Dirty Tricks Printer Manufacturers Use So You Buy More Ink

by Rich on December 8, 2008

If you’ve ever felt like you were being manipulated into spending more on ink and toner, you’re not alone. The printer manufacturing industry makes the bulk of its profits on consumables, including ink and toner—and it goes to great lengths to preserve its market. However, their efforts aren’t exactly transparent—and consumers aren’t just getting mad; they’re figuring out how to out-maneuver the big companies. Here are a few ways manufacturers

will try to get you to spend more money on original ink.

By building printers that freeze up when they think you’re out of ink or toner. Some brands install Smart Chips in their cartridges. These are tiny computer chips that are designed to alert the printer when the cartridge is out of ink. Usually, the printer will stop printing until the cartridge is replaced.

Smart Chips are controversial, primarily because they aren’t always accurate—there are plenty of firsthand accounts on the web from customers who found ways to disable the chips after they claimed their cartridges were empty, and their ink lasted for months afterwards. In addition, some chips will stop the printer’s activities on a certain expiration date regardless of whether the cartridges are empty—and plenty of customers have complained online about seeing the “out of ink” message even if they bought the cartridge new and haven’t printed in months. Needless to say, Smart Chips have encountered growing customer resistance.

By casting doubt on third-party cartridges. Original manufacturers make a lot of claims about third-party compatible and refilled cartridges, and not all of them are true. Manufacturers claim that third-party ink is likely to clog print heads and damage the printer, and there’s a persistent rumor that manufacturers will automatically void your warranty if you use third-party ink in your printer.

In reality, while it’s not unheard of for lower-quality third party ink to damage printers, it’s quite rare. And there are plenty of third-party sellers who stand by their products with 100% satisfaction guarantees, generous refund and exchange policies, and rigorous testing processes, primarily to secure customer trust in the face of manufacturers’ claims.

In addition, claims that manufacturer warrantees will automatically void if you use third-party ink are generally untrue. However, manufacturers may not cover damage caused directly to the printer by off-brand ink.

By tinkering with your printer settings. Some printer drivers will print automatically in colour even if you’re just printing a page of black-and-white text, or come with Normal set as the default mode instead of Economy or Draft. These are small things, but if you don’t notice them and change the settings manually, you could use more ink than you need as a regular practice.

Colour cartridges tend to be much smaller than black and white and run out more quickly. Whenever you print, be sure your settings are on the appropriate colour scale—never simply hit the “print” button and forget about it. The Normal setting typically uses much more ink than Economy or Draft. It looks good for formal documents, but if you’re just printing out directions or an email, you may not need top quality. Check the settings each time you print and change your default settings to Draft or Economy, and you’ll definitely save money and extend the life of your cartridge in the long term.

By building 3-in-1 cartridges. If you’re buying a new printer, it’s important to be sure it doesn’t come with a three-in-one colour cartridge. These cartridges combine all of your ink colours in a single cartridge, ostensibly for added convenience. The problem is that once one colour compartment runs out, the entire cartridge is spent—you can’t replace colours individually, and that three-in-one cartridge is expensive. It’s much more cost-efficient to buy a printer with separate cartridges for each colour, so you can replace them individually as they run out.

Printer manufacturers base their business model on getting you to spend more money on ink and other consumables. But if you’re aware of their tactics, you can take a few steps to level the field in your favor. Avoid printers that have three-in-one cartridges or smart chips when possible, check your settings each time, and consider ink price when buying a new printer—and you’re sure to save.

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