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Computer Printer Ink Cartridges - Why do they cost so much?

Updated on November 9, 2011

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Is there really such a thing as Cheap Ink for Printers?

Spending in U.S. retail stores on toner and ink jet cartridges is forecast to jump 43 percent by 2007, to $26.3 billion

Yes I know 2007 has come and gone, but this is the most reliable cost quote I could find on the pure size of the printer ink market that was made by a credible source.

Lets talk money – big money! According to PC World Magazine Hewlett Packard charges $88 per ounce for their ink! There are 128 ounces per Gallon… so when you do the math you get $11,264 per gallon!

You probably never thought about buying a gallon of Printer Ink have you? But when you think in terms of costs per gallon you begin to see why Hewlett Packard is so protective of their ink business. According to an article in the New York times:

H.P.’s printing group has long been one of the company’s star performers. It accounts for nearly a quarter of overall revenue. Printer ink remains one of the most expensive liquids on the planet — more valuable than expensive perfumes — providing H.P. with far higher profit margins than PCs and other types of computing hardware provide.

Now Hewlett Packard is not alone… all the major inkjet providers are gouging customers. Epson, Canon, Samsung, Brother, Dell… you name it and they are charging astronomical amounts for their liquid gold! Everyone of these companies would tell you the same story – we have huge research and development costs we have to recover. And while there is some truth that research and development is an expensive proposition this statement is simply misguided. HP Introduced the Deskjet printer clear back in 1988. It’s been 21 years and as it turns out the black ink is still pretty much the same. Have those research and development costs produced the most amazing black ink known to man over the course of the past 21 years? Hardly.

The big-name vendors say that the third-party ink is inferior to brand-name versions. And certainly, the brands dominate; together, Canon, Epson, HP, and Lexmark account for 84 percent of the ink replacement market, Lyra Research reports.

How inferior is black printer ink made by 3rd parties to the black printer ink made by the Big Boys? Is generic printer ink really that bad? In my experience I can’t tell the difference on black inks, and only some difference on colors. I’ll spend my money on something else thank you.

Why has the Printer Industry Rejected Refillable Cartridges?

HP is a company that likes to jump on the “green” bandwagon. They publish an entire section on their website called HP Eco Resources headed with this clever statement:

Whether you’re at home or in the office, it’s easy to save energy, cut costs and reduce the impact your computer products have on the environment”. HP is of course deeply concerned about the Environmental impact of there products. This is why they have still not manufactured their own refillable, reusable printer ink cartridge.

Lets put this BS to rest. Corporate America is about money, and the only time they are concerned about anything but money, is when they can make money from pretending to be concerned. While I can not give you an exact source (Because the numbers vary widely and come from so many places online) I can tell you that it is not out of line to agree with many other sites that approximately 700 million printer ink cartridges are consumed each year. And a very tiny portion of those cartridges are recycled.

Wouldn’t it make sense for the Printer Ink Companies like Hewlett Packard, Epson, Canon, and Dell to create printers that did not create this environmental waste? Why not a printer that contained built in ink reservoirs that you could simply refill? Sure there would be plastic bottle waste but not to the extent of the cartridges themselves. But this is not going to happen because there is simply too much profit in the existing system.

So How do you Get Cheap Ink?

Kodak has an entire marketing campaign built around printer ink costs? Why? Because they are losing money on traditional business that has shifted to digital in the world of photography. So they are banking on a big showing in printers. The problem is their products are not performing better than the competition and their ink really isn’t much cheaper. It’s mostly marketing.

If you want the real deal made by the Printer Companies the answer is you don’t! But if you don’t care that your ink comes from the company that made the printer then you can do what I do and purchased refilled cartridges. I’ve been refilling or purchasing remanufactured cartridges since I first bought and inkjet printer years ago. It saves a ton of money. And some companies have better ink than others… but overall the quality is pretty good – so good in fact that if you were to hold up a standard double spaced printed page on the same white paper I would bet that you could not tell the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) cartridge from the Remanufactured Cartridge. I can’t.

Again I can tell you that black ink is almost never a problem, however color inks are almost always better when they come from the big boys. But you have to ask yourself if it’s worth paying 10x more for the cartridges? And companies like Epson are doing everything they can to prevent their cartridges from being remanufactured. They must protect the insane profits. This is why I chose and still use the same Canon Brand inkjet printer I bought more than 5 years ago.

Interesting story about my Canon Printer to tell you now. I went to Costco to get printer ink for my HP Printer. It was a great printer and I was very happy with the end results. However upon arrival at Costco I discovered the cost of replacement cartridges for my HP Printer was actually higher than a Canon Printer they had on sale. So I just bought a whole new printer and gave the HP to a friend. And yes I know I just contradicted myself by saying I have been buying refills since I bought my Canon. And it is true, but I’m also human and as such at that time I didn’t have any cartridges on hand and I needed to print something right away so I drove down to Costco ready to pony up for my lack of planning. In the end it worked out good because Canon cartridges are very easy to refill and the printer is faster and smaller.

I’m not going to tell you where to by your printer ink. But I will testify before you and the almighty Corporate America that remanufactured cartridges are the way to go. You’ll save a ton of money and you’ll actually be participating in helping reduce the toxic waste that hits the landfills. Reuse those printer cartridges!

So the answer to the Article Title: Printer Ink Cartridges Why They Cost So Much is simple. Because they can! It has nothing to do with production costs and everything to do with profiteering.

Comments, Complaints, and general banter welcome!

Remanufactured Printer Ink Cartridges Work Fine!

Remanufactured pritner ink cartridges
Remanufactured pritner ink cartridges


Submit a Comment

  • MikeNV profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from Henderson, NV

    Unfortunately a lot of the online resellers are under filling the cartridges so they have less ink than the originals. It's hit and miss with them. But it's still way cheaper and the black ink is nearly always good.

    Before the Printer companies figured out how to chip the cartridges and intentionally design them to be difficult to refill it was simple to refill and get 10 or more uses out of a single cartridge.

    For the printer companies to claim to be "Green" and not design refillable cartridges is laughable. It's a con. There is noting green about throwing away millions and millions of cartridges each year that could easily be designed to be refilled.

  • profile image


    7 years ago

    I had tried my hand at refilling my own, and it worked for about 4 refills, then the cartridge clogs and becomes useless. I was getting the black ink from Wal-Mart. I thought I might be able to get better quality ink on line, but after one refill the cartridge clogged. I cleaned it and it is now working, but can only print one good page, maybe 2 and the following pages nearly blank. Then have to wait for a good while to print something again.

    I also used the color ink from Wal-Mart, but you will see the quality isn't nearly as good as in my case HP ink and the cartridges didn't print very long either.

    I at one point also did as the article writer Mike and saw where a set of HP ink cartridges (1 black and 1 color) were around $50. Office Depot occasionally puts HP printers on sale for about $50 and it's not a bare bones basic. It works well and is an all in one and is also a fax machine with multi-page feeder. To me, it's sort of like getting a free printer with your ink cartridges. The model I got is an HP Officejet J4580 all in one.

    I also tried a re-manufactured cartridge, which I purchased on line and it didn't seem to last very long.

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    the ink cartridges for my epson sx200 contain 5ml of ink. therefore it would take 200 to make a litre or 900 to make a gallon. they cost me 6.97 gbp each from the local supermarket. that is 1394 gbp per litre or 5576 gbp per gallon. even allowing for the other costs involved this must surely be the most expensive product in history and the highest profit earning liquid since the days of al capone and the us prohibition. except this time its legal.

  • harrisdy profile image


    8 years ago from Texas

    great tips!

  • MikeNV profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Henderson, NV

    The Office Supply stores charge too much as well and don't really offer much for what they charge. You'll be better off experimenting with the Online Inkjet suppliers or buying a kit and refilling your own black cartridges. I get Canon Black Cartridges for $2.99 and the Canon OEM Cartridge at Office Depot is about $14. Even the Bulk Pack Canon Cartridges at Costco are about $12 each.

    I didn't write this hub to recommend any specific online retailers because that would come across as disingenuous. But that's how you find the best prices. And they are so cheap it's worth investigating a few until you find the one you like.

  • Pamela99 profile image

    Pamela Oglesby 

    8 years ago from Sunny Florida

    I can't believe how much I spend on ink also. I have not had good luck with colors at all. I got black ink filled at I think it was Office Depot and it was only half full. So, I just buy the HP ink cartridges but maybe I'll try to fill the black ink again. Good hub.


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