Why is Ink So Expensive?


One of the biggest frustrations faced by anybody who owns a printer is the high cost of most inks. There are cheap alternatives, to be sure. But buyer beware. Printer ink is not expensive just because it can be.

There is a tremendous amount of technology in ink. It’s more than just a colored liquid. Most inks contain more than a dozen different ingredients. Typically, it takes three to five years to develop one new ink formulation. Developing one that works in hundreds of different kinds of printers, on hundreds of different kinds of media, is no easy feat.

Even before it hits the paper, the ink must be designed to meet a number of challenges. Ink must remain stable and consistent within the cartridge for two years or more. It must endure the heat and pressure of being shot through a microscopic hole in the print head after being immediately heated to 300 degrees. The ink must then hit the paper and not bounce, dry instantly and (hopefully) not fade for decades.

Ink manufacturers spend a lot of time to formulate the right blend of pigments, dyes and stabilizers. All of that research and development, of course, costs a lot of money.

Measuring the Value
We’ve all seen the comparisons of the price of an ounce of ink to the price of an ounce of perfume, or silver. But printer ink is not used the same ways as perfume or silver. As a commodity, the price of ink needs to be considered in terms of its usefulness. Does it look good on the page? Does it smudge? Will it last 20 years? Do the colors look correct? As with any other commodity – you get what you pay for.

Laser printers – Black and white laser printers use dry toner, rather than ink, and don’t use any toner for maintenance, making them less expensive to operate. However, laser printers can’t always match inkjets in quality when it comes to printing photos or other high-resolutions graphics. Color lasers tend to have high prices and are larger and heavier than their inkjet counterparts.

Third-party ink – A number of companies sell refurbished or refilled cartridges online and through walk-in stores. In general, the quality of these products tends to be inconsistent.

Looking Beyond the Ink
Ultimately, the ROI of your printing environment depends on the printer itself. If you decide on an inkjet printer for your business, there are two major factors that you should consider ahead of the cost of ink:

1. Do you have the best and most efficient printer type for your business needs?

2. Do you know how much it really costs to run your printer when everything is considered (also known as the “total cost of ownership”)?

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