Desktop Printer Ink Wars: 2016

| Dr. Mac's Rants and Raves

Dr. Mac’s Rants & Raves
Episode #164


It’s no secret that the printer and ink business is similar to the razor and razor blade business: Both of them sell hardware—the printer or razor—as cheaply as possible, making most of their profits on the consumables— the ink or razor blades. It’s not a bad strategy for a business, but it's never been popular among consumers.

The inkjet printer ink warsThe inkjet printer ink wars

Here’s how it works: My Epson WorkForce 845 printer cost me $139.99 and included a set of high capacity ink cartridges worth $70 instead of the usual low-capacity “starter” cartridges bundled with most printers. It was a good deal at the time and the printer is still in service.

But—and there’s always a but—since then replacement ink for that printer has cost me twice as much as the printer cost in the first place. I use around 1.5 sets of four “extra high capacity” ink cartridges a year; the ink costs around $85 a set; I’ve bought 5 sets since 2012. So I’ve bought around $425 worth of ink for my $140 printer.

You can see why I was understandably excited when not one but two printer manufacturers offered the opportunity to test their new initiatives for making the whole ink thing more palatable to consumers. 

Epson’s approach features five new “EcoTank” printers, which include huge ink reservoirs that are big enough for up to two years worth of ink, or the equivalent of 20 sets of ink cartridges. The downside is that these printers aren’t cheap; the one I’m testing, an all-in-one WorkForce ET-4550, goes for $499, and even the least expensive model (ET-2500) will set you back nearly $300.

On the other hand, the economy-sized bottles of replacement ink, which can provide up to two years of printing, cost less than $20 apiece. And here’s a word of advice: Wear rubber gloves when you fill the reservoirs.

Hewlett-Packard (HP) has a radically different approach to the replacement ink dilemma, offering a program they call Instant Ink. It’s, “designed to save consumers up to 50 percent on the cost of original HP ink while ensuring that they never run out of ink when they need it most.”

HP Officejet Pro 8620 (left) and an Epson WorkForce ET-4550 (right)I’ve been alternating between the two printers—an HP OfficeJet Pro 8620 (left) and an Epson WorkForce ET-4550 (right)—since last fall.

So here’s the deal: You give HP your credit card number and you’re charged by the number of pages you print each month rather than the amount of ink you use. The convenience part is that HP automatically sends you a fresh set of ink cartridges right before the old ones run out.

I’ve been testing the OfficeJet Pro 8620 ($149.99), which is similar feature-wise to the Epson I’m testing, along with HP’s $9.99 a month “frequent printing plan,” for up to 300 pages a month. I have yet to run out of ink—replacement cartridges have always shown up right on time, without any action on my part.  

I’m sure you’re dying to know who won, but I’m afraid I’m out of space. So you’ll have to tune in next week for the thrilling conclusion to my tale.



  • WorkForce ET-4550: $499.99.
  • Epson EcoTank ink: $12.99 for cyan, magenta, and yellow; $19.99 for black.

Hewlett Packard

  • OfficeJet Pro 8620: $149.99.
  • Instant Ink: $2.99 a month for up to 50 pages; $4.99 a month for up to 100 pages; $9.99 a month for up to 300 pages.

And that’s all he wrote…

[Some image elements courtesy Shutterstock]

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Scott B in DC

You nailed the problem when you said to wear gloves when filling the tank. This is really a tankless job (sorry… I couldn’t resist!).

Instead, I have been buying ink for my Epson Workforce WF-3540 at various discounts from places online including eBay and Groupon. I really like the Epson printer for quality and reliability. Since I use it for business purposes, I do print the equivalent of a half-ream of paper per month and it is a solid printer. Sure, the ink costs. But it is a matter of deciding what it is important. For me, not having to muck with refillable tanks and having a solid printer that proves its worth whether I am printing, scanning, and even faxing then I will live with the extra cost of ink!


How does going paperless compare to TV cord cutting in terms of putting pressure on printer manufacturers?

I’ve been trying to print as little as possible for the last 8 years. I end up printing 1 or two pages every 6 months I think. (My wife, though, prints maybe 10 pages a month for church and has an at-home side job that requires printing a bunch of label stickers.) I think the cheap printer, expensive ink model works well for people who want to have the printer around for when it is needed but try to almost never use it.


I office-spaced my last printer right on my home office floor when I found out that not only did it waste black ink every single time you turned it on (by design) it would also not print in black and white unless you replaced any empty color cartridges.

Eff that noise. Never ever ever ever ever again will I buy an ink jet printer. NEVER.

Epson and HP are as dead to me as Intuit/Turbo Tax is.


Hi There
Interesting article, I am keen to see how this develops and which system comes out on top for you.

Im just curious if you have considered using an external Inklink CISS for your existing printer instead of going with purchasing a whole new Ecotank system?

The systems are much more cost effective than the manufacturer’s equivalent. For example the Rihac Inklink for the WF-845 retails at $120AUD ($88usd) Or the pigment version for $188AUD ($138USD)
and both contain 400ml of ink (100ml of each colour) Add this to the cost of the printer and it still works out considerably cheaper than the ecotanks lowest end printer, on top of this if im not mistaken the EcoTank refill bottles contain just 70ml of ink instead of 100ml.

Also worth noting that the WF-845 is a higher quality than the ecotank printer so definitely worth hanging on to! The rihac Inklink for this printer would be the equivalent to 52 genuine cartridges - 9 Black and 43 colour and refills are available for $54AUD($39USD) a set of 4x100ml.
All rihac inks are profiles to match so no need to worry about colour and print quality either.

As for the HP OfficeJet Pro 8620, at $9.99 a month that’s $120/Year, our equivalent 8600 CISS retails at $170AUD ($125USD) roughly about the same price the Inklink equates to over 40 OEM cartridges and works out at a saving of $1,707AUD ($1,255 USD) if you purchased cartridges separately.
According to HP the OEM cartridges have a page yield of 1000 (black) and 700 (colour) if we assume that is correct the cartridge set should last 2.5 to 3 months before a replacement is required (if you are printing 300 pages/month) which works out at roughly 4 to 5 sets a year if you use the allowance to its maximum.

Of course there is also the problem that you may not use your allowance up and take full advantage of the savings.

Also curious to know what you are using the printer for, is it general office use/photo print etc? how does the print quality of each printer compare?
There are so many other factors to consider here other than just the ink cost!


I hope any future reviews of printers includes an aesthetic analysis. We would like a new printer that is wifi capable, but NOT a garish BLACK eyesore. Are there no options for light gray or sand or beige printers?

Or does this have to do with needing gloves?

Bob LeVitus

ibuck: They’re all ugly. Every one of them.

Watch for part 2 later this week.

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