Duty Cycle vs. Recommended Print Volume: What’s the Difference? 

Submitted by Karla Metzler on Fri, 03/22/2024 - 09:00


Arguably, no metric is more important to know before purchasing a printer than how much it can print or copy in a month.

When researching a machine's specifications, you'll likely see two categories involving the volume of prints a printer can make: the monthly duty cycle and the recommended monthly print volume. 

There is a major difference between both metrics of printer performance, and not knowing it could have costly consequences. 

As a local print vendor for over 35 years, we've seen how negligent printing and copying can damage printers and lead to costly repairs that hurt the bank.

To help you avoid the scenario above, we'll discuss the differences between a printer's duty cycle and its recommended monthly print volume. We'll explain which metric you should follow, the consequences if you don't, and how to determine your monthly volume.

Let's start with the basics: What is a printer's duty cycle? 

Need a printer or copier? Download your free copy of the Complete Guide to Purchasing or Leasing a Printer for Your Business and learn everything you need to know before purchasing.

What Is a Printer's Duty Cycle? 

A printer's duty cycle is the maximum number of prints or copies it can produce in a given month. The manufacturer sets this number.  

A printer's duty cycle is determined largely by its size: The bigger the machine, the higher the duty cycle. 

Because we sell Xerox products and maintain expertise in their catalog, we'll provide the monthly duty cycle for some models so you can get a better understanding of what a duty cycle means: 

Monthly Duty Cycles:

Keep in mind that the actual number of pages you can print in a month will also vary based on factors such as print speed, size of paper, whether you are doing duplex printing, and what finishing options you add.

Read our blog on what duty cycle means regarding printers/copiers to learn more.  

What Is a Printer's Recommended Print Volume? 

The recommended monthly print volume is the number of prints or copies you can safely make on a printer in a month. Like the duty cycle, the printer's manufacturer also defines it. 

Like a printer's duty cycle, the recommended print volume increases as the machine's size increases. 

Taking the same three machines from the previous section, here are the recommended print volumes for each: 

  • The Xerox VersaLink B415: Up to 20,000 pages. 
  • The Xerox VersaLink B625: Up to 30,000 pages. 
  • The Xerox AltaLink B8170: Up to 100,000 pages. 

Here’s a graphic comparison between the models:

Chart comparison of duty cycle and recommended monthly print volume

The most significant difference between the duty cycle and recommended print volume is that the recommended print volume is about 10% of the printer's overall duty cycle. 

However, as you can see, the AltaLink B8170 has a much higher recommended print volume than the VersaLink B625, even though they have the same duty cycle (300,000 pages per month). This emphasizes that larger machines can print more at a higher capacity than smaller ones. 

Not every printer brand lists the recommended monthly print volume. However, they always list the printer's duty cycle. 

If you can't find a machine's recommended monthly print volume, you can estimate it by taking 10% of its monthly duty cycle. This will give you an approximate idea of the recommended volume. 

Now that you know what a printer's duty cycle and recommended monthly print volume is, which should you follow? Let's go over that question in more detail: 

Should You Rely on a Printer's Duty Cycle or Recommended Print Volume? 

You can probably guess which one you should follow based on the name. Still, to state it bluntly, you should always follow a printer's recommended monthly print volume. It’s a more realistic metric that will help you decide if a printer can really handle your printing volume.

A printer's duty cycle is the absolute maximum it can print in a month. However, you shouldn't take it at face value and print at that quantity every month.   

Think about it like you would your car: It might be able to go up to 160 mph, but unless you compete in NASCAR, you're not going to drive anywhere near that maximum speed, right?  

The same logic applies to your printer. Just because the specifications say you can technically print 300,000 pages per month doesn't mean you should.  

Consistently printing near your printer's duty cycle and exceeding its recommended monthly print volume can result in financial consequences and disruption to daily business operations.  

What are those specific consequences, though?  

2 Consequences of Not Following Recommended Print Volume 

Let's take a closer look at two of the main consequences of printing near max duty cycle instead of at the suggested print volume:  

1. More Printer Service Issues 

Think back to the car example in the previous section. What would happen if you drove it at constant high speeds? 

You would encounter various service issues, from constant tire and oil changes to engine failure. All these could cost you thousands of dollars, which you probably don't have lying around for car problems. 

The same thing could happen to you if you often print at or near a printer's monthly duty cycle. 

Minor printer service issues can quickly escalate, resulting in downtime and time-consuming repairs, hindering your daily workflow.

As you can likely guess, mechanical issues also mean you must pay a printer service technician for repair work. Technicians can charge over $100 an hour, which can add up fast, especially if the issue is intricate and complex. 

Not to mention, the more you print and copy, the more supplies you'll need to buy to keep the machine operating.  

2. Shorter Printer Lifespan 

This consequence is a direct result of the first one. When you overprint, you increase your printer’s service issues, which leads to a shorter printer lifespan. Overprinting will also reduce your print quality as your machine experiences increased strain.   

Eventually, the increase in service issues will damage your machine beyond repair, which means you'll have to pay and wait for a replacement. 

The ultimate consequence of following a printer's duty cycle rather than its recommended monthly print volume is paying for a new one. This can especially hurt if you have already purchased one you deem as a long-term solution.

Read our blog on eight tips to increase the lifespan of your copier/printer to learn some tips and tricks for making your machine last.    

3 Ways to Check How Much You Print in a Month 

You can gather from this blog that you need to follow the recommended monthly print volume rather than the duty cycle. But if you're looking for a new printer, how can you check—or forecast—how much you will need to print in a month?  

There are three primary ways to find one's monthly print volume. Let's go over them in more detail: 

1. Check Your Current Printing Bill  

The most accurate way to examine your monthly print volume is to check your current printer/copier invoice. If you utilize a maintenance plan for your current machine, your invoice will likely tell you exactly how much you print or copy each month.   

2. Check Your Printer's Meter Reads  

The second way to assess your current monthly print volume is to check the meter reads on your machine. 

Meter reads tell you how many impressions, total prints, and copies you have made. You can find this information in the machine's settings or on a printed report.  

Take the meter reading you discovered and divide it by how many months you've owned that machine. The number you get will provide a close estimate of your monthly print volume. This is especially true if you purchased a new machine since the meter should start at or near zero.   

3. Check How Much Paper You Use Each Month 

The third main option for checking your print volume is the simplest but also least accurate.

If you can't use the previous methods to check how much you print, you can instead count how much paper or paper reams you use each month. This will give you a rough estimate to work with as you search for a machine that can handle your monthly print volume. 


What Else Should You Consider When Buying a Printer? 

The difference between a printer's duty cycle and the recommended monthly print volume is massive. Following only the machine's maximum monthly duty cycle can lead to many service issues. 

This increase in service issues leads to sunk costs from a financial and work efficiency perspective.

If you take a few things away from this article, let them be this:

  • Check your current monthly print volume.
  • Find a machine that can adequately accommodate that volume.
  • Always follow the recommended monthly print volume once you have it. 

Understanding the difference between duty cycle and monthly print volume is crucial before purchasing your office's next machine. Education is the foundation for making the right purchase, and we have learned that well during our almost four decades in the printer/copier industry.  

A printer's duty cycle and print volume are not the only things you need to know when choosing a printer. 

Download our free Guide to Purchasing or Leasing a Printer for a full overview of what you should consider when buying or leasing your next office machine.   

If you’re interested in configuring your own printer, head to our "Shop Now" tab or click on the image below to access our product configurator. Our user-friendly tool allows you to search for a specific model or select the features you desire, making it easier than ever to find the printer that's right for you.

You can also check each printer's product sheet for the duty cycle to help you find a suitable printer that can handle your workload.