With prices of basic printers being around $40 - $50 and a ink cartridge being around $20 - $30 each for black AND color. It costs me more to replace the printer's ink than to just buy a brand new printer. This just seems like a total waste of materials though (I have 4 printers sitting in my basement with no ink).

I know the ink cartridges are smaller (not as full) in a new printer but I go through it in about 1 to 1.5 years only and by then my $40 gets me a better printer to boot. Also with certain printers the heads are not part of the ink (Epson use to do this and still might) so I get new heads as well.

Is this a bad practice? Are retailers making this a reality when they are selling working hardware cheaper than replacement parts? Is there something more I should be considering?

Edit: Some background, long ago I bought an Epson printer which I used to print docs etc vary rarely. The ink started running low so I bought to new carts for around $60 if I recall. The printer then stopped working so I replaced the carts with the new ones but the head was dead on the black which was not worth repairing. I bought a new HP printer for $49. This lasted around 1.5yrs and then the ink ran out, I went to buy new carts and the guy at the store got me to buy a new printer (that was smaller, faster, higher dpi, etc) and it was cheaper than replacing the ink. When the ink ran out on that one I bought a new printer again, etc. The printer gets used maybe once a week at most and I never print photos or anything. It normally is jsut stored away unplugged accumulating dust.

People say to buy a laser printer but they are much larger, do not print color, (in the price range I am looking at) and might have the exact same issues.

The problem I see is the manufacturer is making my behaviour possible by selling new printers at a loss hoping that they will cash in on the ink later. How can they produce a printer for so cheap which HAS ink in it, and the refills cost more than the unit? It can't.

  • 2
    Canon Pixma iP3300 has cheap replacement ink cartridges (with chips). I'm using it for 2+ years now without problems. Before that it was iP1500. To me, when buying a printer cartrdige price is the key. The price of the printer almost doesn't matter (within reasonable limits).
    – Rook
    Aug 11, 2009 at 19:37
  • 1
    I use to have a Canon that was just kept going and going (with third party cartridges), however I scraped that since the Linux support was no good. So now I have a HP that will cost me a little bit more in ink price but the Linux support are perfect...
    – Johan
    Aug 12, 2009 at 4:38
  • More than a decade ago I learned that because ink prices were so high, instead of buying new ink at all, people were just waiting until there was a sale on printers and getting a new one for less than a new ink cartridge and throwing the old one out. Imagine the bloody waste! In response, printer manufacturers began shipping new printers with cartridges that were half-empty. The ink cartel really is a horrible scam and environmental disaster.
    – Bobson
    Sep 26, 2011 at 1:58
  • Reviving an old question here - you could sell the old printer on eBay!
    – George
    Mar 19, 2014 at 22:07

9 Answers 9


Is there something more I should be considering?

Yes, you should consider buying a laser printer next time.

  • Color laser is more expensive, bigger and expensive... who knows, maybe it will pay off in the long run unless it breaks.
    – Kelsey
    Aug 12, 2009 at 17:41
  • 3
    Color lasers are still much more expensive then inkjet. As most people want color, inkjet makes more sense. For a business the higher volume will often justify a color laser / copier system.
    – Jim C
    Aug 12, 2009 at 18:14
  • 4
    If you print thousands of pages (I'm talking closer to 10000 than 1000) during the lifetime of the printer and are not interested in printing photos, then laser is a good choice.
    – hasseg
    Aug 13, 2009 at 12:13
  • Colour laser mf machines can be had for £150. If you don't print anything for a week or two they never dry up. The ink in my last one lasted 10 years... after which I bought a new printer ;)
    – Tetsujin
    Feb 2, 2017 at 8:26

You mentioned that you already know that printers only come with "starter" ink cartridges. Even though you get 1 to 1.5 years out of that for only $40, you should try and see what the costs savings are for ink cartridges that last longer. If you can manage to get 3.5-4 years off of $60 worth of ink cartridges I feel that is better.

Other things to consider: some cartridges have a life span until they "die" and you will have to buy new ones. I would not consider buying this type of printer.

Laser printers are ideal, but they are expensive. The good thing is that their toner cartridges last much longer than in normal ink jet printers.


Always check the expected output of the cartridges included with new printers. You will usually find them to be a fraction of the expected output of after-market cartridges. There are very few (if any?) cheaper printers on the market which come fitted with cartridges containing more than 50% the normal amount of ink or toner, 33% isn't uncommon, and I'm sure you'll find less somewhere if you look. This is true of laser printers as well as inkjets.

So factor this into your decision: if paying $40 gets you a new printer and $40 gets you a new set or cartridges, you will probably get more than twice the output from the new carts as you would the new printer with its part-full carts.

Of course, this doesn't take into account the chance of the old printer failing before you've used all the new ink. But if you are buying a cheap printer the chance of the new one failing is probably no better!

Personally I find my laser to be much better value for money, and the output much quicker and higher quality, but my output is higher than yours. If a set of ink carts that come with a cheap printer last you a full year then a laser probably isn't going to be any more economical for you then the 'jet unless it lasts many years.

Another thing to consider: what do you actually use the printer for? My parents no longer use an inkjet for printing off photos because it actually works out far cheaper [once you factor in ink, fancy paper, reprints due to the printer needing a head clean, and so on] to take a memory card into Boots, Asdo or Tesco next time they go shopping, and have some photos printed there. You might find a cheap B/W laser (for letters, business printing, and draft printing) and using such services (or their online equivalent) for photo output a better option then running an inkjet printer.

  • +1. I really agree that it's cheaper to print pictures at a professional photoshop (or pharmacy etc...) Aug 11, 2009 at 19:36
  • The results can be of much higher quality too, depending on the kit they have and the quality of the image to start with. And if some photos come out bad due to printing issues (paper crease, banding, blocked heads if it is inkjet based, ...) you can get your money back for a replacement print. Try that at home :) Aug 11, 2009 at 19:45

Is there something more I should be considering?

Yes! What about the environment? I'm not a tree hugger, but electronics are hard to recycle. Someday your wife or mother or landlord will tell you that collecting old printers in the basement will have to stop. And then what? You may be surprised to find out that getting rif off these things will actually cost you.

  • 3
    Um, couldn't he sell the old printer, or get rid of it on freecycle (www.freecycle.org)? Then someone else benefits without the product going into landfill. Those who really care about the environment should be putting pressure on the printer manufacturers - it is they who profit the most from loss-leading on printers and then charging the earth for cheap ink wrapped in proprietary cartridges which must be thrown away each time.
    – Dave R.
    Aug 12, 2009 at 10:34
  • 1
    Someone else would benefit? If new ink is to expensive for the owner of the printer, someone who buys said printer could benefit?
    – innaM
    Aug 12, 2009 at 10:46
  • I thought we were talking environmental impact - the suggestion was that the printer would end up in landfill. The alternative (refilling cartridges if possible, otherwise buying a new one) would seem preferable.
    – Dave R.
    Aug 12, 2009 at 11:59
  • The enviromental impact is one of my concerns. I will take the old printers to a recycler one day.
    – Kelsey
    Aug 12, 2009 at 17:42

Try eBay etc for 3rd-party ink cartidges - much cheaper than genuine. Ditto for laser printers. Also with laser printers, you can often get drum-reset chips to reset the print count instead of having to replace a perfectly good drum.


Look into Kinkos/Fedex (or whatever they call themselves these days FedEx Office?). Add up that $40-$60 you paid for the printer plus the amount of electric it uses just sitting there idle (many printers have a external brick these days, so unless you unplug the brick, yes it's using power). Figure out the actual amount you paid per page. Compare to how much it would have cost you to do those prints at Kinkos. You probably saved money, and you certainly won on convenience, but make sure.

Here's the thing: for very low print volumes, you need to be careful the ink carts aren't going to dry out on you. If you're getting 1-1.5 years out of the starter carts, then it's likely a real one would last 3 years. At which point you run a real (though still small) risk of the cart drying out, or the printer breaking due to disuse. This makes the entire investment worthless. With an outside print service, you probably pay more per page, but there's no chance you'll be out extra money along the way.

  • I don't print enough to make Kinkos/Fedex a viable solution. Driving to go print one page isn't very useful.
    – Kelsey
    Aug 12, 2009 at 17:43

Are you on good terms with a neighbor? Take your document over on a flash stick and visit while your document prints. Pay them back in some form that is mutually agreeable.


Select a brand that don't have "advanced" ink cartridges, and get the one where you can get "no name cartridges" for half the price.

Don't get the cheapest printer, get the second cheapest :) I mean if you go into a store, don't get the 40$ printer, get the 60$ printer and quality goes up directly. (but always check what the cartridges costs!)

A note is that I don't really see laser printers as the solution either, since one time laser printer is becoming more and more common (price of replacement parts is closing in on the sales price...)

So always look at the price for cartridges, and not so much the price on the printer!


Update: I forgot to tell you that it is bad practice use resources like that, even thou it can be more profitable it is just wrong.

But on the other hand printers are quite advanced mechanical things with a lot of moving parts, so they will not last forever.

  • A refill kit costs about $10-12 and refills a generic cartridge several times. Stay away from Epson if you plan to do this as they have advanced ink cartridges.
    – Chris Nava
    Aug 11, 2009 at 19:23
  • Oddly enough, before I gave up on my last inkjet printer (an unreliable hunk of junk from Epson) I actually found it to be better, in terms of need needing to run through 5 or 10 head cleaning cycles every time I used the damn thing, when I put cheap replacement ink carts in the thing. Aug 11, 2009 at 19:31

There are two reasons for this price discrepancy. One is as others have pointed out that the cartriges you get with the printer are less full, but the other is that cheep printers are sold very cheep so that the company can make money off the ink in future (This is called the Gillette model after the razor / blade maker. as Jim C points out).

So you are just gaming the system, which is fair enough, if you sold the old printers on ebay (or freecycled them) you may be able to put aside ecological worries as well.

  • 1
    Actually it is called the Gillette model after the razor / blade maker.
    – Jim C
    Aug 12, 2009 at 18:12
  • @Jim - altough I agree that this comparison has stuck, I don't really undestand why. The razor 'handle' is hardly I high value item, in the same way that a printer is.
    – UpTheCreek
    May 10, 2011 at 10:54

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