Ever gotten a great deal on a printer – perhaps even free with a purchase of another device – only to find out once you got the printer home that one set of ink or toner cartridge replacements cost more than the printer itself?
This dilemna can be quite frustrating for the consumer, professional or student who needs to print a decent amount of documents or images weekly. And while there are no perfect solutions to this other than having the manufacturers drop the prices significantly (I wouldn’t hold your breath), there are ways to save.
Starting from scratch
If you don’t own a printer currently OR are fed up with the ink guzzling beater you have at home, when considering purchasing a new printer, do some research on what it will cost over the long run to print from your potential new printer.
Three questions that a new customer should consider BEFORE purchase:
- How much does it cost to purchase an entire set of replacement ink or toner?
- What kind of printing will I be doing and what type of paper will I need to accomplish it?
- Does the brand offer a low cost alternative if I purchase a certain model? Does the manufacturer offer high capacity cartridges and what are the potential savings?
Once you’ve answered these three questions, you can start considering your options whether it is choosing a different manufacturer, an alternative form of ink, using off brand paper or perhaps using a rewards program.
Buy a printer that offers low cost ink
Printers and ink are much like razors and blades; you pay a marginal amount for the hardware but then spend big bucks (sometimes double or triple amount of the hardware) replacing the supplies needed to keep the hardware working.
Lexmark offers the “world’s lowest cost black” ink: a $4.99 black ink cartridge that yields over 500 pages. This is the best deal ink replacement today with a cost per page of less than one cent. The catch is that Lexmark only offers the $4.99 cartridge with their higher end AIO inkjet printers – Lexmark Prestige, Lexmark Pinnacle, etc. – so you will end up paying slightly more up front. But it’s worth it considering since the cost per page rivals monochrome laser printers I’ve reviewed.
Also a drawback, the color ink is just as expensive as most of Lexmark’s competitors. But if you print more black and white documents (as I think the majority of consumers and small businesses do), you are still getting a deal.
Try the high capacity alternative
Not interested in buying a new printer from one of these manufacturers? Then consider the high yield or high capacity cartridges. Almost every vendor on the market offers a high capacity alternative to their standard inkjet cartridges. They are more expensive initially but often yield a lower cost per page and fewer trips to your local office supplies store for replacements.
Kodak started advertising the lowest total ink replacement on the market last year and although they raised the prices with their new 30 cartridges, it still seems to be the truth. To replace the standard capacity black and color ink cartridges it will cost about $28 but Kodak also offers a high capacity option for about $54.
Go off brand
Every manufacturer of inkjet printers today would discourage users from purchasing off brand ink cartridges for a multitude of reasons: inferior quality, less prints per cartridge, could mess up hardware, voids warranty, etc.
But the truth of the matter is that most of those excuses are bogus. Granted, depending on where you purchase the off brand ink, you may get less prints or slightly inferior quality than the original cartridges would provide. But when we did our generic ink cartridge tests, we found that overall the off brand will save users money with little to no sacrifice on quality prints. We purchased our generics online but several trusted office supply chains (such as Office Depot or Staples) offer generic versions of popular ink cartridges.
Or users can try refilling the original cartridges at local store such as Walgreen’s or try a DIY refill kit but be warned, ink is messy.
Join a rewards program
We did a feature on Staples a while back on their rewards program that allows customers to receive a $3 credit for each used ink cartridge brought into the store for recycling, up to 10 cartridges a month.
However, last summer, Staples changed the rewards benefits to $2 a cartridge. Still, that’s $20 in Staples credit that be used towards the purchase of new cartridges, paper, or other supplies or accessories needed. Plus, recycling feels good.
Also, if you order ink replacements online, Staples offers free delivery on orders of $50 or more. So maybe save a little gas every other ink replacement cycle.
Staples isn’t the only one offering ink related programs. Dell offers the InkSave program which allows customers to order a new Dell ink cartridge along with a backup online with free shipping. When the original cartridge runs out, replace it with the backup and send the empty cartridge back to Dell, free of charge. Once Dell receives the empty cartridge, they will recycle it and send customers a new cartridge and charge them automatically.
The goal is to save users time and money by avoiding the office supply stores while also never running out of ink at an important time.
And there are probably more deals out there when it comes to getting more original ink cartridges for less.
Check out our top picks for Back to School featuring the Kodak ESP Office 2170.
More Back to School 2011 – And make sure to check out our TechnologyGuide Back to School 2011 feature for our top picks of notebooks, desktop, digital cameras, tablets, smartphones and more!