Printers: Goodbye, printer cartridges

By J. Carlton Collins, CPA

Q: I'm in the market for a new color printer, and I'd like to buy an affordable one that doesn't require me to constantly install expensive new cartridges every other week—any suggestions?

A: Just as razor companies practically give away their razors so they can then sell you their blades, printer companies for years have practically given away their printers so they can then sell you ink for roughly the same price per ounce as silver. (For example, the HP Officejet Pro 251dw's 950XL cartridge contains 2.5 ounces of ink and sells for about $38, which works out to about $15 per ounce; roughly the same price as silver. Smaller cartridges are often priced even higher; for example, the HP Envy 120's 60XL cartridge contains a half-ounce of black ink and sells for about $32, which works out to $64 per ounce.)

The good news for consumers is that high-capacity refillable ink printers are now available. Epson recently introduced a new line of EcoTank printers featuring large refillable ink reservoirs, which the company claims require refilling only every two years or so (for the typical user). An example of these refillable ink reservoirs is pictured below.


For example, the Epson WorkForce ET-4550 wireless color photo printer with scanner and copier sells for $499.99 (on Amazon as of September 2015) and includes two years' worth of ink (equal to about 50 sets of ink cartridges, according to the Amazon product description). Ink refills for this printer sell for $8.99 (70 milliliters) and $12.99 (70 ml) for black and color ink, respectively, which works out to $3.80 per ounce for black ink and about $5.49 per ounce for color ink.

A quick check of my expenses revealed that I paid $20.39 for each ink cartridge I loaded into my Epson WorkForce 845 color printer. This means that 100 sets (or 400 total cartridges) cost me $8,156. I recently upgraded my printer to the Epson WorkForce Pro WF-R4640 for $1,200, a move that could potentially reduce my color printing costs by more than 70% over the next two years, with even greater savings thereafter. (Epson's EcoTank website claims the average user will reduce his or her color printing costs by up to 70%, which agrees with my own calculations.)

Epson's EcoTank product line consists of five printer options; selected key features for this product line are summarized in the comparison table below.

Besides making color printing more affordable, these printers eliminate the cumbersome task of having to constantly run to the store to purchase and then install new printer cartridges, as well as the task of having to tediously remove, refill, reinstall, and initialize used printer cartridges. Will the rest of the printer industry follow Epson's lead and migrate their products toward cartridge-less printing? We shall see.


About the author

J. Carlton Collins ( is a technology consultant, a CPE instructor, and a JofA contributing editor.

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