Are ink cartridges a scam?

In today's fast-paced world, technology is a vital part of our daily lives, and printers, particularly inkjet ones, have become essential for personal and professional tasks.

However, beneath the surface, there are practices that printer manufacturers would rather keep hidden. These include using color ink when printing black text and showing low ink warnings when cartridges are only partially empty. These persistent industry practices have led some people to question whether ink cartridges are a scam.

That's why we've created this article: to investigate whether printer ink is a scam and provide valuable insights on what you can do about it.

Inside this article

How Printer Ink is a Scam: The Dark Side of Printing

1. Low-cost Printers High-cost ink

Printer manufacturers often attract customers with low printer prices. But here's the twist: the real cost lies in those ink cartridges. This 'razor and blades' business strategy involves selling printers at a low upfront cost while generating profits from selling expensive ink cartridges.

So, how expensive are printer ink cartridges?

These ink cartridges can be shockingly expensive, sometimes costing more than luxury items like Russian caviar when you think about their weight. In fact, they can even surpass the price per gallon of a bottle of 1985 Krug vintage champagne.

In Austin McConnell's YouTube video 'Ink Cartridges Are A Scam', he shared his experiences from his previous job in technical support. He pointed out that a set of ink cartridges used to be priced at $59.95, while it only cost about $0.23 to produce one ounce of ink. This shows that printer ink cartridges have been sold to consumers at a much higher price than they're actually worth.

2. Printer Ink Consumption: What You Didn't Know

Did you know that you might be getting less than you bargained for when it comes to ink? Printers have a rather surprising ink consumption pattern. Yes, they use ink for printing documents and images – that's the obvious part. But there are some aspects that many people aren't even aware of.

• Printer Maintenance Cycle

We all know that keeping our printers in good shape is important, but what most people miss is how much ink these necessary tasks can actually use.

According to Rich Sulin, who leads CR's printer-testing program, most people aren't really aware of the maintenance needs of inkjets. What might surprise you is that it's pretty typical for an inkjet printer to use as much ink during maintenance as it does for actual printing, as revealed in Consumer Reports investigation.

On top of it, some printers initiate printhead cleaning when you power them off and on, and in some instances, they run a cleaning cycle for every single page you print. This has been tested and confirmed in Fstoppers' YouTube video, 'Printer Ink Scam Myths Tested'.

These maintenance actions contribute to higher ink consumption, even if you don't use your printer very often.

• Color Mixing in Black and White Prints

One reason you may receive fewer pages than the advertised yield is the deliberate use of "cyan color mixing" by printers, even when printing in black and white.

Manufacturers claim this technique enhances the quality of black prints, but YouTuber Fstoppers conducted a test and debunked this claim in their YouTube video 'Printer Ink Scam Myths Tested'.

The result? You might get fewer printed pages than advertised and have to replace your cartridges sooner than planned.

3. Tactics to Limit Ink Choices

Printer manufacturers implement strategies to lock their printers into using only their ink cartridges. They employ tactics like frequent firmware updates to enforce this exclusivity.

As we all know, firmware updates are usually intended to fix problems and improve a printer's performance, especially when it comes to addressing bugs and crashes. However, when you choose to use remanufactured or third-party ink cartridges, these updates take on a different role. In this case, these updates are designed to limit your ability to use non-OEM cartridges, effectively pushing you toward the more expensive ink options the manufacturer offers.

To learn more, check How to Downgrade HP Printer Firmware or Epson Printer Firmware Hack: Reset and Downgrade Tips.

Interesting Fact:
  • In 2018, HP had to pay $1.5 million in a court settlement because their printer updates caused fake error messages when people used third-party ink cartridges.
  • In October 2019, Epson faced a class action lawsuit because their printer firmware updates blocked the use of compatible cartridges.

4. Intentional Product Aging

Another concerning aspect of the printer ink scam is planned product aging. Below are some of them:

  • Printers Built to Fail
    Imagine purchasing a printer with the expectation that it will serve you well for several years. However, it starts experiencing frequent breakdowns after some time and becomes incompatible with the latest devices. This forces you to replace the printer or invest in a new one, rendering the previously purchased ink cartridges worthless and resulting in additional expenses.
  • Forced Printer Halt
    Chips on the cartridges can force the printer to stop operating when any color runs out, even if other colors are available. Your printer will not work until you replace the empty cartridges.
  • False Low Ink Warnings
    Have you ever received an error message from your printer, claiming that you're low on ink, only to replace the cartridge and find that it still has plenty of ink left? This happens because some printers intentionally provide inaccurate low ink warnings, prompting premature cartridge replacements. To learn how to bypass this, check our low ink level error guide.
Interesting Fact:
  • HP faced three class action lawsuits in 2010, involving issues like inkjet printers incorrectly indicating low ink levels, cyan ink being used when printing with black ink, and ink cartridges disabling due to false empty cartridge alerts. This legal battle ended up costing them $5 million in settlements.
  • Back in 2006, Epson found itself in a similar situation with a class action lawsuit. This time, it was about their inkjet printers and cartridges causing printer functions to halt due to incorrect "empty cartridge" notifications. Epson resolved the case by providing $45 e-coupons to people who had purchased their inkjet printers and cartridges between 1999 and 2006.
  • In 2017, several major companies, including Brother, Canon, Epson, and HP, faced allegations of Planned Obsolescence in France. This practice intentionally shortens the lifespan of both printers and ink cartridges, essentially pushing consumers to spend more on their products. While these companies received a relatively modest fine of €15,000, but it was considered a small victory in a long journey.

5. Ink Subscription Services: Value or Waste?

In the world of printers, a recent development is the rise of subscription-based ink services like the HP Instant Ink.

Here's how HP Instant Ink subscription works: you pay a monthly fee for a set number of pages. While it can be convenient for heavy printers, it might seem like you're spending on ink you don't need if you print infrequently. It's a fine line between assistance and quietly emptying your wallet.

For instance, imagine subscribing to a $20-per-month service that covers 200 pages. If you regularly print close to or exceed this limit, it's a good deal. However, if you only print 50 pages monthly, you might be paying for unused ink, making it less cost-effective.

What's surprising is that if you cancel your subscription, HP disables the cartridges, even if they're full. Some users liken this to needing HP's permission to use their own printer.

6. Ink-Based Scanning

The scanning feature on some printers may refuse to operate if ink levels are low or empty. Imagine needing to make copies of important documents, and your printer decides to take a break because it claims it's out of ink—even though you only want to scan. Louis Rossmann's video, 'HP sued over scanner that requires ink', talks about this.

Tips on How to Protect Yourself from Printer Ink Scams

While there's no foolproof way to completely avoid printer manufacturers' ink cartridge sneaky tactics, you can take steps to maximize your printer's efficiency and save on ink costs. Here are some practical tips to reduce ink consumption and enhance your overall printing experience.

1. Research Before Buying

When looking for a printer, check how efficiently it uses ink during maintenance tasks, as this impacts your overall expenses.

For example, compare the Brother MFC-J775DW XL and the Epson Expression Photo XP-8500, both priced at around $250. Consumer Reports found that the MFC-J775DW XL costs about $27 per year for ink, while the XP-8500 sets you back nearly $280 annually.

Another option is ink tank printers like the Epson EcoTank series. These allow you to refill the ink tank when it's empty, saving you more money in the long run than replacing entire cartridges.

2. Consider Laser Printers

If you don't need high-quality photo prints, a laser printer is the best route to save money and avoid printer ink issues. Laser printers use dry toner instead of ink and don't require toner for maintenance, making them more cost-effective.

3. Proper Printer Placement

It's also essential to keep your printers in a cool, shaded location. Exposure to drier and hotter environments may increase the chance of clogged printheads. When this happens, you'll have no choice but to clean the printhead, which can lead to unnecessary ink usage.

4. Manually Clean the Printhead

Cleaning the printhead manually when you experience clogged printhead issues or dried ink cartridges helps you save a lot of ink. Follow the steps in our printhead cleaning guide for more information.

5. Monitor Ink Usage

Don't rely solely on the printer's indicator to determine when to replace cartridges. Physically check the cartridge itself to assess if it truly needs replacement.

6. Subscription Considerations

Before you commit to a subscription, take a moment to think about the downsides. These drawbacks aren't usually highlighted as much as the benefits. To get a better understanding, just check out what people are saying on the internet.

To know more, check 'What is HP Instant Ink Program – Is It Worth It?' and 'What is HP+ Program? Everything You Need To Know'.

7. Power Management

Consider leaving your printer on when it's not in use to prevent automatic cleaning cycles, which can use ink unnecessarily and contribute to ink wastage.

If you're concerned about the potential increase in your electricity bill, you can rest easy. According to Sulin, who leads CR's printer-testing program, modern inkjet printers consume very little power when idle.

8. Disable Printer Firmware Update

If you use third-party ink or intend to use non-OEM ink cartridges, make sure to disable printer firmware updates to continue using non-OEM cartridges without any issues.

For HP printer users, you can check our How to Disable HP Cartridge Protection guide for a step-by-step instructions on how to disable automatic printer firmware updates.

9. Consider Refilling Your Ink Cartridges

Take advantage of ink cartridge refilling services offered by businesses like Costco or Walgreens.

Alternatively, you can opt for a DIY approach by refilling them yourself. Just ensure you are refilling an original empty cartridge, using a refill kit from a trustworthy supplier, and that you have a clear manual on how to refill ink cartridges. This eco-friendly practice not only helps reduce waste but can also lead to significant savings compared to purchasing brand-new cartridges.

10. Check for Third-Party Alternatives

Consider trying third-party ink cartridges; they are not only more reasonably priced and eco-friendly but also offer quality on par with the original ones.

To ensure a satisfying experience, look for a trustworthy third-party ink supplier. Check product reviews for insights into their product quality, after-sales service, policies, and more if you decide to explore this option.

Cheap Alternatives To Expensive Ink Cartridges

Original printer ink cartridges are expensive, and the sneaky tactics manufacturers use to keep you hooked can worsen your printing experience. The good news is, you have options to save on ink without sacrificing quality.

Some of the most common affordable options are:

  • Remanufactured cartridges.
    They're made from durable OEM cartridge materials, cleaned, inspected, and refilled to match new original cartridge's performance. Choosing remanufactured cartridges saves money and reduces landfill waste, promoting sustainability.
  • Compatible cartridges.
    They are made from brand-new parts manufactured by third-party factories to meet OEM specifications. These cartridges undergo meticulous research, production, and testing processes, ensuring quality and performance at par with the original.

CompAndSave is offering both, as well as ink refill kits. Both our remanufactured and compatible ink cartridges have been filled with ink formulations that replicate the original, ensuring exceptional quality and performance, all at a fraction of what you would pay for OEM cartridges.

OEM vs. CompAndSave Prices

Let's compare the prices of OEM and CompAndSave inks for different brands, so you can see how much you could save.

Printer Brand Ink Type OEM Price (per cartridge) CompAndSave Price (per cartridge)
High Yield HP 67XL Ink Cartridges Black from $25.99 from $19.95
Color from $26.99 from $19.95
High Yield Epson 212XL Ink Cartridges Black from $39.99 from $16.95
Color from $11.99 from $9.49
High Yield Canon 251XL Ink Cartridges Black from $21.99 from $4.99
Color from $21.99 from $4.49

* Please note that prices mentioned are subject to change without notice.

The choice between OEM and CompAndSave ink ultimately depends on your priorities. If you're environmentally conscious, budget-minded, and unwilling to compromise on quality, CompAndSave offers a more cost-effective alternative. When making this decision, it's crucial to consider your requirements and budget.

So, Are Ink Cartridges A Scam?

Based on what we have uncovered above, the printer ink industry can be seen as a scam because of its high prices and tricky practices by manufacturers.

Some of the sneaky tactics we have discussed, highlighting why printer ink is a scam, include the following:

  • Printers are cheap upfront, but profits come from overpriced ink.
  • Printer maintenance uses a lot of ink, giving you less than the advertised page yield.
  • Printers mix cyan ink in black and white printing, forcing early cyan replacement since the printer will not function even if only one ink cartridge is low or out of ink.
  • Printer programs and firmware updates are designed to limit the use of non-OEM ink cartridges.
  • Printers are designed with limited lifespans, rendering purchased ink useless when it breaks or becomes outdated.
  • Cartridge chips can halt your printer if one color runs out, requiring cartridge replacement for it to work again.
  • Some printers deliberately give false low ink warnings, leading to premature cartridge replacements.
  • Subscription may help save money for heavy printers, but infrequent users may pay for unused ink. Canceling the subscription can disable cartridges.
  • Some printers won't scan if ink levels are low or empty, which can be frustrating when you only need to scan documents.

To help you make the most out of your money, remember to do the following:

  • Research before buying to find printers with efficient ink usage during maintenance.
  • Keep your printer in a cool, shaded location to prevent issues.
  • Physically monitor the ink left in ink cartridges in addition to relying on indicators.
  • Manually clean the printhead when necessary to save ink.
  • Explore third-party ink cartridges and refilling services for cost savings.
  • Disable automatic printer firmware updates when using non-OEM ink.
  • Use grayscale printing and high-quality paper when appropriate.
  • Choose between OEM and budget-friendly ink based on your needs and budget.

Following these strategies can extend your printer's lifespan, reduce ink consumption, and save money. Don't let printer manufacturers take advantage of you; take control of your printing costs today.

Need help with ordering ink? Have questions or need assistance? Reach out to our toll-free helpline at 1-833-465-6888! Our dedicated support team is available Monday to Friday, 6am-4pm PT. Get the support you need for a happy printing experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a printer ink scam?

A printer ink scam involves deceptive practices by printer manufacturers or sellers to maximize ink-related profits at the expense of consumers. An example is not informing consumers proactively that printer maintenance uses a significant amount of ink, false low ink errors, etc.

Can I use third-party ink cartridges without voiding my printer's warranty?

Using third-party cartridges should not void your printer's warranty. It is strictly ILLEGAL for printer manufacturers to do so.

Use of remanufactured or compatible cartridges does not void your warranty as stated in the MAGNUSON-MOSS WARRANTY IMPROVEMENT ACT, United States Code Annotated Title 15 Commerce Trade Chapter 50, Consumer Product Warranties 15 Sections 2302.

Can I save money on printer ink without compromising quality?

Yes, you can. Use printer settings like "draft" mode, print in grayscale when possible, and buy high-quality third-party cartridges to save money.

What should I do with empty ink cartridges?

You can refill your empty ink cartridges, which is cheaper than buying new ones. If you are not up for it, consider recycling your ink cartridges. Many office supply stores and manufacturers offer recycling programs to reduce environmental impact.

What can I do if my printer produces streaked or faded prints?

Clean printheads or rollers, replace old cartridges, and adjust print quality settings for better results.