Why is Printer Ink so Expensive?

May 17, 2019
Why is Printer Ink so Expensive?

The pain of shopping for and purchasing ink is something so many of us share, and dread. The expense of ink or toner replacement is the most common pain point for printer owners—affecting the owners of 1 in 5 printers. But, why is it so expensive? and can anything really be done about it? Here are some facts and pointers to navigate the ink game.

Liquid Gold

It's enough that printer ink might be the most expensive liquid you buy. Even the cheapest ink in replacement cartridges—at about $13 an ounce—costs more than twice as much as Dom Pérignon Champagne, while the priciest—closer to $95 an ounce—makes gasoline seem like a bargain.

To make matters worse, many printer manufacturers go out of their way to make it difficult for you to use unofficial ink cartridges, building microchips into their official ink cartridges. If you use an unofficial cartridge or refill an official cartridge, the printer may refuse to use it.

Printing + Maintenance = $

According to research, with many printers, more than half of the ink you buy will never wind up on a page. Ink is used in two ways in printers, the first being, of course, printing, and the second for maintenance, with a typical inkjet wasting as much ink on maintenance cycles as it uses to print documents.

The maintenance is usually for cleaning the printheads and kicks on whenever the printer is started after a period of not being used. Some printers use much more ink than others in those tasks—and the added cost  can set you back more than $100 a year.

The Price of Progress

Inkjets have to fire thousands of drops of ink per second, representing four different colors, with tremendous accuracy. Plus, it needs to be quick-drying and water- and smear-resistant, and avoid making the page curl up—while also preventing the tiny jets from clogging. Research and development for this amazing technology comes with a steep price tag.

In a Computer World story from 2010, HP argued that they spend a billion dollars each year on “ink research and development.” They point out that printer ink “must be formulated to 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.”

How to Save

Leave the printer "on." - This avoids triggering a maintenance cycle each time you use it. Inkjets left on use up very little power when not in use, so your ink savings should outweigh the expense a great deal.

Print in draft mode, when possible - This will reduce the amount of ink used, though not necessarily for maintenance. If you need to print high-quality photographs, try to limit the times and number that you do so.

Laser printers vs Inkjets - While laser printers incur a higher upfront cost (some starting around $300) the cost saved on ink can end up saving you money in the long-term.

Outsource your print jobs - Outsourcing your printing can save the cost and hassle of purchasing ink and overall printer maintenance. For instance, instead of printing their own checks, many companies have switched to using check writing services like those at Checkeeper to print and send checks on their behalf. This ends up saving not just money, but time, as well.

Though printer ink is, and can be, costly, it is an amazing technology that is continuing to progress in quality. Luckily, there are increasing ways to give yourself a break from this expense.