TONER: INK’S HIGH COST !
TONER: INK’S HIGH COST !
2005-04-27 at 10:44:00 am #9147
APRIL, 2005HAVING your own colour
printer seems like a great idea until the moment you have to buy new ink for
it. While steep discounting makes it possible to pick up a functional
inkjet printer for less than $100, replacing the ink cartridges, especially
colour ones for printing family photos, can easily set you back between
one-third and one-half of that amount.
Given that a typical printer cartridge can comfortably fit in
the palm of your hand, such prices seem more than a little steep to many buyers.
A study by the UK Consumers Association calculated that,
millilitre for millilitre, printer ink cost seven times as much as vintage
French champagne. That was in 2003.
Many new printers ship with low-capacity cartridges, so the day
of reckoning for the hip pocket nerve may well come sooner than you think.
Printer makers are quick to defend the high prices they charge,
pointing to continuing advances in printer technology.
‘Ink has to be exactly correct in terms of its colour
composition and purity,’ says Stuart Poignand, marketing manager for consumer
imaging products at Canon Australia.
‘Acidity can be an issue as well. It’s important to get it
Lexmark is similarly defensive.
‘It takes Lexmark two years to develop an ink that has sixty
years’ longevity, and the amount of investment is millions of dollars,” says
Stephen Waugh, Lexmark Australia’s general manager for consumer and small
‘Every time you come up with a formula for an ink, you also have
to patent it, and that can cost you $US250,000.’
But behind some of the arguments about development costs is a
simple market reality: printer companies make their millions by selling ink, not
Big-name manufacturers are willingly admit they have a policy of
offering low prices on hardware and taking their profits from consumables.
‘What customers wanted was low acquisition prices for the
hardware, and they’ll happily pay to use the ink,’ Waugh says.
Those companies are also benefiting from increased use of
printers in the home.
Photo printing is a particularly an ink-hungry beast, since it
demands 100 per cent coverage.
While individual use patterns vary widely, a typical printer
goes through three sets of ink in a year.
‘Typically, all-in-one device users consume more ink because
they use the machines for copying as well,’ Poignand says.
‘We’re seeing some trending upwards.’
The typical vendor defence of high ink prices is to shift the
focus away from individual consumables to the cost of the end results.
‘It’s important to separate the cost of buying the cartridge
from the cost of using the printer,’ Poignand says. As an example, he points out
that home printing of photos on specialised paper costs about 55c a print, a
similar charge to commercial photo outlets.
‘It’s not high for the convenience of producing prints.’ he
Other manufacturers offer a similar justification.
‘It’s not enough just to make a good printer or a good print
cartridge or good paper,’ says Rebekah O’Flaherty, vice-president and general
manager of imaging and printing for HP in the South Pacific.
‘These elements have to work together as a team to achieve
Vendors say prices can vary considerably depending on exchange
rates, as most printer consumables are imported.
‘We’ve dropped our prices on ink in the last 12 months 18
times,’ Waugh says.
Another consistent claim by printer makers is that the only way
to be sure of getting quality results is by paying top dollar for their branded
consumables, rather than saving money with compatible cartridges from other
manufacturers or through refill kits.
‘If you buy from an original manufacturer, you’re going to get
the best quality,’ Waugh says.
O’Flaherty cites a HP-sponsored study by QualityLogic that found
HP’s colour cartridges were 50 times more reliable than third-party replacement
‘Unreliable, faulty cartridges result in more reprints, streaky
and smeared printouts, more wasted paper, and use up more cartridges,’ she says.
As well as expensive marketing campaigns designed to hammer home
that message, some companies use chip technology that makes it difficult for
rivals to produce cartridges for their machines.
A number of vendors are pushing combo packs featuring ink and
photo paper in discount bundles to attract price-conscious consumers.
Those strategies seem to have paid off, with industry estimates
suggesting that between 85 and 90 per cent of printer users only purchase
original manufacturer cartridges.
Some see that as a market opportunity rather than an inevitable
state of affairs.
Indeed, for some naysayers, the chance to move away from the big
vendors’ clutches is proving a business opportunity in itself.
Ian Fewtrell last year set up his own company, InkXpress, to
import ink cartridges and other supplies.
‘There is a huge amount of fear, uncertainty and doubt in the
marketplace, and there’s a big opportunity to save some money’ he says.
In many European countries, more than 50 per cent of ink sales
come from third-party manufacturers, he says. Quality is not the issue large
vendors paint it to be, he says.
‘I got onto a lot of photography websites to check attitudes to
compatible products, and a lot of people were recommending them,’ he says.
Fewtrell, who examined a number of franchising opportunities in
the consumables market, decided to go straight to the source and check out a
number of Chinese ink-makers.
The image of these producers as low-end is entirely inaccurate,
‘It’s a billion dollar business – they’re shipping container
loads of product,’ he says. ‘I was very focused on the quality side of things,
and so were they.’
As well as selling directly to corporates, InkXpress is
marketing to consumers via a website that offers schools and community groups
the opportunity to sell compatible cartridges in return for 10 per cent of the
Companies and individuals buying third-party cartridges can
routinely save between 30 and 35 per cent without sacrificing quality, he says.
That’s certainly enough to indulge in the occasional bottle of
STREAMLINING YOUR PRINT RUN
A PRINTER can be an invaluable tool or the bane of your
computing activities. Proper configuration and a few tips will make for a
smoother printing experience. Here are the most important:
Don’t believe the ink indicators
Most printers report how much ink is left in each cartridge.
Either there’s a conspiracy to report cartridges empty when half full so you buy
more ink, or this technology simply doesn’t work very well.
Most printers warn you a cartridge is nearing empty when there
may still be as much as 30 per cent left. If you are worried about ink levels,
print a test page. If the colours are strong and the text is solid black, it’s
still safe to print.
Remember that it’s cheaper to waste a $1.50 sheet of photo paper
than buy three $30 cartridges when you don’t need to.
Share the printer
Using printer sharing on the network is a simple task. Go to
Control Panel, Printers and explore the Share On Network options. As long as the
PC the printer is attached to is turned on, any other PC on the home network can
print to it.
You need to set up the printer on each computer, so have the
installation disc handy. No more running around the house with floppy disks or
wasting a whole CD to burn a 50KB Word document.
Use manual settings
Most of the complaints about quality levelled at inkjet printers
are caused not by the hardware, but by incorrect software settings.
When printing a document, don’t use the instant print shortcut
button in the toolbar, but select Print from the File menu. This will open up a
window of printing options. Select Options or Settings for your printer.
The printer will have a number of quality settings. If you need
a quick printout for proofreading, choose the lowest setting (called FastDraft
on an HP printer). Note the setting differences for black text versus photo
printing, and choose the correct paper type. If you print on photopaper using a
plain paper setting, the results will be disappointing.
Keep it tidy
Printers, because they use liquid inks, are more susceptible to
mess than other PC peripherals. When a printer is not in use, remove all paper
from trays and fold up any trays that have this feature. When coming back to the
printer after more than a week, clean the cartridge nozzles using the automatic
system outlined in the manual.
If you intend to store the printer for a long period, remove the
ink cartridges and wrap the printer in a static-free cloth.
Use manufacturer media
It might sound like a marketing con, but the extra you pay for
branded paper and ink to match your printer can reduce frustration at the
Most ink cartridges contain electronics that communicate with
the printer, and third-party cartridges may not be fully compatible with your
printer. Results will be okay, but not spectacular.
Paper is a complex media that has different absorption
properties depending on the maker.
Regular text looks fine on ordinary photocopier paper. But for
printing photos or high-quality manuscripts, original equipment is the way to
WHAT TECHNOLOGY TO USE
There are two main printer technologies for home users: inkjet
and dye sublimation. Laser is a third option, but is only suited to document
printing, with colour laser models still expensive.
Pro: Cheap media, variety of paper sizes, excellent photo
Con: Need to use a sealant to protect photos, colours can
fade if not stored properly.
This widespread technology uses cartridges of liquid ink,
attached to a very fine nozzle. Electronics control the flow of ink from the
nozzle on to the page. Printers with finer nozzles can create images with much
Inkjet are cheap, reliable and can tackle text and images with
excellent results. You need to care for photos by keeping them out of direct
light and behind glass or a use a sealant to prevent fading.
Pro: Near-instant printing, great photos, includes a
sealant to protect from fading.
Con: Limited paper sizes, only for photo printing,
Also known as thermal printing because it uses heat to fuse dye
to the surface of the paper, dye sublimation is designed for photo printing. The
technology is used mainly in dock printers that allow the user to drop the
camera onto the printer and press a single button to get a photo just like one
from the lab.
These printers can only create images in smaller sizes and they
rely on expensive dye and paper combo packs. But a built-in sealant means you
can stick the photos on the fridge without fear of them fading.