7 Reasons Printer Ink Costs More Than Champagne

printer ink costs

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Printer ink costs a lot of money. But have you ever taken the time to figure out why?

I was recently in attendance at Hewlett-Packard’s “Science of Printing” event recently on behalf of Small Business Trends. There, I learned a bit about why printer ink costs are so high and why it’s priced the way it is. Below are seven reasons printer ink is such an investment.

It Takes Time to Develop

They might be small, but ink cartridges definitely aren’t simple. Printing companies dedicate a lot of time and effort into figuring out the most effective way to get their ink onto your paper. That research and development costs money and some of that cost is reflected in the cost of cartridges.

It Takes Money to Develop

Ink cartridges include a lot more than just some ink and dye. They also include specialized solvents, water, and other solutions. All of these ingredients serve a purpose, from actually helping the ink adhere to the paper to preventing page curl. They also aren’t cheap.

Wired explains in some detail each of the common ingredients in an inkjet cartridge and how they play a part in everyday printing.

It’s Specially Designed for Each Printer

There’s not a one-size-fits all ink solution. Companies develop cartridges designed to work with each different device. So that’s even more time, research and money that needs to go into each product. Companies release new printers constantly, so they also have to constantly develop new ink solutions.

Name Brands Focus on Quality

Though there are off brands and refills available, the more expensive cartridges that are specially designed for each model are priced as such for a reason. They are optimized to work with a particular printer. This means that the print heads are tuned to release an exact amount of ink and other substances, both during printing and maintenance cycles. Even a slight differentiation can harm your device or impact the quality of your prints, says HP Supplies Technology Specialist Thom Brown.

Budget Refills Can Harm Your Printer

The budget brands and cheap refills aren’t designed with a specific printer in mind. So if you use ink that is intended for a daily-use printer on one that is rarely used, it could release too much ink during down time and cause damage. According to Brown, this can lead to a lot of hidden costs including wasted pages, reprints, and replacing faulty cartridges. (HP’s Thom Brown discusses ink affordability in the video above.)

You Use More Ink Than You Think You Do

Printers don’t only use ink when printing documents. In a white paper on Ink Usage in Inject Printers, HP explains that cartridges actually release small amounts of ink during down time for servicing purposes. This can push out air bubbles or dried ink that builds up in cartridges if they sit idle for too long.

So if it seems like you don’t get a lot of mileage out of each cartridge, know that some of it is used to keep your printer working properly.

You Might Not be Getting the Best Value

If it seems like you really don’t get a lot of use out of each cartridge, you could just be using the wrong type of device. If you’re a small business that prints documents daily, you need a printer designed for heavy use. If you only print the occasional photo, you need a model designed for that purpose.

HP, for example, has an Officejet line that’s designed specifically for small businesses. These models are designed for heavy use because their maintenance cycles don’t require much down time between jobs, according to Brown.

Both printers and their cartridges are designed for specific types of use. Choosing one that doesn’t meet your needs will not only lead to you buying more ink than necessary, but it will also likely mean your printer won’t last as long as it should.

Printer Ink Photo via Shutterstock


Leland McFarland Leland McFarland is the Chief Technology Officer at Small Business Trends. He is responsible for all technical aspects of the Small Business Trends network of websites. Leland is responsible for programming, design and maintenance of the sites, as well as server administration. He has performed work for Small Business Trends since 2010.

14 Reactions
  1. Yes. They are really expensive. But would you blame me if I still dream of the day when printing would just become cheaper? After all, printing is an indispensable process for most businesses. If it can only become cheaper…that would be a dream come true.

  2. Didn’t know why printer ink was expensive – just accepted it as it being what it was (though I wished it was cheaper).

    Thanks for breaking it down as to why. I’m actually more likely to buy it now without having a little private grovel about it, because I now know some of what goes into manufacturing it.

  3. Ink is so expensive so the companies can make hugh profits. I do not believe that new ink is created for each new printer brought to market. Like auto manufactors printer manufactors redesign new cartiridges to keep the cost high. Remember the days when each mobile phone used a different charger plug. So you can buy a printer for around $100.00, but it cost you $50.00 each time your replace the ink. Over the lifetime of the printer you have spend much more for ink than the original printer.

    • Hmm, I appreciate your point, Terry. So you think it’s some kind of proprietary monopoly?

    • yep, that’s the corporate profit model and they’re sticking to it!
      Take a look around at all the other devices that run on the same basic business model
      Develop and sell a delivery system of some sort, then rake in the (huge) profit margins with the sale of the product refills.
      Just a few examples: Single-cup coffee brewers such as Keurig, Diaper Genie, Litter Genie, Soda Stream

  4. I agree with Terry. And they are also trying to make people believe that only OEM cartridges will work with their printers. On contrary, compatible or re-manufactured works fine with those printers as well.

    • Agree with MGA – compatible toners work fine with printers. There is no need to use OEMs. Many companies who sell compatible toners will even guarantee their compatible toners for the lifetime of their cartridges. That’s putting skin in the game.

  5. Perhaps another market force that may be in play contributing to the high cost of printer ink is that of the regional marketing agreements often imposed upon retailers by printer manufactures. How much this factors in is of course subjective, but it could be yet another of the many factors involved. Thank you for a very informative article.

  6. Yes. Printer ink costs really a bit expensive but it’s like buying the best value for your printer rather than refilling your cartridges it can harm your printer because some are not designed for it. It’s cheaper to buy the quality ink than to buy another printer.

    • “It’s cheaper to buy the quality ink than to buy another printer.”

      Nope. When the quality ink actually costs more then a brand new printer, it is cheaper to buy the printer, which usually comes with ink.

      • And the sad part is – it’s the environment that is paying the price. More and more people are opting to purchase new printers vs. buying expensive OEM toners and drums creating a big landfill issue. There are many areas where it’s still perfectly legal to dump printers and other electronics into landfills.