What is Color Coverage and Does It Even Matter?

If you do a lot of printing, especially using color for things like brochures, there is a term in the copier world called color coverage you may want to understand. This is not an article for people printing spreadsheets, but applies to graphics people who want to understand what color coverage is all about.

We work with clients to have a simple cost per print plan, so for those who do not have color coverage maximums, this is not as relevant as those who buy there or toner cartridges. It is for those who have leases which can go up or down in price based on color coverage.

What is color coverage?

One would think color coverage would be simple. For example if your color covers 30% of the page, then your color coverage is 30%. Well, before you think you have the riddle solved, you may want to learn a bit more about how color coverage is computed, and this could affect if you want to buy your own toner or be on a cost per print plan.

Color coverage is not quite as simple as what percent of the page is covered in color. Even though that seems logical. There are other factors at play too. Some of the items that affect your long term color utilization rate are as follows:

  • Color percent PER COLOR on the page.
  • Size of page
  • When is toner swapped?
  • Using Ecoprint, or stuff like that?

So, color is more complicated that you might expect at first. Let’s say, for example, you have a page that is 1/2 yellow and 1/2 not printed on. This would be 50% coverage, right? In this one, yes, you are right.

Now, let’s make green half the page and the other half is white. The coverage is 50%? This time, the answer is no. What will normally happen is the yellow will be 50%, and the blue will be 50%, and when mixed, it makes green, but the green’s coverage is 100% even though it it only on half the page. The reason is the yellow and the blue mix to make green. So it is 50% + 50% = 100% even though only have the page is printed on.

We have managed to get a dark green powerpoint slide to be over 200% coverage when we measured the toner usage. So, even if you think you are printing 20% color because about 20% of the page is being taken up with color, it is possible it is 40% color coverage or more.

Cost per Print, It Matters

If dealers are buying the toners for the cost per print, then there will almost always be a clause in the lease the service pricing can be raised if the color coverage exceeds expectations. If you do a ton of color, you will want a copier deal where the amounts are fixed, regardless of color coverage.

Paper Size

You may wonder what paper size has to do with coverage. The basic idea is if you have an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper, or an 11 X17 peice of paper the percentages vary, but the standard remains. So, if you print the 5.5 X 8.5 square we mentioned above, then printing on that size of paper matters in how it is all explained. The 5.5 X 8.5 box takes the same amout of toner on either, but if you get technical, it covers 50% of the 8.5 x 11 paper, yet only 25% of the 11 x 17 paper. This is why you will see most companies charge 2 clicks for 11 x 17 paper. Because it is double the size.

Toner Swaps

If you replace the toner when there is 10% left, rather than empty, it affects the dealer’s color coverage numbers. Let’s say a toner is expected to print 10,000 sheets at 5% coverage with that color. You happen to print everything with exactly 5% coverage as the manufacturer has in their comparison basis. In this case, if you ran the toner until it was empty, that event would happen at 10,000 pages.

Now if you toss the toner at 9,000 pages rather than 10,000 – the dealer loses 10% of the expected yield. Now it will make your prints appear to have a higher coverage when the next assessment is run. If you are buying the toner, that is good for the dealer. If they are providing it as part of a cost per print, that is better for you.

This will make it seem your print coverage is 5.55% rather than 5% because 10% of the yield is not being realized. This can get you into the next toner tier if you are not careful.


If you are using Ecoprint, now you have the opposite situation. The 50% coverage from the box above we mentioned, now might be 35% coverage rather than 50% coverage, because the manufacturer wasn’t using Ecoprint when testing the yield. Now, as we use about 60% of the normal toner, it will make it seem the coverage is lower than it appears on the paper.

The print quality normally suffers some in Ecoprint, but the amount of space covered, will be higher using cyan, magenta, yellow or black.

If you are concerned about color coverage and how it affects your botton line, we would love to chat!


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