Printer Ink – The Most Expensive Element Known to Man

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By volume, printer ink is one of the most expensive items you can buy on the open market. Depending on which study you read, printer ink costs anywhere from $8,000 – $10,000 per gallon. Seriously. Unfortunately, replacement ink cartridges are the name of the game for printer manufacturers – they make more money selling ink…

By volume, printer ink is one of the most expensive items you can buy on the open market. Depending on which study you read, printer ink costs anywhere from $8,000 – $10,000 per gallon. Seriously. Unfortunately, replacement ink cartridges are the name of the game for printer manufacturers – they make more money selling ink than they do selling printers. In case you haven’t guessed by now, ink cartridges represent a multi-billion dollar industry.

Of course, it doesn’t cost the printer manufacturers thousands of dollars to manufacture, package, and ship a small cartridge of printer ink. But it does cost that much when you take into consideration the research and development of the printer itself, marketing costs, and a hefty profit.

Basically printer manufacturers follow the razor blade business model – sell relatively inexpensive printers and make it up on the ongoing costs of the ink, which by all accounts, is very expensive. In some cases you can actually buy a printer for roughly the same amount as buying a full set of replacement ink. But there are ways you can reduce your printing expenses.

Fighting back against high printer ink costs

You only have a few choices when it comes to printer ink. You can buy replacement ink cartridges from the manufacturer, you can get ink cartridges refilled at some stores, you can buy a printer ink refill kit (a DIY option), or you can buy third party replacement ink cartridges.

Manufacturer made replacement cartridges are the most expensive option, but according to the manufacturer, also the safest, and best option for your printer. Printer manufacturers claim that replacement ink cartridges made by third party companies may not last as long and may diminish the durability of your printer.

There is something be said here. If you have a high end photo quality printer which you use to print photos at home, then you don’t want to mess around. But the high quality ink and be done with it.

There is another reason to buy manufacturer produced replacement cartridges. Most major manufacturers, including Epson, Canon, Lexmark, Brother, HP, and several others, produce ink cartridges which feature a computer chip which transmits ink level data and other information to the printer. These chips aren’t found on all 3rd party replacement ink cartridges, and in some cases the cartridge won’t work at all if there is no chip.

Get a printer refill. Some stores will refill your printer cartridges for a fee. There are two main benefits here: reduced cost of ink and less waste. Throwing away ink cartridges is toxic, so you should recycle them at the minimum, or reuse them if possible.

DIY ink refills. You can also buy your own DIY printer refill kit and refill your own ink cartridges at home. This is a much less expensive option, although it can be messy if you don’t do it correctly. But the savings are well worth it if you have the patience – you can often get 3-4 refills for the price of a new ink cartridge from the manufacturer.

Third party ink cartridges. This is a source of ongoing consternation for the printer manufacturer’s and a source of multiple lawsuits. The printer manufacturers want to maintain a monopoly on the ink cartridges, and free enterprise wants a piece of the action. The printer manufacturers are constantly making innovations to their product to try and thwart the 3rd party ink cartridge vendors. Ever notice the microchips on the end of new ink cartridges? That’s part of the game – the printer manufactures encode those chips with software in an attempt to thwart 3rd party vendors.

How to save money on printer ink cartridges

There are a few ways you can save money on printer ink cartridges. Here are a few of them:

Buy in bulk. If you can afford it or have the need, buy several cartridges at once. Most companies charge less when you buy a bulk package of ink cartridges.

Exchange or recycle your old cartridges. Many stores offer an exchange or recycle program where they will either give you points on their rewards program, or some form of cash back bonus or coupon when you exchange or recycle old ink cartridges. This benefits the environment and your bottom line.

Refill your ink cartridges at a participating store or buy an ink refill kit. Take your cartridges to participating stores to get them refilled, or make it a Do It Yourself Project. You can save quite a bit of money if you don’t mind doing the work yourself. Keep in mind that the cartridges eventually wear out and will eventually need replacing.

Buy cheap replacement ink cartridges. There are several stores that offer printer ink cartridge replacements. There are many ways companies package the ink cartridges too. For example, some retailers sell the original manufacturer product at lower prices than you can find at your local big box retailer, or they may sell re-manufactured ink cartridges (these are recycled and tested ink cartridges which meet manufacturer specs, but cost roughly half as much), or they may sell third party replacement ink cartridges. The best places I have found for buying ink cartridges online include:

Buy a newer printer. Most new printers are more efficient than older models and use less ink and energy. You may also find that the ink cartridges for some of the newer printer models cost less than older models because they are easier to find. It almost seems counter-intuitive, but buying a new printer can sometimes be cheaper than the ongoing cost of buying ink.

Do you have any tips for saving money on printer ink cartridges?

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About Ryan Guina

Ryan Guina is the founder and editor of Cash Money Life. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over 6 years on active duty in the USAF and is a current member of the IL Air National Guard.

Ryan started Cash Money Life in 2007 after separating from active duty military service and has been writing about financial, small business, and military benefits topics since then. He also writes about military money topics and military and veterans benefits at The Military Wallet.

Ryan uses Personal Capital to track and manage his finances. Personal Capital is a free software program that allows him to track his net worth, balance his investment portfolio, track his income and expenses, and much more. You can open a free account here.

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  1. Money Beagle says

    The last time I bought ink I got it from a site called and the deal was awesome. Do a Google search for coupon codes and you can save even more.

    One thing that I just recently learned that made my blood boil is that many printers and cartridges have microchips in them, and they will program to expire after a certain amount of time even if there is ink in the cartridge, so the printer will report that it’s out of ink. Unbelievable.

    • Ryan says

      You would think something like that would be illegal, but the printer companies could make the claim that the chips are programmed that way to prevent the ink from drying and causing damage to the computers. (Note: I haven’t researched this, so I’m just thinking out loud).

      There have been multiple lawsuits against printer companies in recent years, all for a number of reasons. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) now sets standards for how printer manufacturers should test their ink cartridges and measure their efficiency. So the best way to compare brands is to look at the yield or cost per page. (This is something to do before you buy your printer if you are looking for a more efficient printer and less expensive refills).

  2. Echo says

    This has got to be one of my biggest pet peeves. I haven’t tried the DIY refill option yet, is it THAT much of a pain, or is the cost worth it?

    • Ryan says

      To be honest, I’ve never done it either. I just know it can be done. I’ve heard mixed reviews, but I’m thinking about trying it. From what I’ve read you can get about 3-4 refills for the same price. So it’s worth a shot in my book.

      • Peter says

        I’ve done the DIY ink refills, and it’s not too bad. When I did it they sent a package with several syringes, 1 for each color, the ink, and then instructions telling you how to refill it. It seemed to work fine, although after a couple of fills the cartridge seemed to stop working very well, and the jets were stopped up. Bad quality ink maybe? It is a bit of a hassle though.

        I prefer just to pay a few bucks more and buy the re-manufactured ones. haven’t had any problems yet.

        • Ryan says

          From everything I’ve read, the cartridges only last a few refills until the heads wear out. I just ordered some re-manufactured cartridges. I don’t do any photo printing or anything else that requires high quality ink or printer cartridges. I just need something that puts ink on paper efficiently. 🙂

  3. John Carnwath says

    Great article. My tip for this is the next time you have to buy a printer look at the whole life cost. Many companies HP etc are almost giving the printer away for free because they know you’ll be hooked into a long term commitment to buy their printer ink. Other companies sell the printer for a bit more but the ink refills are far more reasonable.

  4. Melyssa says

    Thanks for the links. It’s gotten to the point where it is cheaper to buy another printer than pay $25 for black and $35 for color ink cartridges. You may have just saved my printer from the recycling center.

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