How Much Do Production Printers Cost?

Most people who are researching the cost of production printers know that production printing devices are usually large, fast, and expensive machines compared to the average desktop printer, or even a larger floor-standing copier or MFP. But getting a reasonable idea of how much these machines cost so you can develop a budget can be challenging. If you are researching production printers, you have come to the right place, as Virginia Business Systems is a leading seller of these systems. You should expect to pay significantly more to acquire a production device, especially a production color device. In this article, we will identify and discuss the factors that influence the price of production printing devices.

So what is a production printer? The answer is “It depends”. For the sake of our discussion we will say that a production printer is an output device that can print more than 75 pages per minute. Additionally, production printers are designed to run large volumes of output, and in most cases, with a print quality that rivals an offset printing press. Production printers can usually print on a much wider range of paper weights and paper types than the average office printer or copier. These devices achieve overall cost savings by virtue of their speed, quality, versatility, and efficiency.

The price range for most production printers is between $25,000 and $150,000. But keep in mind that this price range is for the purchase cost of the device itself. Given the cost and complexity of these machines, and the fact that most of these printers will be deployed into environments where there are tight deadlines and stringent quality requirements, it makes sense to carry a maintenance and service contract on these machines.

Service costs also vary and are usually based on a cost per impression or cost per page basis. Typical ranges for cost per page are as follows:

Leasing a production printer also makes sense because at the end of the lease term, most customers will want a newer, faster, more capable machine to replace their aging production printing device. A lease will also potentially simplify the payment process by rolling the acquisition cost and service cost into one monthly payment.

Classes of Production Printing Machines

There are three basic classes of production printers:

What Drives the Cost of a Production Printer Up?

There are many factors that can drive up the cost of a production printer:

Printer Speed is Critical

The faster the print speed, the more expensive the production printer. There are a small handful of exceptions to this rule, but not many. Speed is extremely important in production environments where there are tight print windows or very short production deadlines. Missing a deadline can mean a fine, loss of a customer or important project, or just plain loss of revenue.

Color Adds Expense

A production printer that is capable of printing in color will almost always be more expensive than an equivalent black and white model. Specifically, a color-capable production printer will have a higher purchase cost, AND a higher cost of operation. Operational costs include service, maintenance, supplies, electricity, and the skill level of the operator (i.e. labor costs).

Although the cost to produce large volumes of high-quality color output quickly is higher, if the prints are being sold, the selling price for color is much higher than black and white prints.

Paper Handling

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 some sort of high-capacity input tray or high-capacity paper feeder. Likewise, a production printer should have a high-capacity output tray or output stacker. A basic catch tray will fill up with printed sheets very quickly and will prevent the operator from doing more important production tasks.

Some production printers allow for the installation of multiple high-capacity input and output devices, and when fully configured, these production printers can run for several hours without operator intervention to add or remove paper. High capacity feeders 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 substrates (paper) types than the average office copier. It should be able to print on heavy cover stocks, gloss coated papers, as well as normal copy paper.

Finishing Options

There are a large number of finishing options available for productions printers, so we will focus on the most commonly used finishers. Booklet makers, commonly referred to as saddle stitchers, allow a production printer to output finished booklets from the end of the machine. These booklets feature staples that are inserted into the fold of the booklet to hold the pages together. Booklet makers also incorporate a folder to allow for the fold or spine where the staples or “stiches” are inserted. Folders are also a common finishing option, but they are almost always offered as a part of a booklet making capability.

Often times, a booklet maker will include the ability to 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 of the booklet.

Another desirable feature is square folding. Square folding is just like you would think it is. The booklet maker makes two folds in the spine area of the booklet and places a staple in the center of the spine. The result is a booklet that tends to lie flat and has the appearance of a perfect bound booklet.

In-line perfect binders are one of the most expensive finishing options available for a production printer. A perfect binder allows for large, thick paperback books to be produced in-line with the printer. The pages are collected in the finisher until there are a complete set of pages for a book. The stack of pages passes through a grinder where the spine or bound edge is “roughed up” 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, occasionally approaching or exceeding the cost of the production printer itself.

External Print Controllers Will Add Cost (and Value)

There are a couple of different routes that can be taken when it comes to selecting the print controller for a production printer. A print controller is a device that takes print files from computers and renders 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 generally considered entry-level controllers, and they offer a basic level of functionality at less cost. 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 commonly referred to as an external controller or a Digital Front End or “DFE”. A DFE usually offers a high degree of functionality 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 advanced color management features.

An external controller like a Fiery can add anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 to the overall acquisition cost of a production printer.

That covers most of the things that would increase the cost of a production printer.

What Drives the Cost of a Production Printer Down?

There are several factors that can drive production printer costs down.

Why are Some Production Printing Dealers More Expensive?

Printing Dealer more expensive

As you begin to understand production printer costs, you may realize that there are substantial cost and price differences between production printing dealers, even for the exact same device. You may ask yourself why. Here are some reasons why:

  • Some dealers cost more because they have experienced production printer technicians who command higher salaries. This will benefit you as a customer in the long run, as a cheap production printer will end up costing you more in the long run if it is broken all the time. Look for a production printing repair service with skilled techs.
  • Many production printing dealerships cost more because of the brand of production printer that they sell. Much like automobiles, some brands command a higher price. A BMW is going to cost more than a Chevy. A similarly featured Konica Minolta production printing device may cost more than a Canon. Be sure to communicate your device requirements when discussing production print costs with your local copier dealer.
Printing Dealer more expensive

Why are Some Production Printing Dealers Less Expensive?

Printing Dealer less expensive

Much like the question about why some production printer dealers are MORE expensive than others, consider the following:

  • Some production printing dealers have high turnover of their service technicians which means that they may have less experienced techs on staff. Less experienced techs can mean that they are paid less and may have lower service overhead costs. This is actually a bad thing for customers, as they may suffer more downtime as the less experienced technicians learn on the job.
  • Some printer dealerships may represent less expensive 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 scrupulous copier dealers may be selling a production printer as a new device, but it may be refurbished or may be a demo unit with some 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 proposing to buy.

Where does Virginia Business Systems Fit?

We like to think that Virginia Business Systems is the “Goldilocks” of production print dealers. Not too cheap, not too expensive, but just right. We employ experienced, skilled production printing technicians and we pay them a salary that is commensurate with their abilities. We also sell a consistently high volume of production printing systems, so we understand our processes and can sell and 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 requirements.

So if you are interested in learning more about production printing, please fill out the form below and an experienced member of our production print team will reach out to you.

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