Printer ink cartridges: now even more of a rip-off

Printer and publisher William Caxton showing a sample of a printed book to King Edward IV

Printer and publisher William Caxton showing a sample of a printed book to King Edward IV

Need more reasons to go paperless? Take a look at what printer makers do with ink.

Printer ink has always been expensive, but as The Guardian reveals the price per millilitre  rocketed recently with printer makers serving ever smaller portions of ink in their cartridges.

The Guardian says decade ago Epson printer ink cartridges contained 16ml. Today’s have just 3.5ml. HP sold a 42ml cartridge in the UK for £20. Now a 5ml cartridge costs  £13. For details see Printer ink cartridges: why you’re paying more but getting a lot less.

Printer makers sell inkjets and lasers at cost or a small loss aiming to make money from ink sales. Most printers come with small amounts of ink, so it doesn’t take customers long to get to their first cartridge purchase. From then on, the printer makers are in profit.

Customers fight back against rip-off branded cartridges by buying third-party ink. There are replacement cartridges and kits that allow you to top-up the ink in a cartridge.

Printer makers used to argue third-party ink would damage printers. That’s perverse: it takes five or six refills to damage a print head. Given the low cost of printer hardware and the huge savings from third-party ink, customers come out ahead if they regularly upgrade printers – and there’s the bonus of newer technology.

Printer makers are on firmer ground when they say third-party ink gives low quality results. We get through a lot of ink in our business – paperless publishing works up to a point, but we still need to print frequent proofs. In my experience third-party ink is fine for documents, but lousy for printing photos.

13 thoughts on “Printer ink cartridges: now even more of a rip-off

  1. I don’t like talking about (inkjet) printers, they make me so angry. My advice to anyone that asks me about printers is don’t get one. If something is worth printing it’s worth going into town to get it done. It’s cheaper and less hassle.

    http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2007/12/hp-and-staples-accused-of-colluding-on-printer-ink-prices/

    That happened, but idk how much came of it and I bet it didn’t stop them one effing bit.

    What annoys me the most is how many don’t listen to me, but will still complain about prices and how fast you go through ink.

  2. I’ve given up on inkjet printers. Still deliberating about getting a cheap laser; I’m not sure how much better value they are .

    • Lasers have their own rip-off economics. Mind you, the last laser I had at home came with a cartridge that lasted me for eight years. I don’t think the makers are so generous with the toner these days.

  3. My experience with my last two inkjet printers has been that hardware fails have been an even worse problem than rising ink cartridge prices. Though I need a good quality colour machine for my business, right now I’m reduced to my trusty Brother mono laser.

    I may buy another inkjet machine because there are no quickprint bureaus in Martinborough, where I moved to recently. But if I was still living in Wellington, I wouldn’t buy another inkjet printer. It would be more economic to go to a quick print shop to do test prints of colour pages before I send files to printers.

    Given how cheap laser printers have become, and their ongoing much lower running costs, I’m surprised that inkjet printer manufacturers are continuing to ramp up their ink prices.

    • “Given how cheap laser printers have become, and their ongoing much lower running costs, I’m surprised that inkjet printer manufacturers are continuing to ramp up their ink prices.”

      Yes, I thought about that. It turns out printer makers aren’t turning huge profits any more, so the business model is well and truly screwed. It doesn’t serve customers and it doesn’t deliver for the companies making the kit.

      Something is broken, generally means opportunities for smart thinkers. If I had a spare US$100 million I could be tempted to start a business making a really nice ink-jet that comes with three year’s supply of ink (ie a printer’s lifetime). And sell it as a all-the-printing-you’ll-need deal for around US$500.

  4. I have been particularly infuriated by an HP laser printer recently. I bought a new magenta toner cartridge. I know it is full. But the microchip thing on it didn’t work, so the printer refused to work. Not even to print in black and white. Yes, I took it back and got another one, but now I harbour a simmering resentment for anything made by HP – broken DRM on printer cartridges means I ain’t gonna trust them not to pull similar shit on a desktop PC or a Slate. (I work in IT procurement).

    • I avoided writing about the DRM chips and other practices printer makers use to force customers to buy their cartridges because that could make a separate post. But it’s nothing short of Mafia-tactics. It may be legal, but it isn’t moral. That is reason enough not to buy anything from these companies.

  5. Pingback: Well It’s Been a Helluva Day | From the C-Sweet

  6. I own a company refilling inkjet cartridges and we also re-manufacture printer cartridges of all types. It is safe to say that in the last 10 years not one person as contacted us to say that one of the cartridges we produce or refill as damaged their printer.

  7. With chipped cartridges using software enforced ‘estimated’ ink levels you loose the ability to refill, and copyright law stops resellers selling compatible units..

    And as I just discovered; a new trick is chipped print heads which too can be ‘failed’ by the printer based on ‘estimated’ quality degradation (it printed just fine, of course, right up to the point where HP decided it was now worn out.

    My new printer is a small laser unit, I know the next cartridge will cost 80% of it’s price, and that the cartridges are chipped and software limited to 700 pages for the starter cartridge supplied, but that is 2 years+ use for me. I’d rather take the guaranteed lifespan of this Samsung over the continual ‘feeding’ of ink and print heads to my old HP.

    • (Electronics) I received this unit as a relcapement for one that was shipped defective. Amazon replaced the defective unit in one day. I love Amazon. Approximately one month after the purchase date, the unit started making a repetitive banging noise when the cartridge assembly shifted to the right to ready itself for the print job. I had another HP that did the same thing a few days after its one-year warranty expiration (wouldn’t ya know?) and I knew that eventually this one would fail, too. Up to my eyeballs in paperwork and taxes, I put off e-mailing HP Tech Support until the beginning of April. I assumed the warranty period was the same as it was for my last HP printer one year. The Online Tech Support people were great, and they said they’d replace the unit in 2-3 days. I waited. They finally called me ten days later and asked me to call them. I spoke to Blaire, who informed me that this model only has a ninety-day warranty. Shame on me for not knowing that and taking care of this two weeks prior, when the unit was still within the 90 days of coverage. BUT the reason I am writing you guys is so you know what Blaire from HP Phone Tech Support told me, which was, in essence this: (a) I am lucky I got 400 pages out of this printer printers this cheap aren’t supposed to print many pages, and (b) (Said in his most condescending tone, and repeatedly) If I wanted a printer that lasted a little longer, I should have ponied up for one of the more expensive ones. I told him I would tell Amazon buyers about his comments. He said, Go ahead. I don’t know about you, but I’m used to similarly-priced Epson printers that last two years. I’m taking my next printer purchase back to them.

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