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

Submitted by Karla Metzler on Tue, 07/26/2022 - 09:00

There’s arguably no statistic more important to know before purchasing a printer than how much it can print and/or copy in a month.  

When you’re researching a specific machine’s specifications, you’re likely to see two categories that involve the volume with which the printer can be used: Monthly duty cycle and recommended monthly print volume. 

There is a major difference between a printer’s duty cycle and recommended monthly print volume, and there could be costly consequences if you ignore them. 

As a local print vendor for over 35 years, we’ve seen what negligent printing and copying can do to an office machine and, subsequently, your bank account because you have to pay for a replacement earlier than you expected. 

To help you avoid the aforementioned scenario, we’re going to be going over the differences between a printer’s duty cycle and recommended monthly print volume, which one you should follow, the consequences if you don’t follow the right one and how to find out the volume you need to print/copy at on your next machine. 

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

Need a printer/copier? Download your free copy of the Complete Guide to Purchasing or Leasing a Printer for Your Business and become informed on 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 the machine can produce in a given month, and it is set by the manufacturer of the product. 

The duty cycle of a printer will be determined largely by the size of the machine: The bigger the machine is, the higher the duty cycle will be. 

Because we sell Xerox products and maintain expertise in their catalog, we’re going to provide a few examples of a machine’s monthly duty cycle so you can get a better understanding of what it means: 

  • The Xerox VersaLink B405, a basic office multifunction printer (print, copy, scan and fax), has a monthly duty cycle of up to 150,000 pages per month. 

  • The Xerox VersaLink B605/S, a multifunction printer that is a step up from the VersaLink B405 machine, has a monthly duty cycle of up to 300,000 pages per month.  

  • The Xerox AltaLink B8170, an advanced multifunction printer built for larger workgroups, also has a monthly duty cycle of 300,000 pages per month. 

Read our blog on what duty cycle means when it comes to printers/copiers to learn more.  

What Is a Printer’s Recommended Print Volume? 

A printer’s recommended monthly print volume is the number of prints or copies you can safely make on the machine in a month, and like duty cycle, it is set by the printer manufacturer. 

Like a printer’s duty cycle, the recommended print volume will go up 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 B405 has a recommended monthly print volume of up to 15,000 pages. 

  • The Xerox VersaLink B605/S has a recommended monthly print volume of up to 25,000 pages. 

  • The Xerox AltaLink B8170 has a recommended monthly print volume of up to 100,000 pages. 

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

But as you can see, the AltaLink B8170 has a much higher recommended print volume than the VersaLink B605/S, even though they have the same duty cycle (300,000 pages per month). This exemplifies the point of larger machines being able to print at a higher capacity than smaller ones. 

As a general note, not every printer brand will list out a recommended monthly print volume, but a printer’s duty cycle will almost always be listed.  

If the recommended monthly print volume of a machine is not listed and you want to find it, take 10% of its monthly duty cycle and that will get you in the ballpark of where the recommended volume would be.  

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

Should You Follow a Printer’s Duty Cycle or Recommended Print Volume? 

You can probably guess from the name which one you should follow, but to state it bluntly, you should always follow a printer’s recommended monthly print volume.  

The duty cycle of a printer is the absolute maximum it can be used in a month. That doesn’t mean you should print at the max capacity every month.  

Think about it like you would your car: It might be able to go at a speed of 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, and just because the specifications say you can technically print 300,000 pages per month, doesn’t mean you should do it. 

Consistently printing near your printer’s duty cycle, and not its recommended monthly print volume, can result in financial consequences and disruption to daily business operations.  

What are those specific consequences, though?  

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2 Consequences of Not Following Recommended Print Volume 

Let’s take a closer look at two of the main consequences of printing near max capacity instead of at the recommended 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 consistently high speeds? 

You would encounter all kinds of service issues, ranging from constant tire and oil changes to engine failure, all of which could cost you thousands of dollars that you weren’t prepared to dole out on car problems.  

If you constantly print at or near a printer’s monthly duty cycle, the same thing could happen to you. 

Minor printer service issues can lead to major printer service issues, which results in time-consuming work that would take the office machine you rely on every day out of operation until it gets fixed.  

As you could likely guess, mechanical issues also mean you will need to pay a printer service technician for repair work and being that technicians can charge over $100 an hour, that is a cost that can add up quickly, especially if the issue is intricate and complex. 

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

  1. Shorter Printer Lifespan 

The next consequence is a direct result of the first one: An increase in service issues caused by overprinting means your printer will not last as long as you expected it to. 

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

Having to pay for another printer after you purchased one that you thought would serve as a long-term solution is the ultimate consequence of following a printer’s duty cycle rather than its recommended monthly print volume.  

Read our blog on the 8 tips to increase the lifespan of your copier/printer to learn some tips and tricks on how to make your machine last.   

3 Ways to Check How Much You Print in a Month 

You can gather from reading this blog that you need to follow the recommended monthly print volume and not 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 first way you can check your monthly print volume is by looking at your current printing bill.  

Checking your current printer/copier invoice will serve as the most accurate form of examining your current monthly print volume, and if utilizing a maintenance plan for your current machine, your invoice will likely tell you exactly how much you print or copy each month.   

  1. 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, or total prints and copies, you have made, and it is usually found in the machine’s settings or on a printed report.  

Take the meter reading you discovered and divide it by the number of months you’ve owned that machine. This would provide a close calculation of your monthly print volume, especially if you purchased your current machine new since the meter would’ve started at or near zero.  

  1. Check How Much Paper You Use Each Month 

The third main option you can use to check your print volume is the simplest, but also least accurate, way of evaluating volume.  

If the previous two options aren’t possible for you to complete, you can gauge how much paper or paper reams you go through each month to give you a rough estimate to work with as you search for a machine that can safely handle your monthly print volume. 

What Else Should You Consider When Buying a Printer? 

The difference between a printer’s duty cycle and recommended monthly print volume is massive and following the machine’s maximum monthly duty cycle can lead to a plethora of service issues. 

That increase in service issues results in incurring sunk costs from both a financial and work-efficiency perspective.  

If you take away one thing from this article, let it be this: Check your current monthly print volume, find a machine that can adequately accommodate that volume, and always follow the recommended monthly print volume once you have it. 

It is crucial to understand things like the difference between duty cycle and monthly print volume before going to purchase your office’s next machine. Education is the foundation to making the right purchase; that is something we have learned well during our almost four decades in the printer/copier industry.  

A printer’s duty cycle and print volume are far from the only thing you need to know as you look to find the right printer for you. 

Download our free Guide to Purchasing or Leasing a Printer for a full overview of all the things you need to consider as you search for your next office machine.