HP Tries to Explain Why Printer Ink is So Expensive

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.

Marcus Yam
Marcus Yam served as Tom's Hardware News Director during 2008-2014. He entered tech media in the late 90s and fondly remembers the days when an overclocked Celeron 300A and Voodoo2 SLI comprised a gaming rig with the ultimate street cred.
    Everything is too expensive, not just printer ink.
  • phoenix777
    tip to save ink: change printing options to fast draft. (I personally can't even tell the difference)
  • the last resort
    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.
  • fusion_gtx
    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.
  • joytech22
    I like my Inkjet printer, its reliable and iv'e had it since 2006, still runs like new and prints the same as it used to.

    I think the price justifies the quality.
  • Hellbound
    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.
  • jubalhharshaw
    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.
  • cookoy
    R&D includes how to restrict using refills on their printers.
  • micr0be
    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.
  • haunted one
    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.