It’s the thing that appears to matter most for companies considering an investment into digital printing, be they printers or print buyers. It’s the primary reason why offset continues to command such a healthy lead over digital printing. But calculating the cost per printed page is also the thing that is least understood and most fraught with ambiguity. If we are to fully understand the environmental aspects associated with print so that we can mitigate their impacts, we need a common basis for calculating cost per page. This article appears in the Africa Print Journal.
It’s not just about being able to make like for like comparisons between systems. It is also about keeping manufacturers straight. For instance, Landa claims that its nanographic printing technology offers 'the lowest cost per page compared to any other digital printing system on the market' according to various spokespersons for the company. But they decline to explain what the cost per page is, or how it is calculated. Opaque calculations are not much use for comparative purposes and they may also hide negative environmental impact data. We’ve used Landa as an example but the company is not alone in its reluctance to provide concrete data for page cost calculations. In this day and age such an approach is simply not acceptable.
If investors into print are to be able to make fully informed investment decisions, the digital printing industry especially has to change how it presents cost data. Customers care for total cost of ownership and overall environmental impacts, so it is important to understand what data is included both in costs per page and in total cost of ownership calculations. This influences environmental impact mitigations because unless you can measure something you cannot control it. A robust cost per page analysis within the context of total cost of ownership provides benchmark information for cutting carbon footprint.
So what should be included in the cost per page calculation? Obviously the substrate, inks and/or toners, coatings, pretreatments, page size and output format. We should consider coverage and density, special inks and waste associated with the print run. All of these costs may also need to be attributed to the individual cost per page for the final print run, for example in a variable data cost per page calculation. There should also be an allocation for the energy and consumables used to produce the work. This could be limited to prepress and press processing, but may also include an allocation of the operational energy consumption for the business. In situations where more than one entity is involved in producing the print, such as separate prepress and printing companies, this could get messy. Messy or not it is necessary if we are to have some basis for comparing cost per page, like for like.
The likelihood that manufacturers will willingly divulge the basis of their cost per page calculations is slender. But it is in the interests of the market and of printing in general for press manufacturers to show a bit more courage when it comes to cost per page calculations. Sharing how these costs are calculated, and what can be done to mitigate contributing factors will help raise confidence in the industry and in its ability to manage its overall environmental impact.