When the cartridges cost more than the printer: the Inkjet market is absurd and disgraceful

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?

Thank you.

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.

14 thoughts on “When the cartridges cost more than the printer: the Inkjet market is absurd and disgraceful”

  1. It is good to see you highlight this Tim as this continuing subject makes me very angry.

    Cartridges are *so* expensive. I pay £50 regularly to replace my colour and b/w cartridges and they seem to last no time at all. The comical thing is they come in a big box and by the time you get the actual cartridges out you almost need a magnifying glass to see them.

    It seems to me that a cartel is operating behind this and all the suppliers are completely fleecing the consumer and getting away with it. It is profiteering in the extreme and these companies should be absolutely ashamed of themselves.

    Where on earth are the consumer groups/regulators fighting this outrage?

  2. I have to admit some bias as I work for a Print manufacturer. There have always been many printers which are uneconomical when compared to the cost of a new set of ink.

    The company I work for strive to achieve the opposite – reasonable price for your printer, very reasonable price for the ink.

    Two things to look for when changing your printer – firstly are you replacing the ink tank or does it include a printhead (as yours seems to). The printhead is the most expensive bit but there are printers which have the printer built into the machine and designed to last for the lifetime of the machine.

    Secondly ink yields for cartidges in new machines are now being quoted using an ISO standard for coverage. It is impossible to say how long an ink cartridge will last but the ISO standard at least means we are all quoting from a standard coverage.

    Of course if you are printing heavily ( more than a hundred pages a month) you might want to look at Mono or Colour Laser.



    1. Steve

      Thanks for the comment, please let us know the name of your company!

      Oddly the newer Canon printer (that has gone wrong) does NOT include the print head with the cartridge but is still far more expensive per page than the old HP which DOES include the print head with the cartridge.

      Which shows I believe that there is little relationship between manufacturing cost and price.


  3. I hear your pain. I had similar issues a while back with an HP inkjet printer. Finally, after throwing away a ton of money on ink, I realized that HP hadn’t sold me a printer, per se. What they had sold me was an HP surrogate designed to sit on my desk and sell me as much ink as possible. I almost had an Office Space moment, with a borrowed sledgehammer, but I decided that the cleanup afterward wasn’t worth the temporary catharsis.

    Anyway, I finally dropped the dough for a decent monocrome laser printer, and let me tell you: it’s the best damn thing. It just prints! It’s waaay faster than my inkjet, requires less warm up time, and the toner is ridiculously cheap (per page). It’s a bit of an upfront investment, but damn was it worth it.

    So that’s my suggestion on how to regulate the inkjet companies — vote for laser printers with reasonable toner pricing by buying one.

  4. Yes, the printer business has long been a give then “razors sell them razor-blades” business. I no longer use the “official” cartridges but I refill the ink myself using ink refillers which are substantially cheaper and give the same quality. Don’t know if you can get those in Europe but here in Kenya you get them in the shops in a small plastic bottle… right next to the expensive printer cartridges!

  5. Couldn’t agree more. HP Printer: £36 (a bargain, so I thought). Purchased April. So far, used 4 cartridges at £8 each and I print very, very few pages – hardly any. It’s daylight robbery. Thanks for highlighting this, surprised more people don’t complain – HP are very naughty people.

  6. How about when a printer manufacturer (HP) sneakily changes their “XL” high yield cartridge (800 pages)- the cartridge is still labelled as a 564 “XL” cartridge but is smaller and with less ink (550 pages). So now you can’t even buy a big cartridge. The rationale- “it is more green because it takes less plastic to make the [smaller] cartridge”. HA! And DOUBLE HA! Spin detector is on overload!!! How is it greener to need more cartridges for the same amount of printing? More cartridges, more plastic. As if anyone is dumb enough to fall for the stupid “green-washing” spin from HP. It is all about squeezing more blood from the citizens that buy their products (I refuse to be labeled as a “consumer”- let’s put citizens back on the front line, rather than just being “consumers” as cogs for the economy… we ARE the economy!).

  7. I am a bit perplexed as to why my printer has suddenly stopped printing.

    I bought it less than a month ago and in the time I’ve had it I have printed approximately 30 pages of black and white and around 30 pages of colour. Now it won’t print anything at all.

    I do not want to be buying new cartridges so soon if something is wrong with my printer or if the ink cartridges do not keep to their promise of printing around 190 pages of print.

    If this were to happen I would be best sticking to using library printing services or that of a private printer at 5p a sheet for black and white A4 and 20p a sheet of A4 for colour.

    What do you think is wrong?

    Has the ink ran out or is there something wrong nothing has shown on the printer screen to show there is an error?

  8. If the printer was advertised as coming with a ‘get you started’ or ‘sample cartridges’, I would not have bought the printer.

    I would not have bought the printer as I would have assumed that the actual cartridges would hold the same small amount of ink and that the company HP thought that this would be a licence to print momey for printing consumables.

    I spent an hour on the phone to HP technical support the other day in respect of my laptop as when HP manager switches itself on to check the laptop it ends up switching my internet connection off. But in respect of my printer they weren’t able to tell me that the printer was sold with a smaller sample size or the standard size cartridges.

    I just have the packaging to go by. So will be asking Tesco’s what has happened to the ink in the cardridges on the chance that maybe where the equipment is stored is too
    cold or hot and that ink must be drying out.

  9. I shouldn’t have read this article!! It’s just added to my frustration and anger! My HP Printer ran out of ink last month and indeed Tesco were selling HP Deskjet Printers at half-price (Cheaper than replacing my ink cartridges!).I purchased the new printer and have since had to purchase new ink cartridges and then yesterday I receive an error message informing me that the black ink was running low!!!! Absolutely disgraceful – Grrrrrrr!!! So i’m off to Tesco later to purchase more ink!!! (I must be mad!!)

  10. Thanks for all the comments on the HP cartridges, at least it’s a comfort to know how angry other people feel about the cost of printing with these. Think I will look at a laser printer next time, just hate to be ripped off like this.

  11. This is such an excellent discussion and I have been struggling with this issue for years.
    Along with the cartridges being a complete rip off I have discovered an even greater act of sheer criminality by HP and that is, they have switched off the ‘print as draft’ facility on the 3050a.
    I don’t know if this is the same on other models but this obvioulsy has the effect of stopping you from printing ‘rough’ copies out before printing the final draft.
    Another great ploy by those wonderful men at HP – Thanks !
    I have been on the phone to them complaining and all they could say was that I should have asked the shop assisstant if it had this facility when purchasing it.
    Of course I was fuming at this fob off and I have always believed that this was a standard feature which allows you to save ink.
    Oh well, how naive we are…..

    1. Also noticed the “print as draft” option was missing on a new laserjet CP1025 colour …… and that the toner cartridges combined cost more than the printer …. and that the cartridge low indicator comes on when you still have approx 5-600 pages still available (almost 3 copies of a 218 page PhD before any noticable difference in quality)

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