Today, I went to WalMart to buy ink for my printer, blades for the ol’ Gillette, and a replacement brush head for my electric toothbrush.  When I looked at the prices, I was tempted to forget about the whole thing and give up caring for my teeth as well as cease all printing and shaving.  What is it with these prices for replacements?  I can almost buy a new printer (Canon Mg250) for the same price ($48.48) as I would pay for the cartridges ($40.94).  Or the Epson XP330 ($44.98), with the ink cartridges costing $40.97.  (Conversely, the HP Deskjet 2132 (black ink only) is $39.98, and the ink cartridge is $15.97.  I suppose that’s a deal.  At this price, it would take the average user almost a year for the ink cost to equal the cost of the printer!)

The toothbrush instructions tell me to change the brush head three times a year.  Let’s see, that would be a four-pack at $29.97.  That’s $1.00 more than the cost of a new Oral-B electric.   And the razor blades…. don’t get me started!  The Gillette Fusion set me back about $11.00; the blades come in a 4-pack for $18.48.  If I am able to scratch and cut my way through 30 shaves per blade, in a year I will have used enough blades to buy 5 new Fusions!

Gillette and Schick would go on and on about development and manufacturing costs that–they would have us believe–fully justify the retail cost of replacement blades.  I haven’t seen the same marketing justification by Oral-B, Phillips, or Waterpik, but I presume it has to do with development cost, patents, and such.  But, since we have the option of using a “manual” toothbrush and letting face (Leg? Underarm?) hair grow, let’s put these items aside and get back to talking about printer ink cartridges.

Printer ink is priced much like the finest champagne.  Sort of.  Actually, it cost more than all but the top of the line champagne.  Ink in those plastic containers filled mostly with foam costs somewhere between $400 and $500 a cup.  And it’s not like cartridge costs are a new issue.  In the December 2009 issue, PC Magazine ran an article titled, “What’s Cheaper: Replacement Ink, or a New Printer?”  This article compared the cost of buying a new printer every time you needed an ink refill with keeping the printer and buying the ink cartridge.  Turns out the dollar difference wasn’t all that great, either way.  Throwing out a perfectly good printer isn’t something we would tend to do.  First, it runs against the grain of logical behavior to toss out the baby with the bathwater.  Second, we would be adding to the mountains of trash we already have on our planet.

In the Computerworld May 24, 2010 edition, HP responded with their “Why Computer Ink Is So Expensive” justification.  In an interview, then-marketing manager Thom Brown stated, quite fairly, that ink technology is expensive to develop, and the consumer pays for reliability and image quality.  It costs a fortune, he indicated, to develop the sophisticated technology that can “withstand heating to 300 degrees, vaporization, and being squirted at 30 miles per hour, at a rate of 36,000 drops per second, through a nozzle one third the size of a human hair. After all that it must dry almost instantly on the paper.”  Brown went on to say that HP spent $1 billion a year on ink research and development.

Let’s jump the calendar ahead by 13 years.  Any changes?  No, according to a New York Daily News article on February 6, 2014.  New Jersey lawmakers introduced a bill that would require manufacturers of printers and cartridges to display on their packages the average cost to print 1,000 pages.  That’s about all that happened.

So here we are in 2016.  By now, things have certainly changed.  Ink cartridge technology is old hat by now.  How many times do you need to spend $1 billion (not adjusted for inflation) on “ink technology and development?”  Have printers changed so much that the R & D cost for ink cartridges must continue at the same level?  Surely not.  Let’s go to WalMart and check it out.

 The HP Deskjet 2132 has a price of $39.98.  The ink cartridge costs $15.97

For the Canon MG2520, you’d have to pay $48.48.  The black ink cartridge sells for $17.97.  The color cartridge costs $22.97.

Epson…. The XP330 has a sales price of $44.98.  The black cartridge is $12.97.  Color ink cartridge, $27.97.

Add it up, and make the judgment for yourself.

The printers I looked at were, obviously, the least expensive ones I could find.  And this leads to another important point:  Cheaper printers are often more costly to operate than more expensive ones.  Plus, more costly printers run faster and are more durable.

Two additional arguments play into this analysis.  One, that the manufacturers are reducing the amount of ink in the cartridges.  The second–and third, really–that the chips in some printer cartridges shut off the ink supply before the cartridge is empty.  These chips can cause the printer to restrict the use of refilled cartridges or cartridges from a manufacturer other than those of the maker of the printer.  Arguments as to the validity of these claims–mostly in support–are very present on the internet.

Multiple studies appear to support the notion that cartridges send an “all gone” message to the computer  while there is remaining ink in the cartridge (20% to 40%).  The argument of the manufacturer is that printers/cartridges are designed in such a way that they will sense when the cartridge ink supply is low enough–or the cartridge is old enough– that the ink could lose its designed consistency and could block the head.

Ink cartridges and toner account for a high percentage of HP’s profits, but revenues have recently slipped in this area.  In the Wall Street Journal of June 22, 2016, HP indicated they would work to correct this problem by reducing “inventory of printing supplies and enact pricing strategies that would eliminate frequent discounts and promotions.”  No indication of implementation of manufacturing standardization and printer cartridge commonalities that would reduce costs……

So, what to do?  Two choices, really.  Stick with your current printer and find ways to economize, or get a new printer.  Let’s take the second choice first.

Your first consideration could be to switch from an inkjet printer to a laser.  The amount of use your printer gets is a major point of consideration here, in that–due to the cost of a laser printer and the toner cartridge–the inkjet can be more economical is you are a typical home or small-office user.  The typical life of an inkjet cartridge can be about 500 pages; a toner cartridge can last for at least 2,000 pages.  If you are a high-volume printer user, a laser printer will give you print speed, a lower per-page cost, and will be very reliable.   Otherwise, if low initial cost is more important than cost per page, go with an inkjet.

An appetizing inkjet alternative is on the market.  Both Epson and Brother have come out with printers that claim to 1) carry enough ink to last up to two years and 2) have ink refills that are relatively cheap.  You might want to check these out.  The Epson series is EcoTank.  They’re not cheap, but the lower end isn’t all that bad–$299.  The new Brother printer hasn’t received the publicity as has the Epson, but online reviews have been good.  The starting price for the Brother Worksmart is $199.

If you have decided to hang with your current printer for now, as many of us have, here are some tips that you might want to consider in order to make those ink cartridges last as long as possible:

  • Buy Refilled Cartridges: Refilled cartridges from third parties are generally much cheaper. Printer manufactures will tell you that this will yield poor results and might even damage the printer, but a lot of people do it without any ill effects.
  • Refill Your Own Cartridges: You can get do-it-yourself kits for refilling your own printer ink cartridges. My advice is to seek help and information online, so that you 1) buy the correct kit and 2) get some instruction before you try it.  Remember, though… Your printer may refuse to accept a refilled cartridge if the cartridge contains a microchip.
  • Buy XL Cartridges: Buying XL cartridges is often the most economical way to go.
  • Avoid Printers With Tri-Color Ink Cartridges: This is a lesson I had to learn. If the printer uses one cartridge for color printing, you have an excellent chance of using one color more than another.  And, when the cartridge gets low on the color you use the most, you have to throw away the cartridge and buy a new one.  A printer with separate color cartridges solves this problem.
  • Print only the part of the document that you need: This is especially when you are printing an online document.  Too much ink is wasted when we fail to select and print only the section we want.
  • Use the “draft” setting when you can: If the quality of the document you are printing isn’t a major issue, use a setting such as “draft” or “economy.”  You’ll use less ink.
  • Don’t turn off your printer in mid-cycle. When you turn the printer off, the print head is stopped in the place it was when you turned it off. If the printer is in mid-cycle, it could cause the printer nozzle to dry out, possibly resulting in a leak.
  • Leave your printer on. If you print regularly, it’s often better to leave the printer on, rather than turn it on and off.  The printer uses a small amount of ink during the initialization process when you turn it on.

My printer and I hope that this posting has been of value to you.

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