Smart Consumer: Pricey ink cartridges -- do they think we're printing money?
Published 04/11/2010 | 05:00
How can it cost more to fill a printer with ink than it does to buy it in the first place? Most cheap printers gobble up ink, while the ones that don't almost always cost several times more, a recent survey reveals.
It suggests that the murky ink-onomics of the printer industry seems to be based around flogging printers for low prices and then making customers pay through the nose for refill .
In the survey, only one printer -- the Lexmark Platinum Pro905 -- scored five stars for having relatively low ink costs.
Yet at €479 it was quadruple the cost of many other printers in the survey by Consumer Choice magazine.
No other printer in the 31 surveyed even managed to get four stars on ink costs. And those costing less than €100 invariably managed just 2 stars.
Overall, the best-value ratings went to HP's Photosmart and Canon's PIXMA range, whose various models share the top eight places.
Next comes the HP Deskjet F4580 in ninth place, a trusty workhorse if my own 4260 version is anything to go by, although like most printers, pricey on ink.
I snapped up the 4260 for €70 -- but pay more than that for each refill of a colour cartridge and a long-life black one.
It's very annoying that the long-life ink cartridge for this model costs €50 -- nearly three times the cost of an ordinary cartridge.
Yet it claims to print up to 1,000 A4 pages, five times as much as the standard cartridge -- which makes it seem like a bargain in the murky world of ink-onomics!
The long-life cartridge is only slightly bigger than the ordinary one, and takes up the same amount of shelfspace.
So how does the standard one manage to contain so little ink in the first place?
We contacted some of the major printer manufacturers and put the key question on the industry to them: How can some printers cost as much as the ink to refill them?
Epson issued a terse statement to the effect that its strategy is "to provide the highest possible print quality."
A spokesman for HP pointed out that it offers many money-saving deals on ink cartridges, including multi- and combo- packs which can knock up to 20pc off the normal price.
Lexmark, however, has clearly changed its strategy since a few years back when a survey by Which? magazine reckoned that it cost over €4 to print a colour photo with one of its models (including paper).
It replied to our query with a press release promoting its new print cartridge, which will print off 500 pages for just a fiver.
And which printers is it compatible with? Yes you've guessed it -- one of them is the aforementioned Lexmark Platinum Pro905, costing €479!
Luckily, there's another less exalted Lexmark model that also takes the low-cost cartridge, the Prestige Pro805.
This normally costs €279, according to online retailers Pixmania.ie, but is available for €190 as a special offer at the moment, including VAT.
One way to cut down ink costs is to buy generic cartridges or get the original packs refilled.
Such is the expense of branded ink that an industry has sprung up offering such cheap alternatives.
Outfits such as inkjet.ie, inkmaestro.ie and the inkshop.ie will sell generic cartridges for around a fiver -- compared to €13-€20.
According to inkjet,ie, using generic cartridges won't void your warranty -- although most manufacturers do recommend their own.
However, in an ongoing technological battle of wits and wills, printer manufacturers seem to be getting the upper hand over the generic industry.
Recent printer models seem to have been fine tuned so that they will spurn many non-branded products.
After many years of happily buying cheap cartridges online, I too fell victim to the ink wars after upgrading both my Epson and HP printers to new models.
My joy at new features such as 'wireless' technology was short-lived when another one made itself apparent and the dreaded words "print cartridge not recognised" appeared.
One of the aforementioned websites offered a solution: don't mix generic and branded cartridges at the same time in the printer.
That might work in some cases, but my HP printer was having none of it, and still refused work.
So if you have a printer that takes generic cartridges, hang on to it as long as you can if you want to keep availing of this low-cost option.