Some printers are made for the sole purpose of enriching the manufacturer by ripping off the consumer. Using the drug dealer marketing method, they hook the unwary with a "great deal." Some consumers don't do the math until it is too late. Here we have tried to do the math for you.

Rip-off Inkjet printers

Lexmark was long known as one of the most expensive inkjets to operate. Then Dell decided to win the competition by producing printers even more expensive. Though these were actually manufactured by Lexmark, Dell added extra plastic to the cartridges so you couldn't use the expensive Lexmark cartridges and had to buy even more expensive Dell cartridges.

A few years ago, HP decided to take first place in the rip-off category. They started by actually reducing the size of their 564Xl and 920xl cartridges. Then they made the slots of their new printers smaller so they couldn't accept the older, larger cartridges. A lot of confusion resulted as people bought the 564xl their printers were supposed to use and discovered they had bought the wrong size.

Then HP decided to put expiration dates in the chips of the cartridges. This was to prevent refilling. However, it had another result. You could put in a sealed, genuine HP cartridge in your printer and when it hit the expiration date, it would stop working. It didn't tell you the cartridge expired. It displayed a random error message. There is no reason for this - other than obscene profit. Cartridges kept at reasonable temperature can last for years. To my knowledge, no other company puts expiration dates in the chips (though they do other things just as nasty).

Then HP did an even nastier trick. Some people test third party cartridges in a printer to make sure they will work before buying the printer. HP allowed 3rd party cartridges to work for several weeks and programmed the printer to start displaying error messages weeks down the line, after the buyer was stuck with the printer.

There were 3 class-action lawsuits brought against HP for their nefarious practices and a judge combined them all into one. Let's hope HP loses.

Note: these dirty tricks only happen in North America. It is illegal for HP to do this in other countries.

the Cheap is Often Expensive
HP is one of the few companies left (I believe Canon and Dell also) which still makes printers using tri-color cartridges. These are cartridges with three colors in one. They suck you in by offering these printers at "bargain" prices, often as low as $39. Since a cartridge holds about 20ml of ink, when it is divided into 3 compartments, you are lucky to get 5 ml of each color. Then if one color runs out, you have to replace the entire cartridge even though you still have the other colors. And these cartridges cost about $30. Compare that to printers which use individual color cartridges, where each cartridge costs $2-$4, holds about 15-20ml of ink and you only replace the color which is actually out. That is why the more honest (more honest doesn't mean honest, it just means more than the others) printer companies stopped making tri-color printers years ago.

Let's do the math: Suppose the tri-color printer is $39 and the two cartridges are $30 each. Compare that to the highly rated Canon MX922 with 5 individual cartridges at $1.50 each or the Epson Workforce 3640 with 4 cartridges at $3.50 each where the black holds 35ml.

  Cheap printer MX922 3640
Cost $39 $80 $99
30ml black
15ml each color
2 black,3 tri-color
2 black,1 each color
1 each
Total cost $189 $87.50 $113


As you can see, with the first set of refill cartridges, the Canon already puts you about $100 ahead and you will be more ahead with each new cartridge refill. We have not even taken into account the number of tri-color cartridges you will discard when only one color is gone and the fact that the Canon is a much better printer with its 5 colors and many advanced features. I bought one for my son and was so impressed, I bought another for myself. The 3640 (which my other son bought) does about 800 pages on one black cartridge. Over time it should be cheaper to operate, particularly if you print a lot of text. The Canon is better for photos. Either one is a far better choice than the "cheap" printer.

Canon MX922 Review

Beware the new Epson printers
Epson has tried a new tactic to prevent refilling and compatibles. They are putting serial numbers on the chips. If you put in a cartridge with a serial number you have used before, it will be rejected. This means you can't refill a cartridge. It also makes it more difficult for compatible manufacturers because they now have to program a unique serial number in every cartridge and that number must match Epson's format. This is the reason for the higher price. It also means you can't shop around. Once you have chosen a supplier, you may have to stick with them because in switching you run the risk of getting duplicate numbers.

Epson Ecotank printers
What about Epson's Ecotank printers which work with ink bottles rather than cartridges? As expected, these are a great deal for Epson and a terrible deal for you. Read Ecotank printers - the real story for details.

Laser Printers

Beware the Off-Brand Printer
I have gotten emails about "fantastic laser printer deals" offering laser printers from an unknown brand for $30. When I reviewed the information, I discovered that they use a toner cartridge which yields about 1200 pages, costs about $60 and is only available at a few select places. I don't even know about the quality of the printer or getting it serviced, but I suspect a $30 printer is practically disposable. When you compare this "fantastic deal" to a Brother laser printer, you quickly see this is no deal at all. The $70 Brother printer uses a $20 toner which yields 2500 pages. So one Brother printer ($70) plus one toner ($20) will give you as many pages for $90 as one off-brand printer ($30) plus two toners ($120). That's $90 for Brother vs $150 for the no name. And the cost goes up with every additional toner, assuming the printer lasts that long.

For years HP was the undisputed king of laser printers. But over time, HP fell into that same black hole of other companies thinking "We are number one so we don't have to try." Unfortunately, it appears they may be right. There are still many people years behind the times who judge HP based on their old reputation and not what they have become today.

In general, HP laser printers are more expensive than comparable printers from their competitors, notably Brother. Their toner cartridges are also more expensive and usually yield far fewer pages. So you can buy an HP black laser printer for $100 and pay $70 for toner cartridges which yield 1200 pages or you can buy a Brother laser for $70 and pay $20 for toner cartridges which yield 2500 pages. I hope we don't have to do the math for you.

A school contacted us to order 10 toner cartridges for their Dell laser. The cartridges were $35 and yielded 1200 pages each. Their total cost would have been $350. For the same $350, I convinced them to buy two Brother laser printers at $80 each and 10 Brother toners which yield 2500 pages. They got two brand new printers and 13000 more printed pages for the same cost. Sometimes buying another printer is more cost effective than feeding the old one.

Find any newer HP cartridge and look up what printers can use it. You will usually find one or two models. Find any Brother cartridge and do the same. It will probably match 30 different printers. This is not an accident. HP knows that when a cartridge only fits one or two printers, the compatible manufacturers will not find it worth their while to make. This gives HP a monopoly and lets them inflate prices.

When you take color lasers into account, where you need 4 separate cartridges, the difference is huge. Comparing the average HP color laser with a Brother color laser, you could find the following:

  HP printer Brother
Cost $400 $200
2500 pages
of toner
2 each at $50
1200 page yield
1 each at $20
2500 page yield
Total cost $800 $280