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 user 2003-12-01 at 10:24:00 am Views: 57
  • #8036
    Keeping Inkjet and Laser Printing Costs Under Control
    practical tips for an expensive hobby

    Inkjet printers certainly have changed the world. If you talked to a photography hobbyist 15 years ago, they probably would have laughed at the claim that you could produce rich, beautiful photographic prints with a device the size of a toaster oven that costs less than $200. But if you print photos on your inkjet printer, or even if you just print regular stuff like documents and web pages, you will realize that the low cost of the printer is somewhat deceptive. At $20-$30 per cartridge, you don’t need to go through many cartridges before you double the cost of the printer.

    Back in the early 90s, Hewlett Packard realized that customers were put off by the $500+ price tag of inkjet printers. So they tried a brilliant new idea: they lowered the price of the printer, but increased the price of the ink cartridges, reasoning that if they could draw in customers with the printer, they could make a higher profit margin later on the cartridges. Today, all inkjet printer companies work this way. I don’t know what it really costs to make an inkjet printer (that’s a trade secret, of course), but I do know that the wholesale price of the printer is awfully close to the manufacturer’s total cost. The goal: saturate the marketplace with as many printers as possible, then sit back and watch the cartridge profits roll in. The computer industry saw a similar revolution in laser printers in the mid-90s, with low-cost personal laser printers available for less than $300, but toner cartridges costing $70 each or more.

    … saturate the marketplace with as many printers as possible, then sit back and watch the cartridge profits roll in.

    Maybe we can forgive printer companies for this scheme; after all, keeping the starting cost down allows more people to buy inkjet and laser printers, and that expands the reach of technology to people who might not otherwise be able to afford it. And if you find yourself paying way too much for inkjet cartridges or laser toner, why not try a few common-sense tips to bring your printing costs back under control?

    Generic Cartridges and Toner

    If you read David Ammerman’s excellent review of the printer cartridge industry, you know that there are many different generic and low-cost options for popular inkjet and laser printers. But how do you know what costs to expect? The research needs to start before you even purchase a printer.

    When you are shopping for printers, try to come up with a short list of three to five printers that meet your needs. Visit the web sites of companies like Epson, Canon, Lexmark, HP and other listed on my inkjet and laser vendor lists and check out the available products and spec sheets.

    Once you have a short list of printers, visit sites that sell generic or low-cost cartridges or toner, like Abacus 24-7, Inkfarm, Carrot’s Ink Cartridges or the many others on my inkjet and toner vendors list. Look up your printer choices on these sites and see what generic products are offered. If you find low-cost generics available for your printers, then you have a practical option for keeping your printing costs under control. In general, generic cartridges run about 30%-50% cheaper than original manufacturer cartridges, and you might find even better deals on bulk packs of cartridges.

    Re-use, Recycle

    Sometimes you can’t find generic cartridges for your printer of choice. In some cases, the manufacturer of the printer uses various technological techniques to subvert generics, like the tracking chip on high-end Epson cartridges. Some printer companies use patented processes to manufacture cartridges that the generic makers cannot legally duplicate.

    But you still have options. You can refill some ink cartridges with new ink, allowing you to re-use your existing cartridge. You will find refill kits at many computer and office supply stores, but be careful. Many refill kits advertise compatibility with all printers, but you want to check the fine print and make sure that your printer manufacturer and model class are explicitly listed. And of course, you need some basic mechanical acumen to perform the refill correctly. Inkjet printer companies will not honor your printer warranty if the cartridge falls apart and leaks into the printer. But if you can refill without problems, you can cut cartridge costs to $5 per refill or less, and most new cartridges can be refilled three to five times before they begin to develop print quality problems.

    If this whole process sounds too adventurous, you can try a cartridge refill service. For about the same cost as a generic ink cartridge, you can get a prepaid shipping envelope to send in your old cartridge and get a refurbished and refilled print cartridge in return. Many of the inkjet vendors on my list offer inkjet refill services. Or, you can check your local yellow pages for a cartridge remanufacturing service, and save a few bucks on the shipping. Most cities have local laser toner refill companies too; look for businesses that advertise toner recycling, toner recharging or toner remanufacturing