​What Is a Printer/Copier’s Duty Cycle? 

Submitted by Mary Shamburger on Wed, 10/19/2022 - 09:00
Two people looking at documents near a printer

If you’ve ever looked at a printer/copier online, you’re likely familiar with the term “duty cycle.” 

But what does a machine’s duty cycle mean and why is it important? 

These are the types of questions we will use our almost 40 years of industry expertise as a print vendor to answer today because duty cycle is one of the key indicators you need to pay attention to before purchasing a new office machine.  

If you forego a printer’s monthly duty cycle and just buy whichever machine you can find easily, you may be subjecting yourself to more service issues down the road---something we will cover later on in this blog.  

Before getting into all of that, let’s first begin with the basics: What does duty cycle mean when it comes to printers/copiers? 

What Does Duty Cycle Mean? 

The duty cycle of a printer, stated simply, is the maximum number of prints that a machine can produce in a month.  

Its primary purpose is as a unit of measurement for the lifespan of printers; it signifies the maximum capacity of how much a machine can print or copy in a given month.  

You can think of duty cycle like you would the speedometer on a car. A printer’s duty cycle is determined by the manufacturer of the machine, who will push the machine to its breaking point in order to see what it can handle.   

As mentioned previously, duty cycle is measured on a monthly basis, so if a machine has a duty cycle of 150,000 pages per month, that is the maximum amount that the machine can print or copy in a roughly 30-day span.  

The Bigger the Printer, the Higher the Duty Cycle 

The next thing you need to know to be aware of when it comes to a machine’s duty cycle is that it will change depending on the size of the printer

As a rule of thumb: The bigger the printer, the higher its monthly duty cycle will be. 

For instance, the Xerox AltaLink C8170, a large color multifunction printer, has a monthly duty cycle of up to 300,000 pages. It has base dimensions of 24.4" x 31.2" x 46" and weighs over 350 pounds. 

You compare that to a machine like the HP Smart Tank 7001 All-in-One Printer, which is a smaller desktop printer weighing around 14 pounds, and the duty cycle is much lower (5,000 pages per month).  

Is Duty Cycle Important When Shopping for a New Printer? 

Now that you have a good grasp of a printer’s duty cycle, how important is it to consider before purchasing a new machine? 

As you could probably guess at this point, a printer’s duty cycle plays a very big role in making sure that you get a machine that can print at the volume you need it to every month. 

There is arguably no more significant factor to consider on a printer than how much it can print or copy in a month, making duty cycle essential to consider before purchasing. 

But there is a major caveat when it comes to a machine’s monthly duty cycle. Let’s use the next section to go over that caveat in more detail: 

Should I Follow a Printer’s Duty Cycle? 

While a printer’s monthly duty cycle is important to pay attention to before purchasing a machine, it is not the number you should follow every month for volume. 

The machine’s duty cycle indicates how much it can technically print/copy every month, but just because it can get to that number, doesn’t mean you should do it. 

Let’s go back to a car analogy to demonstrate this. Say your car can get up to 160 mph, and because you’re the rebellious type, you decided to drive that fast every time you drove your car. What do you think the result would be? 

Well, probably a lot of speeding tickets for one. But more impactfully, your engine will begin to fail way sooner than you would’ve expected if you drove it at a normal pace. 

The same logic applies to the duty cycle of a printer. If you consistently use your machine at its maximum capacity, you will eventually wear it down to the point that it’s no longer operational.  

The thing is, that while the duty cycle exists to represent the power of the printer, it’s not actually designed to print to that number each month. Instead, you should adhere to the recommended monthly print volume of a printer, which is about 10% of the duty cycle. 

Let’s go over recommended monthly print volume in the next section: 

Duty Cycle vs. Recommended Monthly Print Volume 

While duty cycle represents the maximum amount you can print/copy in a month, the recommended monthly print volume indicates the amount that you can safely use the machine each month. 

For example, if the monthly duty cycle of your printer is 120,000 pages, its recommended print volume will be around 12,000 pages per month. The 12,000-page limit is the one you should follow on a monthly basis to ensure that your machine lasts.  

Understanding the difference between duty cycle and recommended monthly print volume is crucial because although duty cycle is a must to consider before purchasing, you don’t want to use the machine to its maximum capacity every month.  

Watch the video below to learn more about the importance of print volume when choosing a printer: 

What Are the Consequences of Ignoring Print Volume Before Purchasing? 

The consequences of using your machine past its limit cannot be overstated. If you are in desperate need of a new machine and decide to buy the first one you see, ignoring its volume in the process, you could open yourself up to issues such as: 

  • A shorter product lifespan, which can lead to having to buy a new machine sooner than you anticipated. 

Simply put, disregarding the amount of volume a machine can handle makes you susceptible to service issues that could’ve been avoided had you considered your print volume before purchasing. 

Bottom line: Pay attention to a printer’s duty cycle before buying a new machine to make sure it can handle your monthly print volume. 

What Else Should You Consider Before Purchasing a Printer? 

When contemplating which printer/copier to buy, there’s nothing more important to consider than how much it can print or copy in a month. 

Getting a machine that aligns with your print volume is imperative because it will ensure that the new printer you’re buying will serve your office for the long haul. 

Pay close attention to the monthly duty cycle of a printer before purchasing but follow its recommended monthly print volume once you have it to protect against service issues and a shorter product lifespan. 

As a mainstay in the printer/copier industry for almost four decades, we have seen time and again that customers who educate themselves before buying end up being the most satisfied with their purchase.  

A machine’s duty cycle and print volume are crucial factors to consider before purchasing, but they are far from the only ones. 

To help further educate yourself on buying the ideal printer for you, download your free copy of our Complete Guide to Purchasing or Leasing a Printer to use as a resource as you start to narrow down your options in finding the best machine for your workplace.