Printers: The bane of our computing lives?


In most cases emerging technology has been a boon to our computing lives. From enhancements in communications and accessibility afforded by miniaturization and portability to the benefits of improved speeds and data storage capabilities presented by newer protocols and advancements in hardware. Everything, it appears, is getting smaller, faster, better – with one notable exception – the humble inkjet printer.

It seems to me that printer manufactures have used the newer technology more for their own benefit and to our, the consumers, detriment. How infuriating is it when you want to print out a text only page in black and white and the printer will not oblige because one of the color cartridges is low on ink? Helloo, we don’t need color, we only need black! And can someone please explain to me why, in many cases, a set of replacement ink cartridges costs more (or darn near as much as) the original purchase price of the entire printer?

I can attest, from personal experience (make that frustration), that Canon is one of the worst offenders. Some years back I paid through the nose for a top of the range Canon Pixma MP800 because it included the then rare ability to scan and save from 35mm slides and film. I had a bunch of old family slides around that I desperately wanted to transfer to digital format before they became too old and marked to be of any use. That machine included so many built-in impediments it was nigh on intolerable. Not only would it not print anything at all if even one ink cartridge was low, it would not accept any re-filled cartridges – the built-in Canon software identified the refilled cartridge and refused to operate. And that thing was a pure ink guzzler, I admit I was doing a fair bit of printing in those days but a trip into town every 3 or 4 months would invariably lighten my wallet by around $130.00 for a full set of ink cartridges – that totes up to around $400 to $500 per year!

The straw that broke the camel’s back came when the printer finally refused to recognize even new genuine Canon cartridges. Canon were always perfectly willing to exchange the cartridges but it was not they who were constantly running backwards and forwards into town to make the exchange – and with no guarantees that the replacement cartridges were going to fair any better. That printer is now sitting unused on a bench in my garage, it still works when it feels like it but I simply could no longer afford to feed the beast.

I flirted with HP after that, very good hardware but their software is absolutely abominable – insidious and intrusive, it played havoc with my system. All started out well but after a couple of days the printer just would not work properly. I uninstalled the software (at least I thought I did) and attempted to re-install but it kept telling me it was already installed so no go. I then used a search utility to hunt down the possible culprit, I was simply amazed at the numbers of entries leftover from the supposed uninstall, if I remember rightly totaling somewhere around 670.


No doubt HP make fine printers and provided they continue working okay will do a good job, but look out if for any reason the software misfires, it’s an absolute nightmare. I ended up returning the HP printer and swapping it for a similarly priced Epson.

I am still using an Epson all-in-one today and am much happier with that brand. The built-in software allows for situations where one or two cartridges are low on ink and automatically compensates, allowing you to keep on printing. The Epson replacement cartridges are cheaper than most (certainly cheaper than Canon’s) and seem to last longer too, although some of that may be down to a reduced workload. The software is minimal yet fully functional and trouble free, and I have not experienced any problems with the machine recognizing genuine cartridges – which brings us to a separate yet connected question – should we use refilled cartridges or stick with genuine?

I guess it all comes down to affordability – let’s face it, the only reason we even contemplate refilling cartridges is because of the ongoing costs and to save money. I openly admit I used to be squarely in the refill camp, I’m not a miser by any means and can afford the extra dollars but why waste good money. Then something happened which completely changed my outlook. I noticed that many of my archived printouts, around 6 months to 12 months old, had faded badly. Color and black and white documents on plain A4 paper were so faded they were almost illegible. Photos printed out on glossy photo paper were faded and/or discolored beyond belief. At that time I was acquainted with someone heavily involved in the printing industry, so I sought his opinion. He strongly advised on sticking with the genuine article, saying that the ink available from refill centers was not the same high quality as that which comes with genuine cartridges. I deferred to his superior knowledge – after all, the evidence was right there before my very eyes – and have used genuine ink cartridges ever since.

In closing I will offer this advice: if you are contemplating purchasing a new printer, regardless of brand or pricing, make sure you check the cost of replacement cartridges before making any final decision.

We would love to hear your printer stories, brand preferences, and whether or not you refill cartridges or stick with genuine.


About the Author

Jim Hillier

Jim is the resident freeware aficionado at DCT. A computer veteran with 30+ years experience who first started writing about computers and tech back in the days when freeware was actually free. His first computer was a TRS-80 in the 1980s, he progressed through the Commodore series of computers before moving to PCs in the 1990s. Now retired (aka an old geezer), Jim retains his passion for all things tech and still enjoys building and repairing computers for a select clientele... as well as writing for DCT, of course.

26 Comments

  1. Funny you should write this article just now Jim. As far as the cost of a new printer nearly the same as a new one, I have that exact situation right now.
    I have an HP Color LaserJet (one black and three color toner cartridges). The three color cartridges where showing low so I started the search for cost of new cartridges. After checking several places online I found I could buy a newer model of the same printer for only $25.00(US) more than the toner would cost and it comes with new cartridges already installed. So guess which one I chose? As far as refill cartridges, I have always been of the mind that brand name is the better choice. Anyway that’s my two cents worth.

    • Yep, I’m hearing you Gene. Maybe there is a method in the madness – seems like the manufacturers are pricing ink replacement so high that printers become a disposal commodity.

      Nice to hear from you mate,
      Cheers… Jim

    • I totally agree. In every other aspect of our lives we are being urged to recycle, repair rather than replace and generally ‘be green’. So how do these people get away with this ‘highway robbery’?
      I had cartridges ‘timing out’ on a HP 5180. I visited a printer fixit site and found out how to temporarily disconnect an internal battery which reset the times. The printer got its revenge by dying mid print some six months later. I now use an Epsom and find the bundled software useful.

        • LOL JST. Whenever I write about ‘Epson’ I have to concentrate on typing an ‘n’ on the end and not an ‘m’. I come from England originally and the ‘m’ is like an automatic reflex.

      • Just in case you think I’m totally ant-HP, I do have a (mono) HP LaserJet 1018. I bought it to use mainly for printing off web pages as it is much cheaper than inkjet juice.

        I bought it several years ago from Staples for less than £50. At the time, a replacement cartridge was less than £30. Now the cheapest HP replacement is over £50. I am using a refilled one which cos around £20 when I bought it a couple of years ago.

        I have noticed that the Manufacturers price cartridges cheaply when they bring out a new printer, only almost double the price when the printer is replaced by a new one. Extortion or what?

  2. Ink Jet printing today is primitive (imo), especially using colour, unless you’re printing pictures, then you’ll certainly purchase a more expensive unit, use photo paper, and so on. Colour was a nice touch several years ago, when everyone wanted to escape the blah of black on white. But, with black, you can still have over 200 shades of Gray (believe 256).

    All Ink Jet printers come with a smaller cartridge, since it’s the ink that cost more than the most expensive perfume. Laser printers have their cartridges only partially filled, so you’ll be forced to think along the same lines as with Ink Jet. This is FALSE. Having your Laser cartridges refilled is cheaper than buying a new one, and you’ll get no difference looking results.

    Cost wise, Ink Jet printers are still cheaper, if you don’t include the ink cost. Colour Laser cartridges are much more expensive, but also last a lot longer.

    I’m currently using my initial black laser cartridge, and have printed over 750 sheets with great results. Still have an itch for colour every now and then, but it passes quickly, Mindblower!

  3. Printers are such fun stuff

    Buying a new printer because the price is the same / close to can be a mistake. Many printers ship with half size cartridges.

    My current printer is a HP Laserjet. I got it for free. A company “upgraded” to a newer version even thought there was nothing wrong with it. Too bad they didn’t make use of the duplexing feature in both the old and new machines. It is such a simple setting, but almost every company I’ve worked for doesn’t bother turning it on by default.

    I recently saw this little gem:

    http://www.danggoodjokes.com/gas-ink/

    The price of Gas versus Printer Ink

    All these examples do not imply that gasoline is cheap; it just illustrates how outrageous some prices are…

    Lipton Ice Tea 16 oz $1.19 $9.52 per gallon
    Ocean Spray 16 oz $1.25 $10.00 per gallon
    Gatorade 20 oz $1.59 $10.17 per gallon
    Diet Snapple 16 oz $1.29 $10.32 per gallon
    Evian water 9 oz $1.49 $21.19 per gallon!
    Whiteout 7 oz $1.39… $25.42 per gallon
    Brake Fluid 12 oz $3.15 $33.60 per gallon
    Scope 1.5 oz $0.99… $84.48 per gallon
    Pepto Bismol 4 oz $3.85 $123.20 per gallon
    Vick’s Nyquil 6 oz $8.35 $178.13 per gallon

    Ever wonder why printers are so cheap? .So they have you hooked for the ink. Someone calculated the cost of the ink at… (you won’t believe it….but it is true……..)

    $5,200 a gal. (five thousand two hundred dollars)

    So, the next time you’re at the pump, be glad your car doesn’t run on water, Scope, or Whiteout, Pepto Bismol, Nyquil or God forbid, Printer Ink!

    • I read somewhere that (Pedigree) bull semen is the most expensive fluid on earth. ‘Course it could be a load of bull****? Boom boom!

  4. I hear ya loud & clear… A few years back I had purchased a high-end (for the time) package which included an HP scanner and Inkjet 5550 printer. Running XP at the time and only a seemingly short time later, but after the 1 yr. warranty, the scanner kacked-out (rarely used at that & replaced with CanoScan 5600F). Have been very happy with the quality of the printer while trying out various name brands of Photo paper, OEM ink only, and it has been well used to date. XP finally decided to go on hiatus and so with my back to the wall I begrudgingly upgraded to Win7 64 bit (BTW I wish I had taken the plunge much sooner as I find the OS much more stable). Microsoft updated the driver on boot-up & it seemed everything was fine. One day I noticed the amber ink indicator blinking but could not understand why the software “Toolbox” no longer would pop-up to show ink levels. Great feature which gave me a bit of time to “drive into town” and re-stock. Google search… bla-bla-bla & the official bottom line is that HP does not offer a Win7 driver for my “outdated hardware” and they suggest I upgrade to the “latest Model” to enjoy all the fine benefits I can gain if I toss this quality unit in the garbage and buy the latest and greatest all-in-one Printer-Scanner-Fax model. Planned obsolescence?

      • Hey, I guess that if they don’t get you coming, they get you going. Now if I had a spare million dollars… (p.s. Great Newsletter & if I lived on the other side of the world in the wonderful land of ‘OZ, I’d be more than happy to buy you a couple’a pints or maybe a Whiskey or two. Keep Smilin’… Gus)

    • Hi Gusieppe,

      Does HP have a ‘Vista’ driver for your machine?

      When Win 7 first came out, I used Vista drivers till HP got round to writing Win 7 ones. (Suspect the Win 7 ones were renamed Vista ones!)

      • Hi jayesstee, Thanks for the tip. I’ll check it out. You never know… Gus

  5. In case of Desktops, the parts can be purchased and assembled according to user likes If such thing is possible in case of printers, the price of Ink-cartridges will become cheap.

    • Why print pictures (and spend a fortune on ink)? We’re living the digital age, where colour screens run the from the tiny to the extra large. Being able to beam pictures all over the world, and see them on screens, save ’em on all sort of storage devices, truly makes you wonder why people still enjoy printing pictures, Mindblower!

    • Re: Richard, ” Gusieppe. Try VueScan to see whether they have a driver to suit your need. ” Thanks for the info. I’ve bookmarked the site if I have any issues with the Cannon scanner. The old HP has been filed under “G”… Now if I could only find something similar for the HP printer. 😉

  6. I fully appreciate the angst towards printers. In my professional experience my worst nightmares have been supporting printers especially (this one is for the old folks out there!) a daisy wheel printer with an electro-mechanical sheet feeder.Dot-matrix printers with sheet feeders were just as terrible. As the paper was being fed the feeder slipped 1 or 2 lines so pushing subsequent pages out of alignment. Try telling an outraged customer how to resolve this problem!!

    Jim, I have sad news for you – you will have problems with your beloved Epson. I have a perfectly good Epson multi-function printer which works beautifully – except that it won’t print any more. Why? Because after 2 years of very moderate use the print heads deteriorated overnight and then stopped working altogether. Despite recycling and cleaning the print heads several times, installing new cartridges,cleaning the cartridge mechanism there was no change. Like any good customer I rang Epson support. They tried to help but all they could offer was to go through the recycle process about 10 times. When I told them I had already done this, their next piece. of advice was to junk my £100 printer and buy a new one as the cost of replacing the head is outweighed by buying a new printer. I was also advised that the reason for my problems was previous use of compatible cartridges where the ink is thicker so clogging the heads. I now have a wonderful door stop!

    I’m sure that Epson is not the only culprit and I agree that the cost of cartridges is outrageous.

    Good luck with your purchase – I am looking to replace my Epson with a new model Canon or an HP

  7. Perhaps we’re all being seduced by the compatibility issue. I have a Canon MG6150 all-in-one (bought to match my Canon 450D SLR) and in line with most other readers, I’m finding the cost of ink to be a darned sight more than I’d hoped. It does at least let me replace on at a time… I had some bad experiences with refilled cafrtridges some years ago, so I’ve taken the middle course with my latest set of cartridges and bought a set of ‘remanufactured’ ones from a photo supply house I’ve used for many years, at about two thirds of the price of the originals. I’ll be watching the print quality closely.

    However, my mono printer is an OKIdata LED page printer – a poor man’s laser, if you like, and the cost of toner is minimal per page. I’m seriously considering a colour laser of one of the less common brands as my next upgrade. I’ve used OKI, Brother, and Konica-Minolta machines both at home and in various jobs and have found them all to be extremely competitive in terms of toner or ink consumption, and in many cases the cost of cartridges is a lot less than the big name brands. Perhaps more of us should look at them.

    Incidentally, I have the opposite problem that you and your correspondent had with Epson and Epsom. I’m in the UK, and I drive a delivery truck; I deliver to a customer in Epsom, not far from the racecourse – but my route sheet insists I’m going to Epson…

    • I deliver to a customer in Epsom, not far from the racecourse – but my route sheet insists I’m going to Epson…

      LOL. Perhaps there is an Epson workshop nearby.

      Love the username by the way – very original.

  8. The username is simple – I was living in New Hampshire when I coined it, and it was quirky enough to find me a wife in a chatroom…

  9. I have an HP Photosmart, and while it’s great at printing, copying and scanning, I’ve got to agree that the software is incredibly horrifying. It’s also a wireless printer but for some reason just refuses to connect after one go, so I have to set everything up every time I want to print! That could be my problem, though…I’m terrible with technology. I also have to replace the cartridges on a regular basis which is quite remarkable considering I don’t use the printer that much 😛 haha. Your advice on checking how much the replacement cartridges are is spot on. I think laser printers are the way forward if you want a more economical print.