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HP Tries to Explain Why Printer Ink is So Expensive

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 91 comments

It's a lot of money for a little liquid.

You've been able to buy an ink jet printer for close to a song these days, especially when they go on sale. But when the inexpensively priced printer stops printing things with the same sort of graphical fidelity as it did out of the box, things can get expensive from there.

That's the thing with ink jet printers – the hardware itself is cheap, but the ink refills will get you in the end. But have you ever asked yourself why the ink is so expensive? Sure, it may be the razor and blade model, but it's still an awful lot to pay for just 10 to 20 milliliters of liquid. In comparison, a Heinz ketchup dipping pack contains 27 ml of ketchup, while the older single packets held 9 ml.

The difference between ketchup in printer ink, however, is vast. HP claims that it spends $1 billion a year on ink research and development – that's some high-tech ink.

"These liquids are completely different from a technology standpoint," said Thom Brown, marketing manager at HP, in a Computerworld story.

HP's first ink jet printer in 1985 had 12 nozzles in the print head and fired droplets at a rate of 10,000 per second, which doesn't even compare to today's Photosmart ink jet that uses 3,900 nozzles that fire 122 million drops per second.

Still, that won't help consumers feel better about paying lots for a little ink cartridge. Computerworld suggests that it may help consumers decipher ink jet cartridge replacement value to list the liquid volume inside each cartridge.

Brown, however, said that doing so would just confuse the customer. "Each system has a different way it uses ink or the drop size is different. If you looked strictly at volume you wouldn't see those differences and it would be confusing to the customers."

To HP's credit, it does list the maximum page yield, but that's only for black and white text and it's from a non-standardized measurement.

For now, it seems that consumers will either have to look at more economical, aftermarket, but perhaps less satisfactory ink replacements. There's always laser too.

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Top Comments
  • 37 Hide
    the last resort , May 30, 2010 9:52 PM
    the problem lies not in how much you get, but in how much is left after it is "empty". Has anyone ever cracked one open? Over half the ink is left, its unbelievable.
  • 28 Hide
    cookoy , May 30, 2010 10:13 PM
    R&D includes how to restrict using refills on their printers.
  • 23 Hide
    JOSHSKORN , May 30, 2010 9:47 PM
    Everything is too expensive, not just printer ink.
Other Comments
  • 23 Hide
    JOSHSKORN , May 30, 2010 9:47 PM
    Everything is too expensive, not just printer ink.
  • 19 Hide
    phoenix777 , May 30, 2010 9:52 PM
    tip to save ink: change printing options to fast draft. (I personally can't even tell the difference)
  • 37 Hide
    the last resort , May 30, 2010 9:52 PM
    the problem lies not in how much you get, but in how much is left after it is "empty". Has anyone ever cracked one open? Over half the ink is left, its unbelievable.
  • 6 Hide
    fusion_gtx , May 30, 2010 9:53 PM
    It really is kind of sad when buying a new printer is cheaper than purchasing new ink for that printer. Of course it's ridiculous that print manufacturers put "Start Cartridges" in to begin with. To the average customer it looks like a great deal but in reality you'll get 20+ pages before you're going to the store spending more on ink than you did for the printer.
  • 22 Hide
    Hellbound , May 30, 2010 10:06 PM
    I simply do not buy this explanation. This reminds me of my son who is a diabetic. His glucose testing meter was actually given to us by his doctor, but the test strips cost $80 for a month supply. The doc says they make little off selling the machine, but make tons more on the test strips.. Its the same with printers. The machine is expected to last a while, but the ink "will" need replacing.
  • 14 Hide
    jubalhharshaw , May 30, 2010 10:09 PM
    Don't you refill the used cartridges in USA? Refilled cartridges cost 1/4 the price of a new one in Brazil. Almost everybody do it here and it works well.
  • 28 Hide
    cookoy , May 30, 2010 10:13 PM
    R&D includes how to restrict using refills on their printers.
  • 6 Hide
    micr0be , May 30, 2010 10:19 PM
    i think its all marketing strategies to increase revenue, since once u are enticed to purchase a cheap printer your stuck with the obligatory expensive ink cartridges.

    i'd like to think of it as a free dose of heroine without the side effects.
  • 5 Hide
    haunted one , May 30, 2010 10:20 PM
    The worst part is when you can't print in black and white if the color cartridge runs out. And now, with the integration of the 3 primary colors, if any ONE color runs out, you need to replace the color cartridge even if the other two colors are at higher levels.


    What would I like? Separate cartridges for each color (and not more expensive) and the ability to print if even one cartridge runs out.
  • 4 Hide
    jubalhharshaw , May 30, 2010 10:21 PM
    Interesting. Here we buy the refilled cartdriges at shops. There's refilled cartridges for almost all printers at very low prices and not only HP printers. There's also Epson and Canon that sell their ink cartridges with costs very lower than HP. Those who don't like to use refilled cartridges usually buy their printers. We have also kits to mod the printers to add bigger cartridges that are refilled by hand that are even cheaper for those who print a lot. And that for allmost printers too.
  • 8 Hide
    Anonymous , May 30, 2010 10:28 PM
    6 years a go I bought a Kyocera 1010 laser printer. I'm still using the toner cartridge that came with the printer.
  • 6 Hide
    killerclick , May 30, 2010 10:32 PM
    Paperless office.
  • 3 Hide
    thrust2night , May 30, 2010 10:36 PM
    I'm not sure why they spend $1 billion a year in ink research and development when the existing ink technology works great. What really is a problem though is different types of ink toners that are required for hundreds of different models of printers.

    Why can't ink toners for laserjet printers be standardized so that the market is not flooded with hundreds of models? Same goes for deskjets. I'm sure that would save a lot of money for HP (from a manufacturing standpoint) and make toner purchasing for businesses easier and less painful.
  • 8 Hide
    The_Prophecy , May 30, 2010 10:38 PM
    Ink jets aren't worth it. They create way too much e-waste, as most people see that a new printer is less expensive than a replacement (or whole replacement set) of ink jet cartridges, so they get rid of their old printer a buy a whole new unit. The old printer is "recycled" by being shipped overseas and dumped in a foreign landfill.
  • 1 Hide
    LMF5000 , May 30, 2010 10:40 PM
    If you want cheap ink for inkjet printers, you can fit a continuous ink system. Just look up "CISS" on ebay. The CISS ink for my Canon Pixma iP1800 costs about €22 per 400 ml. In other words, a volume equal to one black cartridge's worth of ink costs about 75 cents (instead of the €18 it costs in the shop).
  • -1 Hide
    drowned , May 30, 2010 10:44 PM
    Inkjets are total scams for people too dumb to spend the upfront cost of a laser printer. I get 3000+ black and white pages out of my $80 laser for $30 a cartridge (generic)...no way any inkjet can compete with that.

    FYI to some saying "refill your cartridges". It's not worth the effort. They design their cartridges on purpose such that they won't spray down any more ink once you get past X pages printed, regardless of the amount of ink left.
  • 3 Hide
    intesx , May 30, 2010 11:23 PM
    Another thing that almost everyone overlooks, and I can't ever remember seeing an article about, is that cheaper printers often use more expensive inks. But it doesn't look that way at first glance.

    For example, a $30 printer will probably use the cheapest cartidges on the shelf. Look like a great deal... cheap printer AND cheap ink. But the reality is, those cheapers cartidges are about half the price for less than half the ink. So they are ultimately more expensive.

    A $200 printer uses the more expensive cartridges but the cartridges cost only about twice as much but have nearly 3 times the ink.

    In the end the more expensive printer with the more expensive cartridges ends up being the better deal assuming you keep the printer for a few years and print a moderate volume.
  • 10 Hide
    JonathanDeane , May 30, 2010 11:35 PM
    Its all a scam the same as the razor blade company's have been doing for years.
  • 2 Hide
    ta152h , May 30, 2010 11:36 PM
    I'd rather see HP drastically cut their research and price for the ink because of it. It's not like existing inks are so bad, nor that we've seen big advances in ink technology.

    The money seems poorly spent, and a cost consumers aren't benefiting from.
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