Buying a printer? Consider the cost of ink!

Comparison shopping is a smart thing to do. In fact, so many people do it that there are sites devoted to helping you compare prices for a variety of things, for example, computer printers. Unfortunately, while looking to save a few dollars here or there is usually a good idea, for some items such as printers, you really should consider the long term costs of your purchase. When pricing a printer, one must include the cost of replacement ink cartridges to get an accurate idea of the real total cost.

Lexmark was one of the first companies to begin offering printers at extremely low prices. They also had some of the highest prices for ink cartridge replacements though, which is how they subsidized the low printer cost. Sure, in some cases they made nothing on the printer, but after the user bought ink a few times, Lexmark had made their money. Note that Lexmark is not the only company who follows this model, although their method of implementing it was one of the most obvious and pronounced.

For quite some time, certain printer manufacturers have also taken to sending a new printer with an ink cartridge that is only half full, ensuring that the user will have to buy a new one before too long.

Fortunately for consumers, there are 3rd party print cartridge manufacturers that offer aftermarket cartridges. However, printer manufacturers are constantly looking for ways to make it more difficult for these companies. Everything from embedding extra chip technology in the cartridges to making claims that aftermarket cartidges have substandard ink and deliver reduced quality (which is true in some cases) has been done.

Another alternative consumers face is the prospect of buying a “kit” allowing them to refill their own cartridges. The kits generally consist of a drill, a syringe, ink, and instructions for refilling their old cartridges. Naturally, this is time consuming for the consumer (and can be messy the first few times), but this is where the most money can be saved. For example, I myself was able to buy 16oz of ink through eBay for under $20. This works out to well under $1/refill for my particular Canon ink cartridges. A great deal. Printer manufacturers are of course aware that people have taken to refilling cartridges, and you can bet that as new printers are introduced, it’s going to become increasingly difficult (if not impossible) to refill them.

Basically, as far as ink goes, consumers have a few options:

  • Buy genuine ink cartridges. It’s pricey, but guaranteed to be high quality.
  • Buy aftermarket cartridges. Less cost, lower quality in some cases. Might not be available for all printers.
  • Buy ink refill kits. Very low cost, lower quality in some cases. Some printer cartridges (Epsons in particular) may require a “chip resetter”, as the old cartridge keeps track of how much ink is left. Refilling difficulty can range from somewhat easy to extremely difficult. Might be impossible with some brands.
  • Use and ink refilling service. Found usually in malls, these outlets refill the ink in your own cartridges for you for at low cost. They usually sell bulk ink and aftermarket cartridges as well.

Once you’ve determined the method you’re going to use to replenish your ink, you have to determine how many times per year you’re going to have to do it. Since different cartridges have different capacities, this can be difficult, but you can usually get an idea based upon the frequency that you needed to buy new ink for your old printer. Some people only need to replace the cartridge once or twice a year, in which case the cost of ink isn’t going to be as big a factor as for those who print so often that they’re replacing the cartridge once a month. Calculate your estimated yearly total, and then multiply it by 2-5 years, based on how long your old printer lasted before you decided (or needed) to replace it.

Once you have the total “lifetime” cost of the ink, add that to the printer cost when doing your price comparisons. You may be surprised at the results, and you may find that the $300 printer you really liked is actually going to cost you less in the end than the $50 printer that seemed like a great deal only a few minutes ago.