Burning Question: Why Is Printer Ink So Darn Expensive?

Burning Question: Why Is Printer Ink So Darn Expensive?

Sonia Zjawinski
Nov 11, 2008

For some of us, printer ink is a sore subject. While we don't seem to have the problem of having to replace cartridges that are still full, we do feel the pinch in our wallets every time we run down to Staples or Office Max to buy replacements. Throwing down for both B&W and color cartridges usually leaves us about $60 in the hole, and in these hard times that can be anxiety inducing.

The last time we picked up some much needed ink we got flustered at the cost and decided to talk to a printer expert about why the heck inks are so expensive. What we found out after the jump...

We ended up chatting with Gartner analyst Federico de Silva Leon, who told us there are several factors at work.

  • When you buy a printer, they're actually surprisingly inexpensive -- $50 - 200. Manufacturers price their printers below cost in order to hook you into buying their inks. They recoup their losses with premium markups on inks and photo paper. It's a similar set up with cell phone carriers. They mark down phones to the bare minimum to hook you into long term contracts.
  • The amount of money that goes into the research and development of ink chemistry and printer head technology is high. To offset those costs, companies mark up ink and paper prices. The amount of money you pay for these items also helps subsidize future R&D. In a way, when you buy ink you're investing in future breakthroughs.

Now what about those third party companies who offer generic ink in cartridges that match your printer for a fraction of the price? Well, Federico says you have to look at your expectations. If you're just printing documents for your own use and you're ok with a slight decrease in quality, third party inks may be a good solution.

When I mentioned that with my previous printer I had used third party inks only to have my printer head die, he mentioned this can be a major drawback to using another ink. According to PC World, clogged printer heads are a unavoidable consequence of generic inks.

If you're concerned about the long term longevity of your printer stick to your brand name ink, but if you're replacing your printer every few years anyway, well you may as well save some bucks on ink.

Oh and this goes without saying. You'll be hard pressed to get stellar photo prints from generic inks. Manufacturers spend a lot of money perfecting ink chemistry in order to give you the best print quality. So if you're looking to archive your memories in a photo album, spend the extra cash on name brand ink.

What has your experience been with third party inks?

Photo: The Selby

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