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The Almighty Buck

Anti-Competitive Behavior in the Printer Industry? 465

Greyfox writes: "Here is an interesting story about the printer industry versus ink-cartridge refillers. Anyone who's bought a low-cost inkjet knows that you can spend over half the cost of the printer on ink. So it was only natural that an industry would spring up around refilling the cartridges. Well the printer industry has apparently been fighting back, trying to protect their market share. As with all good stories, legislation is being considered. Worth a read." Sort of like spyware -- it's a back-and-forth battle.
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Anti-Competitive Behavior in the Printer Industry?

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  • This is all well and good for your average home user. But god I would hate to try to do technical support on this stuff. Could you imagine trying to explain to someone why their colors look off?
    • I agree that from a corporative standpoint, it's not viable to refill cartridges (most of the time).

      However, about explaining the users why their colors look off: If you can find a printing system where the colors don't look off when compared to the screen, please let us all know! :)))

      Regards
  • by da_Den_man ( 466270 ) <dcruise.hotcoffee@org> on Monday May 06, 2002 @02:15PM (#3471726) Homepage
    Due to the cost of the cartridge, I have gone through 3 different inkjet printers. It has gotten to the point, with rebates and specials and inclusions, that instead of buying a new cartridge, I just get a new printer. Heck, for the amount of printing I do (maybe 10 pages a month if that) buying a new printer is cheaper than messing with the cartridge cost and replacements anyhow.

    HP seems to be the most expensive, with Epson a close second. Canon however has some decent prices on the dual cartridge packs.

    I have tried the refill cartridges (a LONG time ago) and found out it was not even worth the effort the first time, much less the third attempt to refill the same cartridge.

    • by ltm ( 542708 )
      Indeed. I've long stopped buying new printer carts. Printers are disposable now.

      There's just no point in buying black and color ink carts for $60, when you can buy a new printer, albeit an "older" model, $60-80 that has the ink already. I've bought about 5 printers in the past 2 years now.

      I guess I'm not doing my part to "prevent these carts from clogging up landfills" as Lexmark, et al, would like me to do.

    • Try OfficeMax [officemax.com] next time. They got a lexmark inkjet printer for 30 bucks. Thats less than most ink carts:

      Lexmark Z13 Color Inkjet Printer.
      Item # 20154752 , Style # 16E0000
      $29.98
  • more precisely... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tps12 ( 105590 ) on Monday May 06, 2002 @02:16PM (#3471737) Homepage Journal
    Anyone who's bought a low-cost inkjet knows that you can spend over half the cost of the printer on ink.

    Yeah, every time you buy more ink. Over the lifetime of the printer you may well end up spending several times the original printer cost on ink cartridges.

    I don't see what the big deal is. Printer makers have a tough sell trying to get people to pay more to not recycle, and rightly so. One of these companies will eventually have the balls to start making easily refillable cartridges. Their lower margins will be accounted for by their boom in sales.

    • Re:more precisely... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by goodviking ( 71533 )
      One of these companies will eventually have the balls to start making easily refillable cartridges

      And given the threat by HPQ, how much do you want to bet that a major investor and force behind such a movement will be Dell. Dell is not a major seller of cartridges, hence they would not loose much money, and it is HPQ's printer margin that will enable them to compete while they restructure. It would be interesting to see if Dell decides to kick HPQ where it hurts while they are paying the 2-5 year cost of facilitating a merger. I bet you that well within the restructuring timeframe, Dell could find a partner and facilitate a rollout.
    • Their lower margins will be accounted for by their boom in sales.

      No amount of sales will account for a negative profit margin in the case that HP, Epson, et al are selling printers at a loss to clean up on cartridges.

      The only way to sell a cheaper-than-cost printer with recyclable cartridges would be to package it with a bundle of more profitable components, as suggested here that Dell could do.

      • I didn't think printers were sold below cost...if you open one up, it is just a roller and a little holder for the ink. Even the circuitry is pretty straightforward. I wouldn't be surprised if they were making a small profit on printers.
    • The big problem is that cartridge sales are the big money maker. They sell printers on the cheap so they can sell catridges for those printers. If cartridges become easily refillable, then the printer companies will need to raise prices on printers dramatically.
  • by mookoz ( 217805 ) on Monday May 06, 2002 @02:17PM (#3471742)
    The printer business is just latching onto the "razor and blade" business model that worked so well for other industries, especially the video game business.

    Sony dumps the PS2 below cost, and then I have to buy only Sony-approved games at high prices. A portion of that goes back to Sony and pays off the real cost of the box.

    Is congress investigating them as well?
    • The printing industry doesn't even compare to Sony's PS2 market. Had they sold their PS2 for $80 and charged you $150 per game, and made you renew your license on the game every month or so, then it would be similar.

      I've put up with my lexmark and its $40-$50 cartridges simply because it's no better for any other company. You would think a company would come along and sell their printer for a higher price, and drop the ink price... that would drive everyone out of business no? I know I sure as hell would buy it, along with pretty much everyone I know...
    • Remember the people who made knock-off Nintendo games? When Nintendo started trying to ship consoles that wouldn't play those games, the government came down on them.

      So, it's only a matter of time before somebody figures out how to make ps2 games (or ink cartridges). Or is that against the DMCA now? Is the smartchip on a printer cartridge an encryption device? Now here's a thought (for all you conspiracy lovers out there): Put a chip on every widget you sell, and make the widget communicate with the mother widget to function. Bam, you've got the DMCA in your ammo box.
    • The printer business is just latching onto the "razor and blade" business model that worked so well for other industries, especially the video game business.

      The strategy is only profitable if it succeeds. Most cases it fails, largely because purchasers factor in the cost of consumables into the purchase cost. I have seen lost of dotcom companies try to establish a razor and blades model only to fail miserably.

      In this case the printer market is very competative and is more likely to clear in the long run than result in a steady state razor and blades model. As the companies no longer compete on quality alone the bottom feeder companies will attempt to increase market share by raising the issue of running costs.

      Of course the problem arises out of abuse of IP. According to anti-trust law tied sales are illegal. The courts have so far invalidated a number of uses of IP to require tied sales (the nintendo case, various parts cases etc.) Unfortunately they have not been as pro-active on trade secrets.

      If slashweenies jabbering on about microsoft would apply the same principles on a general basis this type of behavior would be more universaly condemned.

      • I, for one, am not too happy with these "razor and blade" business models, or loss-leaders in general. Whenever someone gives something away at a loss, they do it because they expect something in return. Then when this happens, the freeloaders complain that the company is sleazy and unethical. Most of the time, I'd rather just pay directly for the product I want, on the basis that quality and low price are now directly rewarded with my patronage. There are countless examples:

        1. TV advertising to sponsor programming

        The result of which is poor quality TV in general: shows geared at young people, since they are more susceptible to advertising; mindless sitcoms, since they apparently put people in a buying mood; influence by advertisers over programming decisions, such as when advertisers almost forced the cancellation of Politically Incorrect.

        2. Advertising to sponsor web content

        This is just an unhealthy business model. Since the web is global, a site can't attract local advertising. There is only so much global (or even national) advertising to go around, and the result is that most mailing lists that I subscribed to were sponsored by people selling vitamin pills and penis enlargers (most of these lists eventually switched to a pay model). Plus it is just too easy to block the ads on a website.

        3. Spyware and selling personal info

        People who thought that Kazaa and Yahoo were giving them free services just to be benevolent were obviously just naive. Sure, Yahoo didn't need to sell your personal info back when their primary business model was selling stock, but now they they actually have to make a profit... what did you expect?

        4. Let people copy your music for free, but make your money selling the packaging and cover art.

        Wink, wink. As if you don't scan the cover art and post it online too, and as if most people really care. No one really believes this one any more. Nowadays, the party line is "let people copy your music for free because most people are basically honest and will buy the cd eventually."

        5. Give away/sell your software at a loss in order to boost the sales of your hardware.

        The fervour surrounding this business model died down when its poster child, VA Linux suffered a major stock crash. There are so many problems with this that it's not even funny. The cost of software development is high, probably higher than your hardware design, so you need to have huge margins on your hardware to compensate. Since you have put a whole bunch of software companies out of business, there will now be fierce competition in the hardware sector; someone is going to undercut you. Plus, if your code is halfway modular and you open source it, someone is going to port it to your competitor's platform anyway, so this gave you zero leverage.

        6. Sell your game console at a loss and make money selling games, or likewise with printers and ink.

        Which works great if you can retain the exclusive license to sell games/ink.

        7. Give away your software and make money selling services and support

        It may be the most-loved business model on Slashdot, but I think it stinks. Firstly, it punishes quality. If your software is bug free, who needs support? If your GUI is good, who needs help setting it up? If your product is flexible, who needs customization? Secondly, it doesn't work in the consumer market. When I buy software, I am paying for the software, not the support. This model has worked to some extent in selling support to businesses, mostly because businesses have been content to waste money in the past (e.g. the $1500 PC sitting on my desk which they bought for $4000). Watch for this to disappear in the new, leaner economy.

        8. Give away your software at a loss and make your money selling t-shirts and plush Mozilla toys.

        This business model was advocated by Netscape. Enough said.

        -a
  • HP (Score:5, Interesting)

    by vlag ( 552656 ) on Monday May 06, 2002 @02:17PM (#3471743) Homepage
    Gotta love HP. Their new printers use ink refills with "Smart Chips". The chips check ink levels and if they ever increase, the printer refuses to use that cartridge. No more refilling the cartridges. I don't like H-Paq very much.
    • It's about QA (Score:5, Informative)

      by dy_dx ( 131159 ) on Monday May 06, 2002 @03:50PM (#3472532)
      I'm surprised that I can't find any posts explaining why printer manufacturers are against refills (other than the knee jerk "they want all my money" response).

      I had the chance to meet one of the inventors of ink jet printing awhile back, and he explained why the HP "smart chip" would be (it wasn't rolled out yet then), a Good Thing(tm).

      Most ink cartridges today have print heads on them already, which is a big part of their cost. Now obviously, the print head on an inkjet cartridge doesn't last forever. With today's really high printing resolutions, this head is a device which has to spit out pico-liters of ink with very precise timing. The ink must be at the correct temperature so as not to evaporate before hitting the paper or to stay wet on the paper for too long. All this requires a pretty sophistocated print head which wears down with use. After enough use, printing performance actually suffers.

      The only way to guarantee printing quality under these conditions is to make sure the printing head is replaced periodically (i.e. with a new cartridge). By allowing cartridge refilling, there's no way to guarantee the print head gets replaced when it needs to be, and thus they wouldn't be able to guarantee that "an HP printer will always print quality." So there's actually a QA issue.

      HP has developed a separate print head / ink assembly, but generally only very high volume printers use this type of solution (because it's not cost effective for Joe Q. Consumer to buy a gallon container of red ink), and even then they have to separately replace the print head occasionally.
      • Canon has spouted that same line about print quality since their first inkjets came out, long before there was any such thing as a high-resolution inkjet printer.

        I had a BJ200, which I used enough that the moving parts finally wore out. I found that contrary to Canon's claims, the better cartridges could be refilled indefinitely (not all carts were exactly alike in quality; there were four carts that fit this printer, and the one labeled for their fax unit was best). I've refilled some as many as *8* times, and only lost carts at that point because I accidentally bumped the printhead and damaged it.

        The trick is to keep the printhead clean -- swish it thru denatured alcohol every time you refill it, and make sure you keep the track area clean and free of dust. Use a high quality refill ink, like Fillmore brand (which is considerably better ink than Canon's original ink, at about 5% the cost). Don't overfill the cart -- half-full works better in many cases. If it gets cranky, next time it's empty run a little alcohol thru the cart itself, and print a few demo pages to let it clean out the printhead from the inside, then do the regular refill. (I've even resurrected "dead" dried-out carts that way -- turned out good as new.)

        With proper care, inkjet printheads provide the same print quality throughout their lifetime, which is a helluva lot longer than the time it takes to use up that first ink resevoir.

        Note: I've seem similar results with high-resolution HP and Epson inkjet refills, but my hands-on experience was with Canon.

        And thanks for the heads-up on the newer HP units -- personally, I wouldn't buy an inkjet that rejects being refilled. At some 25 cents per page to print with "original" ink, inkjets cost too damn much to run. (Compare to about 5 cents/page for laser printers, and barely above cost of paper for pin impact.)

    • Re:HP (Score:3, Informative)

      by infinite9 ( 319274 )


      My wife and I gave up on ink-jet printers. We started with an HP. It constantly chewed up cartriges. HP has a repair code for "short cartridge life". We mailed the printer back to them. They lost it. They found it. Supposedly fixed it. It lasted another 6 months and died.


      Then we got a canon bcj-6000. It bit the dust just after the warrantee ended.


      Then we got real good deals on some cheapo lexmark printers. They lasted longer than the more expensive canon, but died in short order also.


      We started looking at good ink jet printers which were in the $500 range at the time. Then with ink jet cartridge prices, we decided to take the plunge and buy a color laser printer.


      It's been bullet-proof for a year now. It's a QMS/Minolta desk laser 2200 I think. $1000 after rebate. It's fast, quiet, reliable, does 100baseT, and images come out bone-dry. The software's a bit goofy, but now that I know how to deal it, it's great. The software's only needed for 100baseT anyway. The toner cartridges won't be cheap, but we beat the daylights out of the printer and it's still on the original cartridges.

    • Re:HP (Score:3, Informative)

      by Technician ( 215283 )
      I have addressed the issue of the HP smart chips and the issue of needing to replace the print head due to wear and reduced quality. Web graphics are generaly low resolution and do not need the high res/high cost of a new cartridge. I use a refilled cartridge for when browsing the web. Most of the time I use my older printer (color cartridges $48 per twin pack) instead of the new printer (same size cartridge at $56 each). The old printer does not use a chip. The smart chip in the HP78 cartridges is simply a serial number and nothing more. The printer remembers this number and the one before it. Rotating between 3 cartridges fixes the problem on resetting the estimated ink levels. Another way to reset the printer's memory of used cartridges is described in the discussion section on www.atlascopy.com. They also have information on getting into the service mode of the printer. In that mode, you can print out the nozzle counts for the cartridges as well as estimated ink levels as a percentage along with the current cartridge serial number and the prior serial number. These remembered serial numbers is what keeps you from refilling the current cartridge or the one just before it. The printer remembers it is out of ink. Because I print lots of digital photographs, I have been filling these. The money saved on cartridges could have easly paid for a color laser printer. (looking at it the other way; the printer would have cost more to use than buying a color laser printer for my volume of photo printing.) About $100 in ink buys 2 pints of black ink and 3 1/2 pints in color ink. I shudder to think what that would have cost buying that much ink in the little 38 mL cartridges. I'm on my 3rd pint of black ink in the last 18 months. The black cartridges get about 5 refills before I can notice any print diffrence compared to a new cartridge. Color I notice diffrences after about the 3rd refill. The color is difficult to refill because an air bubble may make a color quit printing unexpectedly. Black is usualy good for about 10 or more refills for draft and web page printing.
  • by keesh ( 202812 ) on Monday May 06, 2002 @02:18PM (#3471754) Homepage
    I know someone who doesn't bother buying new cartridges. He just picks up a new printer each time and sells the old one off second hand. He saves about GBP5 a shot doing it that way.

    Epson are the worst for this. They have some device on the cartridges which stops you from refilling them (to 'improve quality' apparently). The catch? Take a cartridge out before moving a printer, put it back in again, the printer refuses it.

    This reminds me of a certain piece of software which won't work if you change your computer... Except you can't ring up Epson and get them to re-'certify' the ink...
    • Actually Epson's smart tagging of cartridges are not to defeat refilling they are to allow more flexability. I can take out my black cartridge, drop in the photo cart, print a photo banner, replace the black cart and the driver knows the level and alignment of the cart when it is re-inserted. I also will pull my normal color cart when I get back from a trip, I replace it with a fresh one, replace the black with a photo cart and print all my pictures, then place the black and half full color cart back in. Besides of all the manufacturers Epson is the only one with a legit quality beef. While working as a tech I saw several Epson's ruined by refills, since the heads are built into the printer and not part of the cart a bad refill turns the printer into a doorstop, and the customer wants to know why their 6 month old printer isn't covered by waranty.
      • I recently bought an Epson Stylus Photo 820 printer, because it was top-rated for the price at printing photos - mainly due to the fact that it uses a 6 color ink system.

        I hoped that this time around, I'd at least be able to buy 3rd. party ink cartridges and get decent performance. (My last inkjet was a Stylus Photo 700, and every time I used anything other than real Epson ink, it would clog up after 2 or 3 pages were printed - and nothing would unclog it again, short of putting new Epson cartridges in and running it through 14 or 15 cleaning cycles.)

        My first experience with ink carts. off eBay was dismal though. The colors just wouldn't print uniformily. Every time I printed a test pattern, one color would be missing completely or streaked up. Sure enough, putting in a real Epson cartridge made it start working again.

        I think with these high DPI Epson printers, Epson must be putting some type of thinner or solvent in their ink that nobody else is using. Everything else seems to clog up their nozzles real fast. Quite frustrating.....
    • I have an Epson SP 750. I had suspected that the printer was prematurely deeming the cartridges empty, so I tried a little experiment. I simply popped-out and popped-in the same "empty" cartridges. The color cart lasted another few printouts, but the black cart has been going strong for at least 100 pages.

      The only problem is that on the 750 I can't exchange the ink carts unless the printer thinks they're empty. It's weird, after reinserting the carts the printer thought they were full. It seems to be using some algorithm or usage rate to infer the ink levels based on number of pages printed since last replacement. This is kinda cool for some reasons, but I'd really like to replace the color cart independantly from the black cart.
  • I've found quite a few toner refill services that were top-notch. I've only seen one instance where we had a heavy-duty laser printer that actually got damaged from using a refilled toner cartridge.

    And, quite on the other hand, I've had a great many inkjet printer get ruined by those crappy Re-Ink refill kits that just don't work.

    For starters, there's the human error issue. If I don't fill the cartridge in *just* the right way, the vacuum could force the cartridge to squirt ink back into the printer, and then I have a $200 doorstop. Also, the ink formulas are protected, so Re-Ink and others have to "reverse engineer" them. I imagine they may or may not also have the same facilities for ink production, so with them, I have less of a guarantee that their refill ink will have the proper color-matching...or that the pigment particles will be of a uniform size, and that they won't quickly clog the printhead nozzles.

    And that, of course, doesn't factor in that printhead nozzles *will* clog over time, so refilling those cartridges is like trying to increase the pump strength on your water system when the pressure goes down in the shower, but in reality it's because water contaminants got caught in the head nozzle (you could always clean it, but that's beside the point).

    Of course, if the printer manufacturer made their cartridges easily refillable, they'd lose a fairly obvious leg up on ink competitors, since your average Joe-blow won't care if he loses some print quality since he saved $10 on the cartridges.
    • by Da Schmiz ( 300867 ) <slashdot@pry[ ].net ['den' in gap]> on Monday May 06, 2002 @03:56PM (#3472590) Homepage
      I've had a great many inkjet printer get ruined
      I used to be HP Authorized Technician and fix HP computers and occassionally HP printers for a living. I can tell you that you really don't want to get an ink spill inside your inkjet printer. Older HP models (like the original DeskJet and the 5xx series) had a large, important circut board at the bottom of the case, where ink (or any other spilled liquid) loved to collect. I've seen many a printer ruined by people who tried refills and didn't get it right.

      And, as you point out, unless the ink is the exact same consistency, the print head will get clogged or else simply not deliver good print performance.

      Additionally, the reason they make the print heads part of the ink cartridge is (at least in part) so that users will change the heads regularly. For good print quality, you need new heads every few hundred pages anyway, so tying the head to the ink forces Joe Blow not to forget to change the heads.

      Now, don't get me wrong: I believe that this is also a case of the manufacturers taking a legitimate claim and using it as leverage to force the users to pay more. I'm not naive. But that doesn't mean that the manufacturer's claims are entirely without merit, either.

      I think that ideally, the heads and ink should be separate, standardized modules. Each one would have to be labeled with precise information about (in the case of the head) number of jets, jet spacing, voltages, etc. and (in the case of the ink) the types of heads it will work with, the quantity of ink per container, etc. That way, you could (theoretically) upgrade your printer by swapping in a higher-quality print head. If they could legislate that kind of solution, it might work.

      But DIY ink refills are at best a hit-and-miss proposition -- if the government were to legitimatize ink refills, they would have to also regulate the quality of these offerings... something like requiring a warranty, in case the refilled cartridge somehow ruins the printer.

      Oh, and BTW: None of this applies to laser refills, which I have very little experience with. My understanding is that some are very good, and others are very bad. And, having had to clean toner spills out of laser printers, I can tell you that it's not a fun job. But laser is by far the better technology: my printer here is a LaserJet that produces nice, sharp (albeit B&W) pages and that has jammed maybe once and otherwise never given me a problem. Of course, I don't use it as much anymore... I really have no need for hard copies of anything 99% of the time...

  • Guess what? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by lunenburg ( 37393 ) on Monday May 06, 2002 @02:23PM (#3471805) Homepage
    Now that the entertainment industry has shown how it's done, every industry and their brother is going to be running to Congress to legislate away their competition in the name of the DMCA/etc. And the trend will continue until people get sick of it and vote out of office the Congressfolks who are doing this to us.

    If you'd like to make that happen sooner, rather than later, then get involved, get active, and work to get people who look out for the citizens into office.
    • You mention the DMCA. With some of these chips in toner/ink cartridges the only way a third party refiller can operate is to reverse engineer the software and devise a mechanism to reset the chip. Now if the OEM's consider the software on this chip INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY and thus encrypt the software and the communications protocol then a third party refiller must reverse engineer this encryption and thus circumvent a copy control mechanism.

      HP/Lexmark/Compaq/et al yell WOOHOO!!! in unison. Refill a toner/ink cartridge and your going to federal pound me in the A** prison!!!!
  • by Kenny Austin ( 319525 ) on Monday May 06, 2002 @02:23PM (#3471812) Homepage
    Maybe Matthias Wandel can make a printer that uses number 2 pencils out of legos, wood, and cheese?
  • Try inforart (Score:2, Informative)

    by thaigan ( 197773 )
    Try Ink for art [ink4art.com]
  • refills suck (Score:2, Informative)

    the refill ink is usually not the same consistency and composition of ink made by the manufacturer - and hence ruins the printhead on ALL inkjet/bubblejets. This is the reason why it is not recommended, and sometimes forbidden to use the refill ink.

    with that being said, inkjet and bubblejet printer makers are involved in a cut throat environment, which causes them to sell printers for less than cost. Money is made up from the ink you buy. You didn't think you could get bubble jet or piezo technology for that cheap, did you?
  • Not only are legislative solutions being put forth, but technological ones are being used as well.

    I own the Epson 777i. It's cartridges have a memory unit on them that stores how much ink they have. You can refill them as much as you like, but the printer will not allow you to use the cartridges because they remember that they're empty.

    The only way around this is to put new cartridges in the printer, get the printer to release the cartridges and sneak the refilled ones in, fooling the printer into accepting the refilled cartridges. It then re-writes the memory on the cartridges as full.

    Thankfully, cartridge memory isn't an access control for a copyrighted media, or I'd be in violation of the DMCA.
  • Talk to Schick. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Matey-O ( 518004 ) <michaeljohnmiller@mSPAMsSPAMnSPAM.com> on Monday May 06, 2002 @02:27PM (#3471851) Homepage Journal
    This is the same as: Sell the Razor at a loss, make the profit on the blades.

    I don't understand why something that's okay at the $3.00 range (blades) isn't okay at the $50 range. I mean really, do you think these guys are making a profit on a $50 printer when the _packaging_ for that printer's gotta cost $12?

    Buy a laser printer. The toner doesn't dry out or age. Print 99% of your slashdot articles on it. Buy a cheapie inkjet for the occasional color print you need. Not only is the laser printer faster and easier to read, You'll go 2 or 3 years before needing a new toner cart. (I've got an NEC superscript 870. Bought it in 1997. The first toner cartridge lasted four years and printed 2200 pages with one misfeed. It's on it's second toner cartridge)

    Besides, by the time you need ink on your color printer, the NEW color printer will be higher quality. (or USB, or whatever)

    I'm actually considering buying a dedicated photo printer as that's all I really use color for now anyway!
    • Buy a cheapie inkjet for the occasional color print you need.

      My experience is that if you let these things sit without making a print for a month or two, the cartridge is screwed up from dried out ink. At least that's the case with my Epson. Lately, it's completely flaked out and won't print at all. When I replace it, I'm going for a laser printer. At least it won't make me buy a new toner cartridge every three months whether I need it or not. Inkjet must me a good deal for somebody, but it's useless for me.
      • My experience is that if you let these things sit without making a print for a month or two, the cartridge is screwed up from dried out ink.

        On my Epson printer, if I let it sit for two weeks, half of the nozzles get clogged on the test pattern. To fix it, I have to run multiple passes of the head cleaning procdure, using up even more "precious" ink. (Not to mention the ink and paper wasted on a ruined photo to find out that the heads are clogged in the first place.)

        Surely, this must be a further conspiracy on their part; it sets a lower limit on ink usage that you're guaranteed to exceed.

        I've wondered how just how much ink is in those cartridges, and how it compares in price per milliliter of expensive fluids such as a $1000 bottle of rare cognac.

    • I can go to Walgreens and buy razor blades that fit on my Gillete Mach 3 razor for a cheaper price. I do not recal Gillete ever attacking Walgreens or adding "smart chips" into their razors to prevent Walgreens from selling their own razor blades. However, if Gillete did decide to take such actions, I would quickly move on to a new brand of razors as their Razor blades are already overpriced as it is (and contrary to what all their commercials say don't perform significantly better on MY facial hair).

      Bryan
  • How about for people who don't print a lot? I rarely use the printer these days.

  • Xerox Tektronix 860 (Score:3, Informative)

    by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Monday May 06, 2002 @02:29PM (#3471866)
    At work we have a Tektronix 860 that uses Wax Sticks Compared to Ink Cartreges or Toner Although the printer is expensive (For the avereage user competitive for buisness use) it comes with free black ink for the life of the printer. (The Color Wax sticks are more expensive) But what you do is just print in black and white and you can save a bundle on expenses. Of course Xerox wants you to print in color more often (and wont tell you that you can setup your print server to print in B and W). But at least the Printer is worth more then the ink.
    • Those Textronix printers aren't even worth the power to blow their little printheads to bits, let alone for buying ink for. Anyone who hears the words "Phaser III" knows exactly from whence I speak.
  • Printer companies say neither effort is aimed at thwarting re-manufacturers.

    "We're really giving customers a benefit they didn't have before," said Epson marketing manager Rajeev Mishra, whose company has installed smart chips on many replacement cartridges. Mishra says it's done so customers can track ink use and other printing statistics.

    Finally all those emails I sent to Epson about being able to track my ink usage and other printing statistics have come to fruition! Because isn't that what we all want? I'd pay twice as much for this feature.

  • Since I've noticed I'm not the only guy with the razor and blade analogy, I thought I'd carry it further:

    How many people can picture a CowBoyNeal type cursing a blue streak, with band-aids on his fingers trying to re-load a shick Slim Twin razor with a refill kit?

    I wonder how much it really costs per page, adjusted for pr0n?
  • I can see it now:

    "This printer is licensed to you, not sold. By printing anything with this printer, you indicate your agreement to use only genuine HI-PRIKED replacement ink cartridges. Any other use invalidates your license. You may terminate this agreement by destroying the printer."

    This will be called a breakthrough in ineffectual property.

    Sig: What Happened To The Censorware Project (censorware.org) [sethf.com]

    • Lexmark has a license very similar to what you describe. It's called the Prebate [rechargermag.com] program. Essentially, when you buy the cartridge, you agree to either send the cartridge back to Lexmark, or throw it away. There have been all kinds of angry letters from lexmark sent to people who remanufacture these cartridges.
      • What's funny is that in the CNN article mentioned in this Slashdot story, Lexmark's argument for that license is so that the cartridges are recycled rather than thrown out to end up in landfills.

        I wonder if they really don't realise how their statements directly contradict reality.
    • Actually I own a victrolla that has a little paper on the back that says that I do not own the victrolla until such time as the patents run out. Until that time I am only leasing it (for a one time payment) and can not reverse engineer, modify, have repaired or play records not by the Edison Talking Voice Corporation. She is a beautiful piece with red cherry finish and a sterling silver horn but I consider that little paper to be the main prize. (the patents ran out in 1917.)
  • by dada21 ( 163177 ) <adam.dada@gmail.com> on Monday May 06, 2002 @02:34PM (#3471928) Homepage Journal
    The solution is all you people who want laws, throw your money into a corporation, and COMPETE.

    If you can do it for cheaper, THEN DO IT.

    I, myself, can not. I looked at the cost of getting it all to work. There is no way to do it. Since they know you won't pay $600 for a printer, and $5 for cartridges, they do it the way they have to do it to make a profit, albeit a small one.

    Epson, HP, Canon, they're not in bed together. This is no boat race. They found out that the average American barely uses their printer, but enough that spending $100-$150 a year on cartridges is not a bad deal, rather than paying $500 for a new printer and $25 a year on cartridges.

    There are numerous other ways to print in color. I bought an HP Color LaserJet 4500. I print everything. The damn thing is a personal printer for me, and it runs ALL the time. The cost over the past year? Maybe $200, including tons of toner (thousands of pages printed). I love it. I will NEVER go back to Ink Jet.

    Go, compete. The market is open. Once the government regulates, you think it'll help us, or help HP and Epson?

    Think hard. I know you can...
    • Man I wish I had some mod points. Great post.

      For every problem, government is a solution. It is very rarely, however, the best solution.

    • The solution is all you people who want laws, throw your money into a corporation, and COMPETE.
      If you can do it for cheaper, THEN DO IT.

      We aren't all looking to start a fucking printing company, moron. We just don't want to get ripped off by artificially inflated prices on half-empty printer carts from companies like HP who use chips that server no useful purpose other than to force us to buy more of their crap. You ever heard of fair use?


      They found out that the average American barely uses their printer, but enough that spending $100-$150 a year on cartridges is not a bad deal

      Bullshit. If I hardly even use my printer (say like a coupla times a month), then that most certainly IS a bad deal.


      Think hard. I know you can...I hope that is your .sig and not the end of this post. Take your own advice, you arrogant little karma whore, before you post your cliched, libertarian "gov't is bad but big corporations are good" bullshit.

      • Who the FUCK is forcing you to buy a HP printer? Jesus christ, you'd think that someone had a gun to your head. Buy something else, dumbass. By buying HP you're part of the problem.
        I have an Okidata OL 400e LED printer. What do you have?
      • by fmaxwell ( 249001 ) on Monday May 06, 2002 @04:14PM (#3472750) Homepage Journal
        Yeah, he's testy, but he's right. I, too, am sick of the Libertarian bullshit of telling me to start a company every time that I voice a complaint about a product or service.

        I'm sick of hearing about how the "free market" will fix everything. The only thing that the free market will guarantee is a lot of companies that are very efficient at generating profits. If the free market is so f****** wonderful, explain Microsoft!

        I'd rather have consumer protection laws passed and enforced by a government with no stake in the transactions than have a bunch of big companies collude to cheat consumers.

        Don't you worry about that evil old government. Enron is working for your best interests.
    • I bought an HP Color LaserJet 4500. I print everything

      If I had $1,800 to spend on a HP Color LaserJet 4500, I'd be happy to. Hell, if I could spend $900 on the cheapest laser printer I'd be happy to. But laser printers simply aren't cost effective for the average consumer. An average consumer probably won't replace a cartridge more than 3x per year. While your laser printer probably will last 10 years of usable service life, $1800+toner costs probably will still exceed the $2000 or so it would cost the average user to buy a brand new printer 3x per year, and its a very expensive up front cost.

  • by andy@petdance.com ( 114827 ) <andy@petdance.com> on Monday May 06, 2002 @02:38PM (#3471962) Homepage
    That explains why so many helpful merchants are able to help me "SAVE UP TO 80% ON INKJET REFILLS! ALL MAKES AND MODELS!"
  • Nonsense Argument (Score:4, Interesting)

    by freeweed ( 309734 ) on Monday May 06, 2002 @02:42PM (#3472003)
    "Ink costs half what the printer does"

    Guess what folks? So do an awful lot of things you buy. I can go out and pick up a $30 discman, and the CDs are still $15+. The discman (or printer) is just a delivery mechanism, it's what you put in it that actually matters at the end.

    What I found lacking in the article (and all posts so far) is a biggie for me: most printer manufacturers will void your warranty if you use recycled cartridges, and with good reason. Last time I had to maintain several laser printers, every time some dingbat (read: the boss) went and ordered a recycled toner cartridge, the printer(s) died within a few weeks of using it. Recycled toner and ink cartridges tend to be a LOT lower quality than new ones, they leak all over the place, etc. I'm not even going to start with those needle-injection packages you can buy for the home.

    Although I don't think printer manufacturers should be able to PREVENT someone else selling ink, they sure as hell shouldn't have to pay (because of damage) for someone else's incompetence. Oh, and for those that bring up the old "Honda doesn't force you to buy their gasoline" argument... go pick up a new car and install a 3rd party stereo system sometime, and see just what your warranty covers now.

    • What I found lacking in the article (and all posts so far) is a biggie for me: most printer manufacturers will void your warranty if you use recycled cartridges, and with good reason.
      So they say. However, in the US I believe the federal law passed in the 1940's (?) to prevent Henry Ford from pulling the exact same trick would apply, and (if you had the time and $ to pursue the issue in court) this disclaimer would be void.

      sPh

      • Re:Nonsense Argument (Score:3, Interesting)

        by nuggz ( 69912 )
        Yes, that is true, as long as the product meets the specification. You can put any motor oil in your car and not void the warranty, as long as it meets the automakers specification.

        So we have epson spec ink cartridges, and if the refillers get their product certified the warranty holds, if not the warranty is void.

        Unfortuneately there is No SAE or equiv for printer ink.
    • by afidel ( 530433 )
      I don't know where you are getting your toner carts from but I maintain about 20 printers including 2 high volume color laster and 8 super high volume black printers. I use nothing but recycled carts for black and would use em for the color if anyone made em. Sure once in a while we get one that causes smearing or jams paper, but since we work with a reputable refill house we get a credit for that one get a replacement the next day. The only problem that I've had that was serious was a cracked cart that dropped about 30 grams of black toner into one of the laserjet 8150's. I took the unit apart and cleaned it but it still occasionally rains out some toner on the paper trays when they are refilled.
  • by srmalloy ( 263556 ) on Monday May 06, 2002 @02:43PM (#3472005) Homepage

    Look at the economics -- a printer is a one-time sale; you've collected the customer's money, and they've got their printer. Ink is a fungible; it gets used up, and you have to buy more. If a printer manufacturer can come up with a mechanism to ensure that the people who buy their printers have to buy their ink, they have a steady revenue stream.


    Look at the relative costs. Printer prices have been going down almost as fast as memory prices. With some of the low-end ink-jet printers, once you buy more than one or two OEM ink cartridges, you've spent more on cartridges than you did on the printer. And over the printer's lifetime, looking at the OEM costs for some of these ink-jet cartridges, you're going to spend on ink several times what you spent on the printer. Think about what the automobile market would be like if you had to buy your oil, gasoline, tires, and every other consumable or replacement component for your car from the company that made your car. That's what the printer manufacturers want.


    Several companies tried, back when the high-resolution ink-jet printers were first coming out, to achieve that kind of control over the other fungible supply for printers -- paper. They brought out special ink-jet paper 'specially designed for high-resolution printing' and ran ad campaigns suggesting that you would be producing sub-standard printouts if you used non-OEM paper. That lasted until the big paper manufacturers ramped up to produce the same products, and unlike ink cartridges, there was no way for the printer manufacturers to put in mechanisms to force consumers to use OEM paper.


    Printer manufacturers have also claimed that using non-OEM inks would damage their printers, and that using non-OEM inks would void the warranty. However, the manufacturers were required to stop this tactic; under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act and general principles of the Federal Trade Commission Act, a manufacturer may not require the use of any brand of ink (or any other article) unless the manufacturer provides the item free of charge under the terms of the warranty. This hasn't prevented salesdroids and tech-support people from claiming that, but they'll fold if you press them.


    It may be an ongoing back-and-forth struggle, but market forces are going to continue to pry fungible supplies sales away from printer manufacturers.

  • HP depends on this (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lumpish Scholar ( 17107 ) on Monday May 06, 2002 @02:45PM (#3472027) Homepage Journal
    I remember reading someone who went over HP's books, and concluded the printer consumables business was basically propping up the rest of the company.
  • The situation in regards the high cost of replacement inkjet cartridges reminds me a lot of the famous case where the US government said that IBM could not force users of punch card readers to use ONLY punch cards manufactured by IBM. I think what will end up happening is that the Feds may end up forcing every printer manufacturer to sell off their inkjet cartridge/laser printer toner cartridge manufacturing operations to 3-4 third parties so you do have competition in terms of pricing for printer consumables.

    It's a good thing my printer is an Epson Stylus COLOR 860--the last of the Epson models to NOT use the ink cartridge with the computer chip. That way, I can get a replacment ink cartridge set (B&W and color) for US$14. :-)
    • The situation in regards the high cost of replacement inkjet cartridges reminds me a lot of the famous case where the US government said that IBM could not force users of punch card readers to use ONLY punch cards manufactured by IBM.

      I'll drink to that. The printer manufacturers are essentially trying to lock people, by both technological (like smartchips and whatnot) and legislative (?!?) means into using just their ink.

      I can see only one possible reason to even try to lock consumers into using one and only one source for their ink -- because each manufacturer uses a different configuration of ink paths and print nozzles in their cartridges, and a sufficiently wrong third party formulation of ink might leak out, print funny, etc.

      But then it gets back to the question of why the printer manufacturers would object if the printer got busted and leaked all over everything, since it's the customer's fault for "tampering" with the standard operation of the printer.

      More likely they don't want the consumer thinking "Ho hum, this printer's broken, might as well go out and by another underpriced printer."

  • My wife has an Epson Color 440 and she insists on refilling using Pellican refills. The printer works like crap. I suspect the ink refills suck ass.

    Does anybody recommend a better brand?

    I keep telling her to throw away the printer, but that's not right in her opinion.
  • by BlindSpot ( 512363 ) on Monday May 06, 2002 @02:49PM (#3472057)
    You can do refills pretty easily with some printers.

    I've been refilling my Canon BJC-4000 for over 3 years now. It's not a process for the faint of heart (or those that hate to get dirty!), but it can be done.

    I use the big BC-21 black ink tanks which have a plug in the top that you can get out fairly easily. Then I just inject the ink into the sponge inside with a syringe. A bit of cleanup, put the plug back in, and it's done. It takes less than 10 minutes.

    Not only that, the ink from the supplier I found is, IMO, much better than Canon's. It's darker and seems to print a bit clearer.

    I bought a big (500mL) bottle of ink for $99CDN and by the time I'm done with it I'll have got close to 50 refills out of it. A cartridge costs $40CDN. Do the math!

    Well, actually I can only get about 3-5 refills out of a cartridge before the print head gets too clogged, at which point I still have to buy a new cartridge. But that's a lot better than buying a new one every single time!

    I simply couldn't afford to own a printer without refills. It's something I intend to look into carefully when I buy my next printer. If a manufacturer goes out of the way to make refilling difficult, then I'll go out of my way to avoid buying their product.
  • Before I got a job as a Beowulf admin, I used to work at a company [nukote.com] that refills and remanufactures printer cartridges. It is absolutely amazing the profit levels that HP, Canon, et. al. must make. We resell the cartridge for a fraction of the amount as the OEM's and make a handsome profit.



    Think about it: you're spending $40 for a tiny package of carbon black. The printing industry has been taking notes from De Beers on how to extort money from carbon.


  • Apple Stylewriter (Score:3, Informative)

    by Deanasc ( 201050 ) on Monday May 06, 2002 @02:52PM (#3472080) Homepage Journal
    I tried the drill into the top and refill it yourself once. The image quality dropped to that of an Imagewriter. What's worse is even after buying a new cartridge the printer was never quite the same. I ended up buying another printer. I'll never buy refills or recycled again.
  • Insane (Score:2, Interesting)

    by CPIMatt ( 206195 )
    I own a TI Microlaser Pro and it is insane the protections they have built into the the thing. In this particular printer there is an imaging cartridge as well as toner. You are supposed to replace the imaging piece every 10,000 prints, but those things still look good at 30,000 prints and up. But they have a little fuze in them that will get tripped when the print count gets that high. Plus there is an internal counter on the toner and the imager that if not reset properly will turn off the printer. Luckily the TI division was bought out by HP and they don't make that printer anymore and so they have released the secret reset codes for the TI. But it was a pain in the ass to get the thing reset the counters and allow me to continue printing.

    -Matt
  • by dmanny ( 573844 )
    I investigated these types of issues with Lexmark and Epson.

    I have an assortment of Epson printers. It appears that their evolution on this front has been:

    • No control, users can fill or use dead carts to their own dismay
    • Partial control. No chip on cart but tracking in printer and/or driver
    • Chip on cart. Only updated on major cycles (power up/power down, cart change, etc.) Users can fool by changing cart from full to refilled by other than designed means to leave full values in refilled cart.
    • Chip on cart updated frequently. I don't actually have one of these but it seems clear that they are trying to stiffle refilling

    As I say, I don't have one of the latest types and I never will buy one.

    Cannon has some printers that actually use a detector of ink prescence. I haven't tried it but in theory adding ink would suffice. If I were buying again, I would give them a try.

    Lexmark does (did not) publish yield numbers. When I corresponded with them, they still did not provide info but offered to do so on a per model basis.

    All of this digging was targeted at the dream of decent home photo printing. In the end I find that the online photo services are superior. Most of the prints that are done in color would be just fine in B/W anyway.

    The only thing that this attitude from the inkjet vendors has done is increase my appreciation for my LED printers and renew my commitment to keeping them operational.

  • 2 years ago, I bought a digital camera. I won't mention the brand - it was a junky $100 job from Best Buy. It used its own proprietary batteries, which costed about $10 a piece. With the price of batteries alone, I was spending about $10/hr to use my camera.

    So I dumped the camera for another one, spending $400 this time (got a much better camera), and also found one that took AA batteries. Alkaline batteries drain a little faster - but they are so much cheaper because they are massed produced - now I pay about $2/hr to use my camera - still too expensive, but better than before.

    So apply this to printers - if someone developed a 'universal' print cartridge that would work in multiple printers, the cost of production would drop, and likewise the consumer's cost would also drop.

    The big question is, who would be the first printer company to turn down their profits from ink-cartridge sales and develop the universal cartridge?
    • Firstly, go buy some rechargable AA batteries. Your cost to run your camera will drop considerably.

      Secondly, the dimensions of the different print cartridges WITHIN a manufacturer's line are very different, let alone crossing manufacturers. As long as this is the case there will never be a universal cartridge.

  • I have two printers, a Laser and an Inkjet. Lasers have a great economics with cost per page. Office depot brand toner cartriges are $58 a piece for my HP laserjet 4L. The inkjet is much more expensive per page, but I have found the my local Costco has inkjet cartridges @ $30 for a 2 pack. I really don't like the idea of buying a cheap printer to throw out, seems like an awful disrespect to the environment. If really want to go on the cheap, find yourself a used laserjet. A local shop near me, has plenty of laserjet 3,4,and 5 series printer at around $100, including toner. I have had mine since 1995 without any problems, doesn't get more cost effective than that. Too bad HP and Compaq are merging, HP was once a great company that made great products.
  • by Mignon ( 34109 ) <satan@programmer.net> on Monday May 06, 2002 @03:03PM (#3472168)
    I see several mentions of Epson (and other) printers having special chips on their ink cartridges. I have an Epson 777 ink jet. It is pretty cheap (~$80US), but Epson ink replacements (~$45 a pair) are about half the cost of the whole printer.

    So I got an "Epson chip resetting kit" and generic ink cartridges. It's pretty easy to use - you take out the old ink cartridge, pop out the chip with a little plastic tool that comes with the resetter, insert the chip in the resetter. Wait a couple of seconds for an LED to change color, then insert the chip in the new cartridge. Then install the new cartridge as Epson's instructions direct.

    The chip resetter wasn't cheap - $36, but the ink was - $7 and $9 for B/W and color, respectively. I figure the total fixed cost of $116 for printer and resetter is still reasonable, and $16 for a pair of cartridges is much more reasonable. Also, I got my mother an identical printer, so I can just reuse the resetter since I am her official administrator.

    Then again, if I were printing a lot, I'd get a refurbed laser printer. Their per-page cost is way lower than inkjet.

  • There are continuous refill systems [inksupply.com] that store ink in large printer-external reservoires.

  • I for one am glad that the printers are cheap and the ink is expensive. I hardly ever print anything. I've had this $80 Epson printer for a couple of years now and it's still on the cartridge it came with. If the people doing the actual printing weren't paying for the lions share of the overhead and profit, then myself and many other light users wouldn't be able to afford to have a printer at all.

    burris
  • I seem to recall that the warranty for HP Laserjet II's prohibited the use of refilled cartridges. I briefly worked as a sysadmin at a company that had a fleet of these machines. Needless to say, we used the refilled cartridges anyway.
  • I wonder why these ink jet cartridges are so expensive. Maybe it's all the work they put into enforcing their market share...

    "One method employed by the printer giants is a so-called "killer" computer chip installed on ink cartridges that makes it tough for the cartridges to be refilled. Some chips warn refill users that the cartridge is "invalid." Sometimes they even disable the printer."

  • I bought an Epson Color Stylus 670 (The bastard child of the 740) a year or so back. Nice printer, great printouts. Until I ran out of ink less than a month later. I ended up spending over $60 on the two ink cartridges. After those ran out another month or two later, I unhooked it and put it in the closet. I've been using an ancient Apple LaserWriter II since. Sure, it's a bit slower (serial connection), but the printouts look just as good or better, and I've never had to replace the toner.

    Inkjets, I say bah!
  • The printer industry has been doing this for years, always trying new things to block "ink piracy" :) HP's new printer (well, new a year ago) can be set up to automatically print the daily headlines for you. Gosh, more ink usage :)

    Incidentally, my Epson printer is a bitch to refill. What Epson did was put a piece of ink-saturated foam in the container. When you try to refill, it doesn't resaturate, which means bubbles get into your heads (ruining the head). I solved the problem by simply stopping printing things, or using the school or work printers when I absolutely had to print something.

    So, this practice is nothing new. I suggest boycotting products that don't serve your needs, and make sure that the people holding the purse strings take the *overall* cost of the purchase into account when deciding what to buy.

    Travis
  • Which printers DON'T use these tactics?

    (i.e. which could I buy with a clean conscience?)
  • Another Reason... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jhaberman ( 246905 ) on Monday May 06, 2002 @03:43PM (#3472476)
    Another reason for the chip to count/disable/whatever is to thwart those companies who take empty carts, refill them them selves then sell them as "Oringinal" carts for full price. We have seen a lot of that here. People order their ink carts online, paying a slightly reduced price. Turns out, they were buying refilled carts and had no idea.

    They prey on the people who don't want to refill their carts, and think they're getting a good deal.

    Jason
  • This might not be true but a few people have said that they've noticed an interesting quirk with their HP printers.

    They've said that they bought generic brand photo paper for their printers and selected 'other photo paper' in the HP drivers.. and the prints came out fine.

    They then decided to select 'HP Photo Paper' in the drivers, and the prints came out far better!

    Could this be similar behavior to that mentioned in the story?
  • once they figure out how to force you legally to use their ink... printer prices will skyrocket too.

    Is it just me.. or did it used to be the other way. They would come out with a new model of printer every year and redesign the ink cartridge... the effect being the old ink cartridges would get more and more expensive and harder to find.. forcing you to buy a new printer.

  • I hated the expensive ink cartridges, too. So I spent $425 on an HP 3200 fax/scanner/laser printer. I've still got my old Epson Stylus Color (no, no model number, it's that old a model) for those times that I need color. Come to think of it, I spent more on that color inkjet than I spent on the laser. I'll bet I spent more on ink than I spent on the laser printer. Toner? My work printer was screaming at me for a couple of months for new toner. I'll replace it when it runs out, not when it tells me to buy more.

  • .... money right out of the support budget.

    I have a number of friends who work printer support, and those cheapass "refill" kits are mostly a scam. Number of problems: the jet heads clog if they go dry. The jet heads clog if you get case fragments into them. The refill kits don't always seal properly and leak ink.

    Why does this impact the printer company? Because the same cheapskate who won't buy another cartridge then sees the shitty print quality, and calls them demanding a new cartridge... Quite often, if under warantee, they end up getting one. Good luck proving someone refilled theirs.

    For me, it's a non-issue. The only printers I use take toner by the gallon. Crappy streaky inkjets are worth exactly what you pay for them. (Nothing after a rebate, usually) And it's nothing but an idiot tax. Buy a more expensive printer, pay less per page down the road. Gee, buy a better car, pay less in gas milage later too. I don't see people forcing those gas-guzzling SUVs off the road anytime soon.

    BTW: The printer is nothing but a paper-dispenser and a power supply. Most of the expensive bits are in the cartridge. They're not dumping, and they're not charging you $50 for 2 oz of ink.

    --Dan

  • by petard ( 117521 ) on Monday May 06, 2002 @04:02PM (#3472658) Homepage

    It's been more than 5 years now, but I used to work repairing printers, and the refills (for both inkjet and laser printers) were bad news. Part of this can be chalked up to poor printer design. Most printers on the market today have the "print head" and the ink tank bundeled into one package, or in the case of laser printers, the imaging drum and the toner bundled into one package. Refills work on the principle that the print head/imaging drum is more durable than the resevoir, so in theory you should be able to replace one without the other.

    This is true, on a well-designed printer where the two parts are separate assemblies. (Some canon printers operate this way; a replacement ink tank is only a few dollars while a whole cartridge is ~$30 - 50 US.) The problem is that refills, at least in those days, were difficult to perform correctly. I believe that it is even harder today, as cartridges are more complex while the refill technology doesn't appear to have improved. We used to see a large number of printers come into our shop damaged by improperly performed refills. Of course, in those days this was worse news, as a new inkjet was typically around $300 US and a new cartridge was around $30 US. This is true of a good printer today as well.

    In short, if you have a good printer, the refills are not worth it. You most likely will wind up damaging the printer, and of course the warranty does not cover damage from non-approved cartridges/refills. If it's a really cheap printer, the risk/reward scenario is quite different. The cartridges do not last as long on the cheapies, and represent a higher proportion of the cost of the printer. I prefer a nice printer and a lower cost per page, though. If this is your situation, the refills are almost certainly a false economy.

    • and of course the warranty does not cover damage from non-approved cartridges/refills

      This is only enforceable if the manufacturer supplies the ink for free (except in the unlikely event the service provider can prove the third party ink caused the damage (i.e. using refills ipso facto isn't considered to have caused the printer to fail). See the Magnasun-Moss Warranty Act [mlmlaw.com], a law written to prevent these kind of abuses (at the time by automobile dealers).

      Of course, this would require someone to bitch really loud and/or take a printer manufacturer to court, which would be a big hassle. My plan would be to sue the warranty service provider that refused on those grounds in small claims.

  • by UserChrisCanter4 ( 464072 ) on Tuesday May 07, 2002 @12:16AM (#3475462)
    I work retail, so I hear people complaining all the damned time about the cost of ink refills. Here's an easy way to figure it out: The cheaper the printer, the more expensive the cartridge. Simple as that.

    Go buy a cheapie Lexmark z23 and marvel at the ~$33 cost for the black ink. Now buy an HP 900-series, and notice how the price drops to ~$30. Now buy their D135 all-in-one unit and (HOLY SHIT!) the price for the black is $22. Is anyone else surprised, because I'm not.

    Is it an honest way to do business? That depends on your perspective. I always try to show a customer the fact that the $20 they're saving here is going right out the window when they replace the ink for the first time.

    I have a laser that I use for 95% of my printing. You can snag a good quality home-oriented laser in the $250 range if you shop it. I have a couple of old color units that I use if I NEED color. I might pick up one of the photo-type units if for some reason the SO decided she wanted more of the digital pics printed out. Under no circumstances would I ever try to print the volume of papers that I routinely print (I'm an english major... typical Sunday evening has about 50 pages worth of printing in its future) on an inket. You wouldn't try to run a DNS on a Win95 box, and you wouldn't try to go off-road in your Cavalier, so why do so many people insist on using an el-cheapo inkjet for a job that a laser is so much better suited (and cheaper) for.

    So are we complaining when the free cell phone requires a two-year contract? Two cliches come to mind: "Pay me now or pay me later", and "you get what you pay for".

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