Channel 4 programme ‘The Shopper’s Guide to Saving’ took on the contentious issue of printer ink cartridges in an episode entitled Pets and Printer Ink.

According to statistics presented on the programme, consumers in the UK buy a colossal 65 million cartridges each year between them.

Upon interviewing several domestic printer users, the consensus emerged that ink cartridges seemed to run out more quickly than in the past. Yet the cost had not decreased at a similar rate, or at all. In order to find out why the contents of cartridges appears to be continually dwindling, the reported headed to the Epson factory in Telford.

On arriving at the factory, an Epson employee was asked exactly how much ink was in one of their cartridges. He brushed off the question, refusing to give an answer.

Following this, the reporter spoke with Rob Clark, Vice President at Epson Europe. Rob Clark spoke about the technological advances in printers themselves over the last decade. He stated that the prices of the machines had gone down, despite the technology involved improving, and that as a result the cost of machine production is now recouped through sale of consumables such as ink cartridges. It also emerged during the visit to the factory that a 5ml ink cartridge costs less than £0.50 to manufacture yet is sold at around £8, sixteen times the initial cost.

During the programme, as well as visiting the Epson factory, a reporter was sent to a centre that specialised in ‘re-manufacturing’ cartridges. The process of re-manufacturing cartridges is essentially recycling used cartridges by refilling them with ink, often with more than was originally in them. These re-manufactured cartridges are produced with the end user firmly in mind, being roughly 25-30% cheaper and lasting longer. Experts at the re-manufacturing centre shed light on some aspects of cartridges approved by printer manufacturers, often referred to as ‘original’ or ‘genuine’. Certain original cartridges are manufactured to be used only once, and are thus impossible to refill. They also dismantled a cartridge ready to be refilled and showed the viewer exactly how much empty space and found no reason for it, other than to reduce the amount of ink.

It seems somewhat reasonable that manufacturers have sought to reduce the initial cost of printing devices, however how many of us are actually aware of this shift in pricing?

As shown in the Epson factory, there are options such as devices with the Epson EcoTank which in lieu of cartridges, are filled up directly with ink via large tanks on the side of the machine. As would be expected, devices like this are available at a much higher initial cost than those reliant on ink cartridges, however the ink reserves do last considerably longer. However, this initial cost may prove too much for some of us.

What are your experiences with ink cartridges as either a domestic or business user? Do you think ink cartridges have become less and less efficient?