Refillable printers may spell the end for expensive ink cartridges

With printer companies no longer coining it by selling us overpriced ink, they’re being forced to take drastic measures.

I’ve got no idea what the ingredients of printer ink are.

The manufacturing process is a mystery to me, but I know one thing – it must contain some pretty rare liquids.

I’ve got a Canon colour inkjet cartridge in front of me here, containing 9ml of ink which cost me £9.99, ie £5,046 per gallon. For that kind of price, we should be demanding our documents be embossed in gold, but no. It’s just ink; its price kept ludicrously high because of the razor-blade model used by the big printer companies; hook us in with a cheap printer, then charge us hundreds of pounds a year to keep the damn thing running.

We have put up with this for decades and while ink-cart business practice has never precipitated inner-city riots, there has been oodles of low-level disgruntlement.

Over the years, printer manufacturers have reduced the amount of ink in each cart while still charging the same price. When competing firms tried to undercut that price, the industry came up with “intelligent” carts and printers that would recognise and reject impostors. Said intelligent carts are also supposed to inform us when the ink has run out, but evidence shows that they’d happily keep printing when “empty” if only the printer permitted them to do so.

No wonder that companies who refill old carts such as Cartridge Care are doing such great business; aside from injecting ink into the empty carts ourselves using a syringe, it’s the only way to beat the exploitative system.

But it seems that the razor-blade model isn’t working as well as it used to, partly because we’re printing less stuff these days and opting to share photos and documents online instead. With printer companies no longer coining it by selling us overpriced ink, they’re being forced to take drastic measures.

Lexmark and Kodak have already quit the home-printer business and now Epson is taking the extraordinary move of selling a new model of inkjet printer at a price that certainly could not be described as “knockdown”: £249. Even more bizarrely, it doesn’t have cartridges; just an ink tank, which Epson has rather generously permitted us to fill with whatever ink we like, not just the £5,046 per gallon stuff that sits on the shelf at PC World.

This all adds up to a drastic overhaul of printer economics that may leave us in the unusual position of no longer being able to whine about the price of ink. So let’s get ready to whine about the price of printers instead.

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