Printer ink takes big bite out of office budget

David Heitz

What a relief.

Apparently, I am not a yellow journalist.

Has anyone else ever had this problem? A glut of yellow printer cartridges?

This was a problem I ran into with my Epson printer. Now I have a Canon.

I think I’ve purchased every brand at least once.

I probably have had five printers in the past several years. They don’t last forever. Thankfully, they’re cheap.

But the ink isn’t. And there’s always some sort of strange caveat.

Like having a bunch of leftover yellow cartridges. Or the printer needing to spit out test pages every time you turn it on. (Hint: Leave the printer on to save ink).

One printer I had automatically ordered more ink when a cartridge would run low. I never ran out of ink.

And what a smart way for the manufacturer to guarantee you’ll buy their name-brand ink instead of cheaper replacement cartridges.

Medical research papers long, complicated

Printer ink is one of my top business expenses as an online journalist. In 2017, I spent $2,000 on printer ink.

You’ve got to consider what I write about: Medical research. I cannot read the research online only. I must print it out and mark it up.

Scientific papers can be lengthy. They come with colorful charts, graphs, photos of cells, and other medical information. Given the volume of health journalism I produce, I print out lots of scientific papers.

I have no idea why I have so much extra yellow ink. Maybe medical journals don't print anything in yellow.

Refillable ink comes with possible hazards

I know many of you will say you can save money, and the environment, by buying refillable ink.

It’s not the same. It runs. It clogs the printers. It’s not worth the savings to me.

I realize that Epson (and all the other brands) make money off the ink. The printer was about $100 if I recall, and it’s a scanner and copier too.

When you buy a new printer, like I did, they don’t evolve much. But they are smart cookies at the printer factory. They require a slightly different cartridge size each time you buy a printer.

So, if you stock up on printer ink and the printer conks out shortly thereafter, you’re out that printer ink. I sold the leftover cartridges and a broken printer for $10 on Craigslist last year.

Printer cartridges totaling $150 lasts me a month

My current printer is only a couple of months old. It’s a Canon Pixma.

Finding ink for my Pixma can be difficult. It almost always is sold out at Walmart and Office Depot. You must order the ink online for delivery.

Even then, the generic cartridges almost always are sold out. I had to buy the Canon cartridges from Office Depot online this week.

I paid $29.99 per cartridge for extra-large color and $24.99 for extra-large black. I bought three black and two color cartridges. The total came to $150 tax included. Delivery was free.

All that ink will last a month at the most given the amount of research and writing I do. I have learned to only print pages I need. Often, if you just hit “print” without examining the preview, you end up with several pages you don’t need.

Printing is a complicated science

I’d be curious what stock guy Jim Cramer has to say about the printer business. A quick internet search did not really answer the question of whether it's lucrative.

According to Consumer Reports, about one in five consumers complain about the cost of printer ink. I can’t believe it’s not higher.

As it turns out, printing is an engineering feat that’s costly to accomplish.

Printer companies spend a lot of money on research and development. Consider that those cartridges spray ink rapid-fire on a page, and with precision. The page doesn’t get wet or curl. The ink dries instantly.

Consumer Reports says the cost of manufacturing a printer usually exceeds the retail price. That’s why printer companies make up lost profits in ink.

“This is a classic razor-and-blade business model where the manufacturer sells the goods at a low price to help increase the sales of accessories, where the money is made,” Wing Lam of HIS Markit told Newsweek.

Ways you can save money on printer ink

Consumer Reports says you can spend a little more money on a laser printer and save on ink. Laser printers use dry toner to print.

But laser printers don’t do color photographs justice.

There’s a new hybrid printer called the reservoir printer. These printers use ink reservoirs instead of cartridges. The ink may last up to two years.

However, reservoir printers start at about $300. My Canon Pixma, on the other hand, was less than $40.

Still, a reservoir printer would pay for itself in two months given the amount of money I’m spending on ink.

Finally, on the issue of third-party inks, Consumer Reports says what I already know to be true: The quality is inconsistent.

At the end of the day, you may be better off buying a mid-priced printer than an inexpensive one. All the top 10 desktop printers listed by PC Mag cost at least $100.

But one of the things the magazine rated the printers on was ink use.

You can see the list by clicking here.

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best newspapers in the country. Today, I specialize in Denver local news, health reporting, social justice issues, addiction/recovery/mental health news, and topics surrounding homelessness and human trafficking.

Denver, CO

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