Is the amount of ink in printer cartridges being reduced?

It’s a common complaint – the price of printer ink, and it has seen the rise of a new type of store that refills ink cartridges such as Cartridge World, where you can take along your old cartridges and get them filled for a fraction of the price of a new one.

But the cost of printer ink is not the only bugbear consumers are complaining about, as customers are now revisiting these stores much more frequently because the ink in new cartridges is not lasting as long as it used to.

And store owner of Cartridge World in Aylesbury, Martin Dyckhoff, thinks he knows why: “Newer cartridges contain a fraction of the ink a similar product contained a decade ago,” Dyckhoff says. “The amount can be minuscule.”

HP300 printer ink cartridge from 2002 (left) and 2010 (right).

HP300 printer ink cartridge from 2002 (left) and 2010 (right). Photograph: David Robinson

On the outside, the cartridge looks exactly the same, but open them up and you can see how they work.

Each cartridge contains a sponge than holds the printer ink, and it is this that manufacturers have reduced the size of, which effectively reduces the amount of ink is contained in the cartridge. The rest of the cartridge is just empty space.

For example, a 2002 version Epson T032 colour cartridge is exactly the same size as the 2008 version of the Epson colour T089.

But look inside the T032 and you can see that it contains 16ml of ink whilst the T089 contains just 3.5ml of ink. It’s the same with Hewlett Packard (HP) cartridges. A decade ago, HP cartridges had 42ml of ink and sold for about £20. Today, the standard printer cartridges made by HP may contain as little as 5ml of ink but sell for about £13.

David Connett, who is the editor of The Recycler trade magazine, that covers the remanufacturing industry says: “The strategy has been to nudge the consumer towards a high frequency of purchases. The big printer manufacturers have reduced the amount of ink in a cartridge, encrypted the chip technology, and used aggressive marketing tactics to discourage refills.”

Chris Brooks, technical director of industry group the UK Cartridge Remanufacturers Association, is more forthright: “The big printer companies do all they can to squeeze ever-increasing amounts of cash out of the poor consumer in exchange for less ink.”

Photograph: HP Ink Cartridges Blog

Photograph: HP Ink Cartridges Blog

And if you think the black is bad, check out the colour cartridges, which are typically much more difficult to refill. Both Espom, HP and Canon are guilty of selling cartridges with less than 2ml of ink per colour. “They’re very bad value because when one of the three colours runs out the entire cartridge stops working,” Dyckhoff says. “We always recommend people buy a printer with a separate cartridge for each colour.”

But the canny cartridge manufacturers have offered a solution to consumers in the form of an XL size (extra large) cartridge, which is almost exactly the same size as the standard cartridge.

For example, HP makes the HP300, which contains 5ml of black ink and sells for about £13. It also makes the HP300XL, which has more ink – about 16ml – and sells for around £20-£25. But both are nearly identical in size. The difficult thing to swallow is that some of these new “XL” cartridges may contain less ink than standard cartridges issued a few years ago.

Patrick Stead of cartridge recycler Environmental Business Products thinks that this is the ultimate insult to customers: “HP sells half-full cartridges, then sticks an ‘XL’ on, fills them up, and sells them for even more money. The difference in manufacturing costs is pennies. It’s a shocking rip-off.”

Photograph: HP Ink Cartridges Blog

Photograph: HP Ink Cartridges Blog

HP gave a statement refuting the shrinking ink claims, and said: “Focusing on any single factor such as the point of purchase, the up-front cost of the cartridge or printer, the cost per page, or the millilitres of ink in a given cartridge is not an accurate way to measure the cost of printing,” They pointed out that it was more about the cost of printing ‘per page’ that was more important, as this has been maintained at the same levels since 2009.

Epson argues the point that print heads are more efficient compared with 10 years ago because of advances in technology. They said: “They are able to produce a greater number of pages with an equivalent amount of ink.

Brooks however still disagrees with the huge mark-up manufacturers enforce on cartridges. “The cost of printer ink is the lowest it’s ever been, a few euros for a litre. Many cartridges cost less than 50p to make. The mark-up is enormous. The consumer is paying far more pro-rata today than a decade ago for cartridges containing very little ink.”

Source: The Guardian & HP Ink Cartridges Blog

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