Why Is Printer Ink So Expensive?

Mar 12, 2020

Expensive ink cartridges

The accessibility to home printers has increased steadily over the past couple of decades. With advancements in technology leading to lower printer prices, owning a printer is now relatively inexpensive. 

Taking a gander at a relic tech review of the past, CNN's "Top Printers of 1999", it's amazing to see how far we've actually come. A printer being praised for duplex printing in color priced at $2,200 sounds like a farfetched joke, but it was a very true reality at that time. There are some color printers on the market right now that are going for less than $30. Although the price of printers has drastically decreased, the cost of printer ink has somehow stayed constant.

Even big-box chains like Walmart have no authority over this pricing. Walmart printer ink can cost up to $68.89 for a single color set of HP 952 ink. Although slightly under MSRP, this is still a very expensive ink cartridge. So if Walmart ink cartridges aren't safe from the corporate greed of these printer manufacturers, where can I buy cheap ink?

Before we can get into alternatives to solving this ink cartridge crisis, we need to understand how it got here in the first place. There is actually some evidence that ink prices have been rising rather than declining over the years.

Jumping Ship 

With the bulk of the printer sale practices being outdated, larger ink manufacturers are having a difficult time keeping up substantial revenue to support their endeavors. 

As somewhat of a last-ditch effort for major corporations, many are turning to alternative methods of selling you printer ink. Hewlett-Packard launched its HP Instant Ink subscription service in 2017 that sends HP ink to your door automatically. Brother rolled out its INKvestment Tank, which deposits ink into an internal reservoir that rolls over ink every time you change the cartridge. Epson created the EcoTank as a more cost-effective Epson ink, which utilizes refillable cartridges.

Although modern problem solving is always welcomed, there's just a glaring problem with these services, as they all follow a business model that's a little too familiar. They are all still selling you a product that only they can provide. 

Much like cable networks have rebranded into streaming services, this is basically the exact same ideology.

Not to mention the high cost of entry. The Epson Expression Premium 7750 is a top of the line all-in-one printer with EcoTank functionality. Its current pricing is $649.99 from the official Epson website. The ink that is used to refill the EcoTank, known as T502, costs around $59.99 total for one of every bottle, that being Black, Magenta, Cyan, and Yellow. 

At the moment, there are no alternatives to Epson EcoTank refillable cartridges. With such a high price tag on the printer, you're basically a life long customer that is tied to purchasing that brand's ink.

The irony of the situation is that the refillable ink cartridges need to be replaced after time. Not only do you have to buy the ink, but you now have to buy the cartridge. It's almost comical to think that we've taken such a far step back in consumer-friendliness. Many of these "revolutionary" ideas come off as predatory practices that lessen the trust of their consumers. They've created a problem to sell you a solution. 

Earlier EcoTank printer models used specific T50 ink for its cartridges. These are now discontinued and not available on the market anywhere. The top of the line EcoTank printer you purchased to save money is now obsolete within a span of three years. It's frustrating, to say the least, when you've already invested in technology that replaced itself in such a short period of time. Consumers that have dished out thousands of dollars for these printers and accessories at launch are now left in the dust and forced to upgrade their obsolete printer. 

It's not clear where the future of printing and ink cartridges is heading towards at this point. With larger corporations struggling to get a foothold in the market after years of domination, I think we're going to see a variety of "innovative" printing methods within the next decade.