Consumer — 26 June 2013

By Richard Lenti

Printer ink may be the most expensive liquid you’ll ever buy – more expensive than gasoline, perfume or even fine champagne. And depending on your printer, as much as half of that ink will be wasted, according to a new study by Consumer Reports.

The magazine tested dozens of all-in-one inkjet printers and found that ink consumption was often affected not only by the model of the printer, but also how it was used by the consumer. The tests followed complaints from readers that they were getting a lot less mileage out of their printers’ inkjet cartridges than they expected, even less than Consumer Reports’ rigorous printer tests showed they should receive.

The Canon Pixma MX922 uses twice as much ink as other printers, according to Consumer Report.

The Canon Pixma MX922 uses twice as much ink as other printers, according to Consumer Reports.

Researchers suspected the problem might be related to the common practice of printing a handful of pages a few times per week, rather than continuously as they often do in their tests. So they devised a new study that was more typical of how a consumer actually uses their printer.

This time, testers printed 30 pages, in batches of two or three pages, once or twice every day or two for three weeks. The testers shut off the printer between sessions, like many consumers do. The result of this practice often caused printers to conduct more maintenance cycles than needed. A lot of ink is used to clean print heads and for other maintenance chores, typically when the printer is preparing to print after sitting idle for some time.

“We accept that printer maintenance is required for optimal printing, and that not all printers can be as miserly as the most frugal model we found,” said Paul Reynolds, electronics editor for Consumer Reports.

“But, if manufacturers can make some printers that are frugal, why can’t they better apply those design lessons to make more models use ink efficiently?”

The magazine cited a tale of two printers to illustrate that point, comparing the Epson Expression Premium XP-800 ($180) and the Canon Pixma MX922 ($160). The two printers have similar price and levels of performance; but the Epson is frugal in its use of ink for cleaning and maintenance, and the Canon tends to guzzle more.

That difference in ink consumption translates into a huge increase in operating expense over the life of the printers. The average annual cost of ink for the Epson was $110, with $21 of ink being used for maintenance. The Canon’s annual ink cost was $230, with $150 of ink consumption caused by maintenance.

“The ink used for maintenance accounts for all of the $120 gap in annual ink costs between the two models. The results were based on the annual ink costs for each printer to print 380 pages of text and color graphics and 65 photos—the way many people print,” they wrote.

Consumer Reports testing showed that Brother printers were the most consistently frugal with ink when used intermittently. With other brands, maintenance ink use varied depending on the brand line. While the HP Envy series used relatively little ink for maintenance, the HP’s Photosmart series used a lot more.

Although consumers can’t directly control how often a printer’s maintenance cycle occurs, they can reduce the number of cycles and ink consumption.

Testers recommend keeping the power of the printer on all the time. That will avoid triggering a maintenance cycle each time you use the printer. And since inkjets when left on consume very little power, ink savings should considerably outweigh the energy cost.

For less-critical work, printing in draft mode will reduce the amount of ink used, although not the ink used in maintenance. And consumers should avoid printing lots of large photographs, especially in high-quality color mode, as they use the most ink.

Finally, don’t change cartridges unless you must. By exchanging an ink cartridge that still has plenty of ink left for a less-costly off-brand for less critical work, you’ll trigger an ink-consuming initialization cycle. And with the costs of printer ink ranging from $13 to $75 an ounce, that’s a lot of money going to waste.

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About Author

Richard Lenti

Richard Lenti has worked as a news writer for the last 20 years at various television stations in Los Angeles. He is a Golden Mike winner and a graduate of California State University, Fresno. With roots in print journalism, Richard is excited to be “published” once again; having people read his work as opposed to having it read to them. As a freelance writer his work has appeared in the Easy Reader, L.A. Jazz Scene, Irrigation and Green Industry, and the KCAL 9 Online website.

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