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We all know this scenario: you buy a printer for a huge discount. A few weeks later, it refuses to print. There’s still ink in the cartridge, but apparently not enough. So you go back to the store or hop online and are confronted with ink cartridge costs that are sometimes more expensive than the cost of the printer.

Printer ink is reputably more expensive than oil. More valuable than blood. The most prized liquid on this planet.

Is Printer Ink a Scam?

It’s easy to believe that the printer ink industry has you under a barrel. They’re all in it together: HP, Lexmark, Dell and the rest. Give you a printer for next to nothing and then gouge you on the ink.

What’s worse is each tiny cartridge only works for one printer. Want to grab some ink on a quick trip to Staples? You had better know the name, year, make and model of your printer before you hit the ink aisle. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come home with the wrong kind of ink – and, of course, once you’ve torn off the packaging and tried to shove the cartridge into your printer, you can’t take it back for a refund.

What Is Printer Ink, Anyway?

So what is this stuff and why is it so expensive? Isn’t it the same kind of ink that factories pour into Bic pens for less than 10 cents a pop?

Not exactly.

Think of how far printers have come since your first dot matrix (which, by the way, never ran out of ink). Now the average home laser printer deals in four colors and prints everything from resumes to photos, on plain, rag, bond or glossy paper. Some home office printers even print on fabric.

All of these features come at a cost. Printer ink has to withstand temperatures as high as 300 degrees Fahrenheit, shoot out of a tiny nozzle and hit a precise point on the page, and dry instantly. That laser printer gathering dust in your basement? It has a laser beam. You are literally printing with lasers.

How Do You Avoid Getting Soaked on Printer Ink?

First of all, know that the ink companies aren’t out to get you. HP Laserjet Toner and its competitors are expensive, but they’re worth it. The average printer is a document center, a photo printer and a t-shirt shop all rolled into one. When you spend money on printer ink, think of it as saving a trip to a specialized print shop.

With that in mind, we’ve run tips on how to save money on printer ink in the past, and here are some of the highlights:

  • Set your print settings to Draft. This uses less ink but the difference in quality is nearly undetectable.
  • Print Preview every document and photo before printing. Make sure everything is right the first time.
  • Print something every week. Surprised? Turns out if you don’t run your printer regularly, the ink dries up.
  • Go paperless as much as possible. Invoices, directions and even photos all store better on your phone or in the cloud than on a stack of paper.

Now we want to hear from you. Do you have any tips on how to save money on printer ink? Any horror stories about printers that just refused to print? Let us know in the comments.