although not widely publicized, adds additional credibility to high-quality aftermarket ink & toner products available from reputable manufacturers. 

Consumer Purchasing Habits

Today's consumers have access to far more information than they did 30 years ago and many have become comfortable making informed decisions with regards to less expensive third-party product offerings than they used to be. The trade-off, in terms accepting reduced quality for a reduced price is no longer required, with the performance of aftermarket products manufactured by reputable aftermarket suppliers being virtually indistinguishable from that of the original brand products.

Some Conclusions

Aftermarket brands have gained traction in many other industries including pharmaceuticals, auto parts, and food products. Consumers have demonstrated they're prepared to ingest private label medicines and private label food products, and they've demonstrated they're prepared to repair their automobiles with aftermarket parts. After more than thirty-years of ink and laser printing, most still currently elect to spend more than 17 times the initial investment required to acquire their printing equipment, on the supplies required to run them over a 4-year period.

For informed consumers who decide to replenish their printing equipment with high-quality aftermarket alternatives, the TCO can be reduced by nearly 40% and the ratio of the initial investment to TCO reduced from 17 to around 10!

Introducing aftermarket ink and toner products as an alternative to high-priced OEM brand cartridges results in cost savings and an overall improvement of the managed spend. This, in turn, can form a significant component of the overall transformation from a traditional to a digital office.

Access our interactive model to compare the total cost of ownership using OEM Vs. aftermarket cartridges on your printing devices:

Compare the Cost of OEM vs Aftermarket Printer Cartridges

Guy Brown

Author: Guy Brown

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