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The dark side: How printer manufacturers get you to buy expensive ink

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 3 2012 1:09 p.m. MDT

This photo taken Nov.1, 2011, shows ink cartridges for Kodak printers in Little Rock, Ark., Best Buy store.

Danny Johnston, Associated Press

Ellen Roseman's "On Your Side" blog points out "It's often cheaper to replace a printer than to replace a cartridge."

But, as she wrote about on Moneyville, printer manufacturers came up with a strategy to keep customers from buying new printers to avoid paying more on the cartridges. The printers are sold ink cartridges that are half-full. The so-called "starter cartridges" send customers to buy new ink quicker.

It depends, however, on the manufacturer. HP used to use starter cartridges with their printers, but says it doesn't now. Brother Printers use starter cartridges with less ink.

Roseman says: "So, when buying a printer, ask the sales staff about the initial cartridge. Check the packaging as well. With an online purchase, seek an answer before you click to proceed. Your goal is to ensure you have a full supply of ink at the beginning, knowing that cartridges often cost more than the printer itself. Try to delay the day of reckoning for as long as you can."

Kodak, working its way through a bankruptcy, just announced Sept. 28 that it would quit making inkjet printers. Instead, the Democrat and Chronicle reports, Kodak will "focus on churning out ink for the millions of printers it already has sold. That abrupt about-face comes after Kodak has spent nearly a decade and many hundreds of millions of dollars to create the printers, which it started selling in 2007. Now the printers will join other Kodak operations, such as retail store photo kiosks and document scanners, that within the past few weeks quickly went from being part of the company's future to a once-was."

An Infographic by ClinkInks.com put the cost of an ink cartridge in perspective:

Milk costs $3.39 a gallon

Unleaded gasoline (at the time) costs $3.48 a gallon

Beer costs $19.92 a gallon

Tide laundry detergent costs $26.60 a gallon

Black printer ink costs $3,330.14 a gallon

In the past, people could claim their laser printers were a better buy — with cheaper toner instead of ink cartridges. PCWorld reports, however, those days may be ending: "I discovered that the costs per page for models from Dell, HP, and Lexmark had bumped up in small increments of between 2.2 percent and 5.8 percent in the time since we reviewed them. Meanwhile, models from Brother, Samsung, and Xerox that PCWorld had reviewed showed cost-per-page hikes of anywhere from 5.5 percent to a whopping 28 percent. Considering that the cumulative rate of inflation from 2009 to 2012 is just 7 percent, the sharply higher costs imposed by some vendors appear particularly egregious."

One commenter on the PC World article even has a familiar-sounding claim: "I find it is cheaper to buy a new cheap laser printer than buy toner now a days."

John C. Dvorak at PC Magazine talks about how ink cartridges even have chips in them so the printer can tell if an "unauthorized" non-brand cartridge has been placed in the printer.

Dvorak says he has been using and testing clone cartridges for years with few problems. He says he notice that sometimes a clone Epson cartridge has been recognized as a genuine Epson cartridge.

"How could it be Epson?" Dvorak wonders conspiratorially. "Well, the little chip can be programmed to trick the printer, I suppose. The question on my mind is whether it is possible that the major clone ink maker for Epson printers actually is Epson. This would, of course, have to remain a dark secret because who needs that aggravation?"

Dvorak also doesn't buy the complaints about clone ink cartridges on the Internet: "I am convinced that many of the rumors about head-clogging attributed to clone ink are planted in the forums to confuse people trying to do research on the Internet. You simply cannot find an honest forum. And when you consider the fact that the big print shops buy special feeding mechanisms that feed huge bottles of bulk clone ink into their printers, you have to wonder how much accurate information we can even find about this. These 'professionals' have zero problem using this stuff by the gallons."

Many of the comments on his article complained about clogged clone ink cartridges.

EMAIL: mdegroote@desnews.com

TWITTER: @degroote

FACEBOOK: facebook.com/madegroote

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