If you bought a gallon of the stuff over the life of your printer, you'd have paid about $4731 for a liquid that one aftermarket vendor told us was "cheap" to make. For some perspective, gasoline costs about $3 per gallon (at the moment), while a gallon of Beluga caviar (imagined as a liquid) costs about $18,000--surprisingly, only about four times as expensive as good old printer ink.
"I personally think that consumers are getting ripped off," says Steve Pociask, president of the American Consumer Institute, a nonprofit educational and research institute in Washington, D.C. Pociask recently coauthored a 50-page study on the ink jet printer and cartridge market. "In some cases, we found that [the price of] the printer could be 1/8 of the total cost of printing," says Pociask. "Over the life of the printer--and by that I mean three years--you can easily spend $800 for the printer and ink."
How We Tested
We researched both online and brick-and-mortar tech outlets to find printers that are being used now by high numbers of consumers. We didn't test color inks because that would have introduced too many variables that might skew the results. For instance, some printers use separate cartridges for each ink, while others use single, tricolor cartridges. A standardized test might not drain the colors evenly, which might give one printer an unfair advantage.
Tony Leung, Senior Data Analyst in the PC World Test Center, weighed each black ink cartridge (to an accuracy of 0.001 gram) to determine the cartridge's initial weight. We then printed pages until the printer, in response to the low level of ink in the cartridge, prevented us from continuing.
When each printer stopped printing, we removed and weighed its black ink cartridge to determine the cartridge's out-of-ink weight. Then we removed all of the remaining ink from the cartridge (including the small sponges found in some cartridges), put the cartridge on the scale again, and measured it's true-empty weight.
This method allowed us to identify the weight of the ink when the cartridge was full, when the printer announced that it was empty, and when it truly was empty.
Using this method, here's what we found...