The printer ink trap

Several years ago, I did a six-month stint at a company that tested enterprise-level printers and scanners and issued reports based on that testing for companies planning to make purchases. We would run various documents through the systems and time the speed of the monochrome and color printing, how long it took to print a long document or several short ones, and the difference in performance when you printed heavily graphic documents as opposed to text documents.

A major purpose of our tests was to verify how accurate the manufacturers' cost-per-page estimates were. (We did others, of course, for quality, color accuracy, etc.) Individuals purchasing small desktop printers have the same problem, but theirs is almost greater than those of enterprises -- if you look at it in proportion.

For years, vendors have issued a steady stream of low-cost printers that seem like bargains to unwary buyers until they start replacing the ink, and realize how expensive that "cheap" printer really is. I was actually caught that way several years ago, when my brother bought a new computer which came with a "free" inkjet printer. He didn't need it, and he sent it to me. It only took a few months for me to realize that the printer ink was costing me much more than I had bargained for. I tried third-party ink, figuring to save money that way, but the quality of my printing (which wasn't high to begin with) degenerated noticeably.

In the end, I gave up, gave away the printer (with suitable warnings) and bought a reasonably-priced multifunction device that served me well -- and cost me a lot less over the long run.

I was reminded of that when I read Lamont Wood's article Printer ink: Tired of feeding the cash cow?. I haven't followed the printer market closely for a while, but from what Lamont writes, it seems that things haven't changed a lot. Printer manufacturers are still playing the "razor blade game" -- selling simple inkjet printers practically at cost in order to make their money on the steady stream of ink that the consumer will have to supply it.

The answer, in the end, is the same as it always was. Individuals buying small desktop printers for personal use -- and especially for business use -- need to be assiduous in checking the expected page yield of a printer's cartridges before making a purchase. While vendors will, of course, use the best figures they can, they can give you a general sense of how much use you'll get out of each cartridge. And to keep in mind that, whatever that yield is, your mileage will certainly vary.

Related Posts:

Can ink jet save Kodak?

HP explains why printer ink is so expensive

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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