Why Is Printer Ink So Expensive?

Printer Ink Featured

If you own an ink printer, you’ll know how expensive it is to refill it with ink. After all, it’s just ink; how did it come about to be so expensive? Let’s take a look at the reasons for the high price of ink.

1. “Producing Printer Ink Is a Complicated Process”

Unsurprisingly, this is the argument that printer manufacturers give when asked about their high prices. They state that the technology and research that goes behind creating printer ink justifies the high price.

Printer Ink Cartridges

When the topic of printer ink comes up, people are keen to compare it to the price of other liquids such as oil or champagne. The problem is, those liquids are simply put into a container and used when needed; printer ink has a lot more user expectation in terms of performance.

As ComputerWorld’s interview with HP’s marketing manager Thom Brown revealed:

Inks 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 thatm it must dry almost instantly on the paper.

As such, Brown argued, comparing printer ink to other liquids is useless because no other storebought liquid has to perform as printer ink does.

2. “Printer Manufacturers Sell Printers at a Loss”

This argument isn’t so much a biased statement as it is fact. We know that printer manufacturers sell their printers at a lower price than the cost to make it. Every time someone buys a printer, its manufacturer doesn’t make a full profit on the sale.

Printer Ink Sale

The companies do, however, take this “lost profit” and move it onto the price of printer ink. After all, people don’t buy the printers as much as they do printer ink, so overpricing the ink means the manufacturer can make back the money they lost on the printer.

So why are manufacturers selling printers at a loss? Simple: competition. If someone who doesn’t know about ink costs has to choose between two similar printers, with one underpriced at $30 and one at full price at $150, they’ll take the former printer home. It doesn’t matter that the former printer’s ink is three times the price of the latter’s – that initial sale is the most important part of gaining a new customer.

3. “Printer Companies Create a Captive Audience to Overcharge”

This argument is used by consumers who purchase printers and ink. It’s based on how modern-day printers can reject ink cartridges if they’re not the manufacturer’s own brand of ink.

Printer Ink Broke

This creates a captive audience where the user’s only means of resupplying their ink is through the same people they bought the printer from. This allows the manufacturer to set the price high, as people are forced to buy their ink if they want to continue printing.

Which Is True?

The weird thing about this scenario is that all three arguments have a solid grounding. Ink cartridges are complicated to design, and printer ink needs to perform perfectly under different conditions. Manufacturers do undersell their printers and make their money back through ink sales. And finally, printer companies do lock down the ink cartridges so that only their own brand can be used.

As such, you could argue that all three of these elements contribute to the high price of ink. There is no single reason we can point to and declare it’s the main reason; it’s more a by-product of how printers work, how they’re sold, and how manufacturers can legally lock competitors out of their products.

Thinking About Inking

It’s no surprise that printer ink is expensive, but what makes it so? It’s likely a mix of several elements that come together to command a high price for printer ink, with no one reason being the most prevalent.

Do you disagree with any of the above arguments or have any you’d like to add? Let us know below!

12 comments

  1. Would research each printer by going to ebay and see if I can buy ink for the printer there. Last printer I had, ink cartridge costed about 15$ retail each, went to ebay and was able to buy a mixed pack of 10 for about 12 or 15 dollars. Decent ink for printing, maybe not for a professional photographer. Think some printers you would save money by replacing the printer than just replacing the ink.

    1. I have to agree with Colin. I bought a cheap HP color printer and when it ran out of ink it was cheaper for me to buy a new one rather than buy ink for it. I don’t use a inkjet printer much only when I need to print something in color. I use a Lazer jet printer 99% of the time.
      Mel

  2. Re. replacing the printer, rather then the cartridges, there’s a good-value computer bits and other techie accessories retailer here in the UK that I have used frequently (I won’t mention it, as I will probably be rejected for spam!) that offers allegedly “free” well-known branded printers , with a large selection to choose from (including some quite up-market models), in return for buying their own brand cartridges. How silly is that?

  3. HP seems to have stopped making ink for ‘my printer’ so I’m forced to buy a new one. In doing this they just trashed my brand loyalty, so my next printer probably won’t be by HP.

    HP’s Thom Brown’s argument was probably correct 15 years ago but today much less so. HP has been making color inkjets for many years and the ink formulation today is not so different from what it was 10 years ago. Essentially all printer manufacturers manipulate the market to maximize profits.

  4. Just to underline the fact that it is ALL ABOUT THE INK, it’s worth noting that many printers come with ink cartridges that are only partially filled; so the the manufacturers can start cashing in (recouping their losses, if you will) within days of the sale.

  5. You can buy refilled cartridges online much cheaper. Also, have your own cartridges refilled locally. All the way from Costco to little local printer shops.

  6. What I do, is the canon all in one I bought was $39.99 and the replacement inks are $51.99. I just throw it away and buy a new printer. Sometimes I go to my local Walmart or Meijer and they sell remanufactured canon cartridges at half the price and work twice as long.

  7. One important point was only mentioned briefly, but is a significant factor. In most cases, you are not just buying ink; you are also buying a cartridge that is designed to manipulate the ink properly. I recently purchased a Canon printer that uses large tanks to contain the ink. When I buy more ink, I am only buying the ink, not a new cartridge each time, and the ink is a much better value because of this — I get much more ink for the same price.

  8. This article is the biggest load of furtilizer I have heard in years. The most exotic of champagnes is cheaper by the gallon than standard printer ink of any color. Technology in America is the largest scam there is. In my 65 year lifetime I have never known an advancement in tech to amount to anything but higher prices for anything produced. You do not even want to look at what a solvent ink will cost. Whats their excuse for that? They don’t sell those printers for a loss at 12 thousand and up. It is still just a simple 2 axis cnc device but since it is used in THE PROFESSIONAL WORLD there is every reason to extort the price beyond the devices capability to make a profit. The Honest TRUTH is GREED. PURE, SIMPLE, and definatly TRUE. I hope I did not break any rules, I am just stating reality not corporate fiction.

  9. I have known people that when their printer runs out of ink they go buy another inexpensive printer instead of replacement ink.In some cases that is less expensive than buying a printer, then buying replacement ink. Seems wasteful but that is the economics of it.

  10. When I bought my Canon MP630 some years ago, being impressed by its claimed print resolution, I found you had to do a test print before using it. This consisted of only 3 tiny characters printed, then it was out of ink!!!
    Replacements were $158, almost half the cost of the printer.
    I immediately bought a CISS tank unit for it which cost about the same and inks lasted some 5 months with my usage.
    Some manufactures (Eg Epson L300) are now made with an inbuilt CISS unit, refillable tanks which save enormous amounts. What has not been mentioned yet (??) is the “ink waste pad full” con where the printer totally stops working until the printer is serviced by an authorised printer technician . Yet the printer has nothing wrong with it. Naturally the cost of this is more than a new printer ! Each time the printer is turned on , or when its on standby it does a print head clean cycle, which squirts ink into an absorbent filled tank. When its full the printer is then turned off permanently Dismantling and drying out the tank does not work as its a “cleaning ” count in the Eprom which issues the command to stop the woks and this has to be reset by a software program known only to the manufacturer.
    So the printer people get you both ways

  11. Companies charge an arm and a leg (and some fingers) for printer ink because they CAN. If you want nice, pretty pictures, you have to go with an inkjet printer.

    If you read printer tests, you will learn that color laser printers workout to be cheaper per page than inkjets.

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