When it comes to choosing a laser printer, there several factors to take into account, including “How much does the printer cost? How much do the consumables cost? How many consumables do I have to buy?”  The answers ultimately depend on factors including budget, expected lifecycle of the printer, and expected page volume.  But the type of consumables can also play a significant part in the ultimate cost of printing over time and should be considered at the time of purchase, especially in low print volume environments where costs reduction is a priority.

Laser printer manufacturers currently offer two cartridge structure types: all-in-one (AiO) and separated cartridges.  All-in-one units provide both the toner and the imaging drum in a single cartridge, while two-piece consumables offer the toner and drum as individual components.  While some manufacturers choose to offer only one type of supplies in the low-end (SOHO and personal) monochrome segment, a trend recently emerged where others are modifying their cartridge strategy for these users.

A notable case is demonstrated by Samsung and its new Xpress and ProXpress printers and MFPs that specifically target lower-volume users.  Most of the OEM’s devices for these users feature an all-in-one cartridge, but several of the latest SOHO-class models offer consumers a two-piece consumables structure.  While Samsung offers this structure in a number of its other higher-volume devices, it is a first for the vendor in that segment.  Interestingly, Samsung is also testing both cartridge strategies simultaneously by launching two versions of the same device whose primary difference is the use of either an AiO cartridge or separated consumables.

So what would motivate this type of change, and which system is better for the end user?  There are pros and cons to both systems, depending on the intended usage, but selecting the correct system for  the user’s estimated print volume can ultimately lead to greater cost savings.

User Benefits

All-in-one Cartridges – In general, all-in-one cartridges are more convenient, as the customer only has to stock and replace a single unit.  For larger organizations with high print volumes, AiO cartridges can also eliminate the time spent on changing the drum separately from the toner.  However, it should be noted that for SOHO segment customers that have a low print volume to begin with, the convenience of an AiO cartridge would not likely motivate a purchase decision as these customers would probably only have to replace a separate drum unit once or twice during the life of the printer, if at all.

Possibly the biggest advantage of an all-in-one cartridge is that it can provide a lower cost per page (CPP) (and ultimately a lower total cost of ownership) compared to separated cartridges.  However, the user would have to generate a print volume high enough to require replacement of the drum cartridge to achieve the savings (if they instead had a comparable printer with separated consumables).  Making that extra purchase of a drum unit can result in a higher total cost of ownership if the drum is replaced just once during the life of the printer.  Even if the two-piece-cartridge-based printer configuration costs less up-front, the cost of the drum can erode the savings generated by purchasing a lower-priced printer.

This is demonstrated by comparing the total cost of ownership of Samsung’s recently launched Xpress SL-M2820DW (which uses the 3,000-page AiO MLT-D115L cartridge) and Xpress SL-M2625DW (based on the use of the 3,000-page MLT-D116L* high capacity toner and 9,000-page MLT-R116 drum).  Although the Xpress SL-M2825DW has a lower up-front cost (based on Samsung’s ERP), replacing the drum cartridge just once during a three-year lifecycle of the printer (and 500 pages per month) results in a TCO of $622, which is roughly $46 more than the TCO of the AiO-cartridge-based Xpress SL-M2820DW**.

Separated Cartridges – On a purchase price basis, separated cartridges can be more cost effective for the consumer than AiO units, as the toner is sold separately and does not include the cost of the drum components.  As previously mentioned, two-piece consumables are especially beneficial for low-volume SOHO users because these users typically have such low print volumes that they rarely replace the more costly items like the imaging unit.  Additionally, most SOHO customers consider the purchase price as a primary factor related to a printer and/or cartridge purchase, so a lower-cost toner-only cartridge that also reduces cost per page over the life of the printer compared to an AiO cartridge (assuming the drum is never replaced), is likely to be more attractive.

This is again demonstrated by the same Samsung example as above.  If the user of the Xpress SL-M2825DW never has to replace the drum and only purchases individual D116L toner cartridges throughout the life of the device, the total cost of ownership drops to $563, roughly $13 less than that of the Xpress SL-M2820DW.

An additional benefit of separated cartridges is the reduction in waste.  If one of the components develops an issue, for example, if moisture gets into the toner cartridge and causes the toner to clump, it will most likely need to be replaced.  Separated cartridges allow the user to replace only the affected component.  AiO cartridges require the replacement of the entire cartridge, regardless of whether the yield of the other component is completely spent.

Manufacturer Benefits

All-in-one Cartridges – For the manufacturer, all-in-one cartridges can offer several benefits.  Because the all-in-one cartridge incorporates components of both the toner and the drum, they only have to produce one unit.  This eliminates the cost of manufacturing an extra housing for the drum components.  OEMs can also use the convenience message to attract high volume customers that replace consumables often, highlighting that an AiO cartridge can lead to greater productivity for the company.

Manufacturers can also capture a premium on each AiO cartridge from low-volume consumers, if the customer’s print volume is low enough that they would never have to replace a drum.  The AiO cartridges can cost more than comparable separate toner-only units due to the added cost of incorporating the drum components, resulting in a small premium for the OEM every time the customer replaces the cartridge.

Separated Cartridges – Separating the toner cartridge (which costs much less to manufacture) from the more expensive components in the imaging unit allows manufacturers to be more cost competitive by reducing the end-user price of its individual toner, increase margins on each cartridge sold, and realize greater profit from the sale of any individual drum units.

Because the separated toner and drum cartridge can result in a lower total cost of ownership for low-volume home and small office users that would only ever purchase toner, the manufacturer can also use that low TCO message to target potential SOHO customers.

Samsung’s shift to two-piece consumables in the low-end segment was likely motivated by a number of decisions, including the desire to be more competitive in the SOHO market and to expand its potential customer base by offering a wider variety of consumable options to these customers.  While the vendor’s strategy of offering two versions of the same printer model, each with a different consumables structure may create confusion as to why there are two versions available in the first place, it could also lead to shoppers becoming more aware of their print habits and seek out the best solution to lower costs.


*although a lower capacity D116S cartridge is available, the D116L cartridge was used in the comparison because it has the same yield as the D115L AiO cartridge, which is the only yield currently available for its compatible printers.  Samsung’s D116 series is also compatible with the Xpress SL-M2625D, M2875FD, and M2875FW, while the D115L can additionally be used with the Xpress SL-M2870FW

**based on Samsung’s ERP for the hardware and D116 series consumables, and Staples retail price for the D115L cartridge, as Samsung’s ERP is not available for this item.