old inkjet printer shell game
Alan Zisman (c) 2007 First published in Business
August 28-September 3, 2007; issue 931
High Tech Office column;
century ago, King Gillette sold his safety razors cheaply, making the
bulk of his profit on the blades. Ink jet printer manufacturers use the
same business model. As a result, many users believe that it’s cheaper
to simply buy a new printer than to replace the ink cartridges when
they run out.
Not true: low-priced printers tend to come with
“starter” ink cartridges, which run out quickly. Moreover, low-end
printers often can use only low-capacity ink cartridges and, over the
lifetime of the printer, end up costing more per page than mid-range
Then there’s an ongoing debate between proponents of
models that use a single colour ink cartridge versus fans of models
with separate cartridges for each colour.
Recently, a study
commissioned by printer manufacturer Epson concluded that
multi-coloured cartridges end up wasting about half of their ink.
According to the company’s press release: “On average, the multi-ink
systems used less than 60% of the ink before the cartridge had to be
replaced. This compares to an average of 82% for the individual ink
systems tested.” The study, conducted by independent testing lab TUV
Rhineland, printed a mix of photos and text-heavy business documents
using printers from a range of manufacturers.
Not surprisingly, Epson’s inkjet models use separate cartridges for
Kodak, which is offering a series of printers using all-in-one colour
cartridges, countered with its own study.
at QualityLogic looked at a dozen printer models from a different
angle: how many pages could be printed before the printer ran out of
The company took that data to get cost per page to print
plain black text, pages of coloured text, and colour photos for each
tested model. Cost per page ranged from US$0.02 to US$0.13 per
monochrome page and from US$0.10 to US$0.50 per 4x6” photo.
Kodak’s study, the company’s Easyshare 5300 printer (using a single
colour cartridge) offered the least expensive cost per page. It was
cheaper than all the models with separate ink cartridges. Several Epson
models had the highest cost per page.
I’ve never been too impressed by claims that users save money buying
each separate colour individually.
In my experience, when one colour runs out, the other colours also run
out pretty quickly.
there was another issue highlighted in Epson’s study. When printers
stopped printing, claiming they were out of ink, the researchers
weighed the cartridges. They found that cartridges reported as empty
had, on average, about 20% of their ink left. Even the best printer in
this regard, Epson’s R360 had 9% of its ink remaining when the printer
claimed to be empty.
(Many laser printer owners know that when
their printer says it’s out of toner they can remove the cartridge,
give it a good shake and print quite a few more pages. There’s no
similar work-around for inkjet cartridges.)
And modern inkjet
cartridges have built-in smarts that may work against consumers. Some
models, for instance, keep track of time and stop working when they
think they’re too old, regardless of how much ink is remaining.
moral: don’t stock up if you get a good price. And some include an
out-of-ink sensor in the cartridge, rather than in the printer. That
works against people looking to save money by refilling the cartridge;
even refilled, the sensor may still report that it’s empty.
year, a U.S. class action lawsuit charged that Epson’s cartridges
reported being empty despite substantial amounts of ink remaining.
While denying wrongdoing, the company settled out of court.
Cost per page is not the only reason to buy a printer. Print quality,
ease of use and reliability should also be considered.
Still, because millilitre for millilitre inkjet printer ink is more
expensive than perfume, concern is justified.•