Why is printer ink so expensive?
The sticker price of an inkjet or laser printer for the home office, on the other hand, seems disproportionately lower. CNET has reviewed several “excellent” inkjet and laser printers in the $150 to $400 range. So why is there such a wide discrepancy between printer cost and printer ink cost?
If you take the word of Thom Brown, marketing manager at HP, the reason printer ink is so expensive is similar to the reason pharmaceutical companies charge so much for drugs: you pay for the research behind the substance, not the substance itself. In 2010, HP was spending more than $1 billion a year on ink research, says Brown. Better research leads to more accurate, higher-quality printed documents. This would seem to explain why you can always find cut-rate generic brand cartridges that probably won’t match the printing quality of name-brand ink cartridges.
Further, printer and ink cartridge manufacturers hold themselves to criteria set forth by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). The ISO/IEC standardizations allow reviewers to compare printers against each other on a level playing field. The costs of meeting these standards go into printer ink costs as well, while generic printer cartridges rely on their low cost – not necessarily their quality – as their main selling point. And manufacturers will warn that printing quality will be compromised unless only genuine name-brand cartridges are used.
An inexpensive printer that wastes ink all of the time won’t pay for itself down the road. So if you’re in the market for a printer and you’re looking to save money over the long term, ignore the sticker price at first. Consumer Reports has an excellent list of printer reviews that account for ink efficiency. The magazine recommends that you first take into account the overall score of the printer before considering the cost, then go from there. Other points to consider would be ink cartridge cost, obviously, as well as your printing habits – how often do you print and how many pages at a time?
Purchasing an ink-efficient printer may not help to ease the pain of paying so much for ink, but it might mean you don’t need to think about it as often.