More about printer ink rip-offs

PC World tests a bunch of printers and finds that some left almost half of their ink unused.

The latest shout about how printers prematurely warn they're out of ink came this week from PC World magazine.

The basic premise isn't news, but the article is nonetheless a useful read.

For one thing, the author calculated the cost of a gallon of black ink at $4,731. No wonder printer manufacturers are motivated to make their customers buy more and more. In some of the tests, PC World found that printers "left more than 40 percent of their ink unused."

The tests were done on multifunction printers from Canon, Epson, Hewlett-Packard, and Kodak. To keep things simple, only black ink consumption was measured.

When ink levels get low, a printer may do nothing, may warn you, and/or it may shut down to force you to change the ink cartridge. I'd avoid printers that shut themselves down. Unfortunately, this isn't an attribute of the printer that's likely to be mentioned on the box.

The tested printers from Canon, Epson, and Kodak shut down. Only the HP Photosmart C5280 did not. Thus, if you're in the market for a multifunction printer, the C5280 can save you lots of money in the long run.

Back in August, I blogged about a similar article on Slate, but for laser printers. That article had some tricks for faking out laser printers, so that you can actually use all the toner. As for faking out inkjet printers, it says:

These tricks generally apply to laser printers. It's more difficult to find ways to override ink-level sensors in an inkjet printer, and, at least according to printer manufactures, doing so is more dangerous...There are two reasons manufacturers make it more difficult for you to keep printing after your inkjet thinks it's out of ink. First, using an inkjet cartridge that's actually empty could overheat your printer's permanent print head, leaving you with a useless hunk of plastic. Second, the economics of the inkjet business are even more punishing than those of the laser business, with manufacturers making much more on ink supplies than they do on printers.

See a summary of all my Defensive Computing postings.

About the author

    Michael Horowitz wrote his first computer program in 1973 and has been a computer nerd ever since. He spent more than 20 years working in an IBM mainframe (MVS) environment. He has worked in the research and development group of a large Wall Street financial company, and has been a technical writer for a mainframe software company.

    He teaches a large range of self-developed classes, the underlying theme being Defensive Computing. Michael is an independent computer consultant, working with small businesses and the self-employed. He can be heard weekly on The Personal Computer Show on WBAI.

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