Your Printer is Probably Wasting Much of Its Ink

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Printer ink must be one of the most expensive liquids known to mankind.

As comic artist Matthew Inman noted — in a humorous rant about printers in general — a Bic pen and a printer cartridge are both ink contained in plastic. But one costs 15 cents, and the other $25 or more.

The cost of ink works out to about $9,600 per gallon, Consumer Reports says. With that money, as of June 2013, you could buy 2,652 gallons of regular unleaded gasoline or 2,791 gallons of whole milk. Suffice it to say, you want to get your money’s worth out of those stupid cartridges.

And yet, many people don’t even come close. Consumers who don’t regularly use their printers, in fact, get almost none of what they pay for. Consumer Reports recently changed how it tests printers to account for the fact that many of us print only a few pages per week, and leave the printer off most of the time. What it found is an amazing amount of waste.

“The results, based on tests of dozens of current all-in-one inkjets representing the leading brands, confirmed our suspicions: In intermittent use, plenty of models delivered half or less of their ink to the page, and a few managed no more than 20 to 30 percent,” Consumer Reports says.

It’s normal for printers to use up some ink on printer maintenance, and for some to evaporate, but certain printer models are far more wasteful with ink than others, Consumer Reports found. Differences can cost as much as $100 per year among those who don’t do a lot of printing.

“In our tests so far, only Brother printers were consistently frugal with ink when used intermittently,” Consumer Reports says, and results varied even within a brand. “For example, with HP, the Envy series of printers used relatively little ink for maintenance, while the Photosmart series used a lot more.”

The magazine’s advice? Leave your printer on so it runs maintenance less — that’s what all the whirring when you start it up is about. “Ink savings should considerably outweigh the energy cost,” it says. Print in draft mode, which uses less ink, when quality is less important. And consider a laser printer if you only need black-and-white text documents.

My advice: Unless you really need one, ditch printers altogether and make the occasional trip to FedEx Office. Do you have an ink guzzler, or a model that seems to do pretty well? Comment below or on our Facebook page.

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Comments & discussion

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  • Karran Martin

    I have a couple different models of Canon All-In-One printers & both of them will start telling me they are low on ink & to change cartridges in what seems like an unusually short period of time after being installed. So, I did an intentional experiment a couple of years ago – I had a particular form I used at my office that I needed a lot of on an ongoing basis. So I just kept printing them until the ink did really run out. I printed something like 150 copies!! If I’d changed the cartridge when it said to there obviously would’ve been a lot of waste. Now I know better.

  • pennyhammack

    When my old printer quit my son gave me his old HP. I ordered re-furbished ink cartridges on the web but they don’t seem to last as long and the color is not printing right even though the printer says I still have ink in all cartridges. To buy all the color cartridges new would cost me almost as much as a new printer and I do need the color option.

  • Scott Grover

    Note that periodically when Consumer Reports has an article about printers, they often print cost per page (for black; color; photos) as tested by them, which is a good key to overall cost. I have an older HP Deskjet 720. Way back when CR rated it, it listed black ink print cost as 1.4 cents/page. And it still works very well. (I had to get a parallel/usb cable, not that expensive.)

  • BobintheHeights

    I have a Canon also and if I didn’t print anything for a few weeks, it ran out of ink even though I had only printed a few copies when I got it new. This happened all the time so I’ve just stopped printing on it altogether and go to an office supply store such as Office Max or Office Depot and get my copies for next to nothing.

  • MrEdw

    There are several ways to save on printing at home:

    1. Purchase a small black & white laser printer. For most of us, when you look at what you’ve been printing, only a small percentage of those pages (if any!) needed to be printed in color.
    Again, Brother has several black-and-white laser models with a much lower cost per print compared to inkjet printers. Further, home-office laser printers tend to sell for as little as $65 to $125–and a duplex (prints both sides) laser printer can be had near the upper part of that price range, which further lowers the cost per print.
    On the other hand, color laser printers are inexpensive to purchase but quite expensive to keep supplied with toner–and a color laser printer requires FOUR toner cartridges (one each for the subtractive primaries, cyan, magenta, yellow) plus one black. In addition, it is the rare home color laser printer that can even remotely approximate the color quality and finish most consumers desire for photo printing. A color laser printer may be acceptable for brochure printing with small photos (printers used to call this “spot” printing) but falls far short of the picture quality most consumers would find acceptable.

    2. Take your digital photo memory card to a Walgreen’s or other retail store with a photo kiosk. These won’t usually be of spectacular quality or size, but if you have done a good job of editing the digital file, that effort will usually be reflected in the finished print. There are also several sites online dedicated to excellent-quality results from your digital files–and you can simply upload your files to the website and the printer will send your professional-quality-printed photos through the mail. In a few days you can have excellent results in your hands, with a lower cost per year than owning your own inkjet printer. Bear in mind–the vendor will not edit or improve your prints beyond the most rudimentary correction(s); however some photo-printing websites offer some limited photo-editing tools on their website.

  • bigpinch

    For a couple of years, I sold HP printers in Best Buy. I had a lot of opportunities to compare the quality and costs of printing from all of the major brands. Much of the information in the previous comments is spot on.
    If what you need to print is mostly black ink on white paper; get a laser printer.
    If the color printing you do is of simple graphics (and you do a lot of it) get a color laser printer. Yes, they require four toner cartridges but they don’t use up the cartridges all at once; you replace the cartridges as you need them. It is an inexpensive and high quality way to print simple, attractive documents.
    I do a lot of desk-top publishing and photo printing. So, I use an HP Photosmart 2575 All-in-one. The black on white is of near laser quality. I set the print quality to draft mode in the Control Panel and change to Normal or Presentation printing as I need them. The rendering of photo files whether on plain paper or photo paper is absolutely outstanding. It is a very versatile machine. I would not be happy with a laser printer. It costs more than laser printing but I couldn’t do with a laser what I can do with an inkjet printer.
    All inkjet printers are not created equal. The reason there are so many different features and configurations of inkjet printers has to do with the individual needs of the people who buy them. Find one that does what you need it to do.
    As a rule of thumb, the larger capacity ink tanks will cost you less per page to print. You can find this information on the web. If you are a dedicated photo printer, get an inkjet printer dedicated to doing just that. Your cost per picture will be less than what you will pay in a drug store. With a decent camera and the appropriate software, you will also have a level of control over your pictures that you can’t get anywhere except on your own desk top.
    The only printing system I used to routinely caution people against buying used a single inkjet cartridge to print both color and black on white. You are guaranteed to waste a lot of money if you print anything at all. When one color runs out you have to throw away all of the ink and get a new cartridge.
    When you’ve found a class of printer that does what you want, consider spending more, not less. Most printers are cheaply priced because the several manufacturers expect to make their profits selling replacement ink. Quality printers last longer and, even though the operating system of your computer will change, you will be able to install the new drivers with your upgrades. My HP 2575 has continued to chug along from Windows 3.11 to Windows 7. If I ever do upgrade to Windows 8, I expect it will keep on printing.