Buying a cheap printer is not necessarily a good deal

In 2017, the research firm IHS Markit calculated that an HP printer sold for 65 euros actually cost 110 euros to manufacture

Buying a cheap printer is not necessarily a good deal

In 2017, the research firm IHS Markit calculated that an HP printer sold for 65 euros actually cost 110 euros to manufacture. In 2024, nothing has changed, the brand is still selling at a loss: “We are losing money on equipment,” said its CEO, Enrique Lores, interviewed by the American channel CNBC on January 18. The trick being in the second part of the sentence: “We make money on consumables! “, he added, explaining that HP “invests in (each) consumer”.

The brand is indeed making up for it on cartridges, which sometimes cost more than the printer itself. Already in 2017, the Stop Planned Obsolescence association denounced the price of the ink contained in these cartridges, which rose, according to it, up to 2,000 euros per liter. For the user, however, there has been an alternative to this absurd scheme since 2015: ink tank printers. After HP and Epson, the Canon and Brother brands now offer them.

No cartridge to replace regularly on these models: the ink is housed in huge tanks which are refilled, and very spaced over time. Result: they produce less waste and their ink is incomparably less expensive. The cost of each print is approximately thirty times cheaper, according to our calculations based on very comprehensive printing tests carried out by Que Choisir magazine in December 2023, in a large comparison of multifunction inkjet printers.

Profitable from twenty impressions per month

Of course, ink tank printers are more expensive: the most accessible models cost around 170 euros, compared to around 60 euros for equivalent cartridge printers. But if the difference is significant, users will manage to amortize the cost difference over time.

Compared to a cartridge printer, the break-even point for a tank printer is in fact around 1,200 prints of text in A4 format, if we base ourselves on the costs per copy evaluated by Que Choisir. A figure close to the evaluations of the competing magazine, 60 Millions de consommateurs, which places the threshold at 1,500 impressions.

Concretely, for the consumer, this means that an ink tank printer will be more economical than a traditional cartridge printer, as long as at least twenty to twenty-five sheets of text in A4 format are printed each month – a printer living for around five years, according to a Que Choisir survey.

As users are rarely content with printing text, Que Choisir has also evaluated the printing costs for a small 10 x 15 cm photograph: these are almost three times higher than those of an A4 text (excluding the price of paper). ). In this specific case, the break-even point for tank printers is then around six reproductions of photographs of this format per month, or approximately one and a half A4 photos. And in the case of use mixing text and photos, the threshold will be approximately three 10 x 15 cm photos plus ten pages of A4 text per month. And if your use is more limited than that, a traditional cartridge printer will be more economical.

The ecological factor

Please note that this threshold is only valid if official cartridges from the manufacturers are used. By using generic cartridges, printing costs are reduced by approximately half, according to Que Choisir tests. Models with ink tanks then become less attractive: their break-even point rises to 2,400 impressions of A4 text or eight hundred 10 x 15 cm photos. On a monthly basis, this represents six 10 x 15 cm photographs and twenty pages of text.

However, generic cartridges do not only have advantages. There is not one for all printer models, and manufacturers are chasing them: there is a risk that they will suddenly be blocked during use of the printer following an update software. What's more, Que Choisir's tests showed that these generic inks were not as good as those of the manufacturers. Their printing quality is a little lower and their colors degrade more quickly when exposed to daylight.

There also remains the ecological question: with their used cartridges, traditional printers generate more waste. In addition, their price being low, at the slightest breakdown, we can be very tempted to throw them in the trash, unlike a model with ink tanks, billed almost three times as much, which we will bring more easily to after-sales service. For the planet, that's not a detail: nearly two million printers are sold each year in France, the majority of which are inkjet models, according to the research firm Xerfi.