I would love to be in one of those meetings at HP or Canon or Epson where they discuss the size of the ink cartridges in their next range of inkjet printers.
“We got away with 10ml last time,” one might say. “Do you think we could try 8ml”?
“No, let’s do 6ml and call it lite. The 8ml can be XL for high capacity.”
The reason is this has come up for me is that my Canon MX700 all-in-one printer, which has until now performed well, has stopped working. The LCD display says Error 6A80, the lights on the print cartridges have gone out, and it will not do a thing.
While I am not sure what the problem is, it might possibly be the print head. This is a small piece of plastic which includes the actual print head with the microscopic holes through which the ink is squirted, and the cheapest I can find it is around £65.00.
On the other hand, I can get a new Epson BX305FW all-in-one printer for £72, less than that if I shop around.
When the cartridges cost more than the printer
Well, we are used to living in a throwaway society, but the situation with inkjet printers is beyond absurdity. The reason, you see, for the low prices of the hardware is that they are vehicles for selling ink cartridges, for which the prices are crazy high. Therefore there is a direct connection between the high prices of the cartridges, and their small capacity, and the likelihood of my taking a nice all-in-one printer with not very much wrong with it, and throwing it into landfill.
Since I needed to print some documents urgently, I got my old 2001 HP DeskJet 895cx down from the loft and went into town to see if I could still get cartridges for it. As I looked, I noticed that Tesco is selling the HP Deskjet 1050 all-in-one printer for £29.97. This takes HP 301 cartridges; colour is £16.97 and black is £13.97 (you need both): total £30.94. So yes, the cartridges cost more than the printer.
If the cartridges supplied with the Deskjet 1050 are the same size as the ones you buy, it would pay you just to buy a new printer whenever the cartridge runs out. This does not please me; it is a disgrace.
Now, curiously HP does not specify how much ink is in its 301 cartridges. Rather, it gives page yields. So we learn here that the HP 301 black ink cartridge delivers 190 pages of average coverage. The high-capacity HP 301XL delivers 480 pages.
My old printer, as it happens, also has standard and high-capacity versions. The HP 45 standard (21ml) delivers 490 pages. The HP 45 high-capacity (42ml), which is the only one I have ever bought, delivers 930 pages.
In other words, mysteriously, what is now high-capacity is less than what used to be standard; what used to be high-capacity is no longer available, if you get the latest HP DeskJet.
You can pay a lot more than this for inkjet cartridges. Prices of £30 to £40 or more are common, for three-colour cartridges. Together with a black, it might cost you £60 or more to replenish.
This drives users towards the thriving alternative market in refurbished or compatible cartridges. This is unfortunate, because all inks are not equal, and a leaky or substandard cartridge can damage your printer. On the other hand, if you do the sums, the saving from just a couple of cartridge replacement cycles may be enough to buy a new printer. Buying the non-approved refills is the rational thing to do.
I am not picking on HP. Others vendors are equally bad.
Where do we go from here?
So where do we go from here? Logically, we should ignore the price sticker on the printers and look at the cost per page, which means mostly we won’t be buying these machines. We do though; in fact, I nearly bought the cheap Tesco printer this morning just to solve a problem, and so the cycle continues.
I would like to see the regulators take action on this. Instead of forcing Microsoft to produce pointless N editions of Windows, which nobody buys, maybe the EU could specify a minimum page yield for ink cartridges, to force change, or otherwise regulate this wasteful and damaging business practice.
Finally, if you are from HP or Canon or Epson or the like and want to tell me about the high quality and expensive research behind your ink technology, you are welcome, as long as you also tell me two things:
- What is the ratio of manufacturing cost to retail price for your inkjet printers?
- What is the ratio of manufacturing cost to retail price for your inkjet cartridges?
Update: I made some progress with Error 6A80. The print head is fine. Now, many people on the internet have reported this problem, though there are likely multiple reasons for it, but the only relevant article I’ve found is this one, which is in German. Note the helpful pictures. The print head should park at the right of the machine, where there are some pads and wipers that maintain the head. On my machine the wipers had got stuck in the forward position – see the first image in the thread. When I pushed them back – second image on page two – the error cleared. However it reappeared shortly after; but I now think that somehow cleaning up this part of the printer (which is hard to get at) could fix it.
Further update: I did eventually take the printer apart and pretty much fixed it.