Know your cost base featured image

Know Your Cost Base

Knowing your cost base is the first step to establish a successful print service. Accurate cost analysis is the cornerstone of the print business, as all quotations sent out are based on this basic assumption.  I have seen many printers who did not know their cost per square of finished print which can be detrimental to the bottom line of your business.

The data sheet and the salesperson

The consumption data given by manufacturers is to be used a guideline, never as written in stone. Manufacturers use different criteria to arrive at an average which the salesperson will quote to you in a showroom or at a tradeshow. Salespeople being eternal optimists, the cost per square metre given to you during negotiations should always be taken with a pinch of salt. Obviously if they base themselves on a print with images and text on a white background it will be quite different to a full size image of a brick wall printed on wallpaper.  Check for yourself with different prints that are representative of the type of print you receive from your clients. Typically, the test prints should be as follows:

  1. text intensive, clear background, few images, ink coverage of 30%
  2. Some text, some images or solid colour blocks, 70% ink coverage
  3. Image intensive, solid background, 100% ink coverage  

If possible you should start with a new set of full cartridges, as a clean slate so to speak. Based on the three job types mentioned above, it should be possible to arrive at some accurate costs for the different job types you are likely to encounter.  It is always wise to perform several tests to ensure there is consistency in the numbers.

Most new printer devices will provide their ink remaining status in idle mode (in ml), and some will provide their consumption in ml per colour per job. If so, this is an easy way to quantify consumption although it is still worthwhile to perform a manual assessment to verify system readings.

The final number

Once these costs are clearly defined, the next step is to add 10% or 15% for wasted ink due to purging and maintenance. This would depend on your printer model and type of printheads, so you may need to adjust the percentage according to your situation.


Most print media in large format digital print will be purchased in roll format. The straight forward average is to calculate the square metre value of the complete roll. However there are various ways that media is wasted in production. The first is the media lost during a job advance,between jobs. The second would be end of roll which is insufficient to print a full length print. If your prints 2.44 metres long (pop up panels for example) you could easily build up wastage of a couple of metres per roll, which is not a small amount. Again to be on the safe side it is best to add 15% for wastage and trimming.

Note that there can be major differences in media wastage depending on the type of work your print shop produces. Lots of small jobs will require media advances between jobs, thereby generating more media wastage. The solution to this is to consider an imposition software which consolidates print jobs on the same media. We will review this in a separate blog article.

Cost matrix

The best way to consolidate all the information gained is to create a matrix with media types on the left axis and quantity breaks along the top.  This will allow you to view all pricing at a glance.


Some good research into the true consumption of your printer equipment is an important step on the path to creating accurate quotations, an important aspect of any print business.

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