Desktop Printer Ink Wars: 2016

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]