Printer Ink: It's a SCAM

We all know that printer companies hook you with a cheap printer and then make their money with overpriced ink. I just didn't know it was this bad. 

Because I'm an idiot, I bought a Canon TS3500 printer/copier/scanner at Walmart for $48. I knew I would be forced to buy overpriced ink, but because I rarely print anymore, I didn't think it mattered. I was wrong.  

After printing only a few shipping labels for my hot sauce business, the included ink cartridge was empty. I bought a replacement that ran out within a week. I then spent $55 for the extra large cartridge that claimed to have 3x the ink. It ran out in a few weeks. 

After spending almost $200 on ink for a $48 printer, I decided to buy an Epson Ecotank printer that can be filled with ink bottles. The printer is only a few days old at this point, and it's working fine, but it got me wondering, how much ink is actually in one of these Canon printer cartridges? The box says 11.9 ml, which is an incredibly little amount, but when I actually cracked the cartridge open, it appeared to only have a few drips of ink inside. 

To my surprise, the video above is the most successful video we've ever made at Fstoppers. It has gotten over two million views in just five days, and it's one of the simplest videos I've ever published. Maybe I've been trying too hard? 

Anyway, the moral of the story is that if you are only printing a few pages a month, maybe any printer will do. But if you're printing a few pages a day, please stop buying these scam printers and either buy an ink tank printer or a laser printer

Lee Morris's picture

Lee Morris is a professional photographer based in Charleston SC, and is the co-owner of

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Years ago I bought a Samsung ML2010 bnw laser printer. For exactly this reason. A 3rd party toner cardige was up to now about 59 eur
Lasting for 1k pages. My previos HP ink printer dried out frequently. I am printing too less.

I print so infrequently I would just run over to FedEx when I need sheets, forms, etc printed. Cost is 23 cents per page bw.

Well this isn't really news. many people have been saying this for a long time. Never pay money for an inkjet printer. You'll get more value out of your money by wiping your butt with it. Laser printers are the way to go. Pinters and their manufacturers are just as scammy and scummy as insurance companies.

I bought an Epson EcoTank printer for 300 bucks and it failed to work anymore a day after the warranty was up. Still have bottles of different inks. Nothing is more frustrating than to have a broken printer and things you need to print.

I realized the inkjet scam many many years ago, and the Ecotank (continuous ink) printers are the way around it.
I also have an Epson Ecotank, the 8550 - and I love it (cost a bit more than 300 bucks - but worth every penny). The thing with the ecotanks are you pay more for the printer, but then the inks last for a long time, and you can replace when just one ink is out. You kinda need to use it a bit all the time to keep the print heads nice and functional. The quality of the output is surprisingly good, I have exhibited prints from my printer (and made a few sales too)... for the sales though I print from the lab (as I only sell for archival quality).
I think now Canon and HP also have their own line of continuous inkflow printers.

I also have the Epson Eco tank 8550. With their six ink tanks each holding 70ml of ink it’s now relatively inexpensive to churn off photo prints. 16.8p per ml. The cost of filling the ink tanks is now no longer ball breaking. A new set of 12 cartridges for my now mothballed Canon Pixma pro-1 was £250! Canon claims each cartridge contains 35ml ink. How much is available for printing is another matter. The wasteful way the printer uses the ink on starting up and doing it’s mysterious pre print routines is another matter. Still it works out at around 60.7p per ml at best. The one downside of the Ecotank ink is it’s the cheaper dye based ink that’s used which is not so long lasting as pigment based ink used in the more higher quality printers. Epson however do make claims about improvements to the dye based inks they use…. Time will tell.

Precisely why I got myself a laser printer. After 2 years and the occasional printing of documents the toner cartridge (rated for 1000 pages) slowly comes to an end. Replacement is about USD 40. For anything in color or larger amount of copies I rather go for a professional print shop.

If you Google on the cost per page of printing, you will see a number of interesting results. While the cartridge is more costly than a tank refill, the cost of the tank printer may be more than the cartridge. The result is the costs are the same.

I don’t think that’s actually true. Epson Ecco tank ink works out at 16.8p per ml. While ink for the Canon Pima pro-1 is 67p per ml. From experience the claimed 35ml per cartridge is somewhat theoretical due to the way the printer works. The claimed running cost by Canon are a myth from years of experience.
I know we are comparing a dye based with a pigment based system so it’s not equal.. but… if you want to churn off good quality photo prints, even long panoramic prints are possible…then the Epson Eco tank at 16.8p per ml totally knocks the socks off the alleged 67p per ml of the Canon.
Regarding the costs of the printers the Canon is more expensive than the Epson and neither are cheap. But let’s remember the Epson is a A3+photo quality printer that has a host of specific printer profiles available for a wide range of paper. It’s not some chepo rinky dinky A4 inkjet selling at £50 with tiny ink cartridges that’s produces questionable quality prints and can’t print A3+ or wide panoramas.

I print an occasional document and update my printed portfolios using a Canon 100Pro. I too got tired of the price of refills so I saved the cartridges and filled them with the quantity ink and a replacement chip on each cartridge. The few prints that I produced afterward are on par with the OEM ink but the printer is in storage for the time being and a long term review is not possible.

For everyday general printing, a laser printer is the best way to go and you can get the color versions if you want, although they are not good photo quality. The toner last much longer than printer ink cartridges. You pay more up front for the printer but over time you're not buying ink every month. For photo prints, I do use a "Pro" inkjet printer but my printing for photos is more selective so I don't waste/use too much ink. If I need a large print (>13x19) I will use a photo lab.

Gosh ...


Gee willikers

I stopped using desktop inkjet printers decades ago. You can buy and operate a monochrome laser printer for years at a fraction of the price. Color laser has higher upfront and operational costs than monochrome, but it is still far less then printing the same number of pages from any inkjet.

If we want to change the market then its easy, dont buy these printers and dont buy the cartridges. However if you do print your images then I believe the extra cost can justify the quality.

And here I thought that this would be about printing photographs. Ooops! Yes, if you're printing documents, laser printers are best followed by the big tank ink jets. But for printing your images of your cat playing with a dead mouse, ink jet is far and away king.

What Lee, along with most people, don't realize, is the "eco-tank" inkjet printers are just as much of a scam...

Because they use permanent print heads, they use a SHIT TON more ink each time they need to perform a "cleaning cycle", which uses up much more ink, and these cycles are typically performed more frequently.

Worse still, many of those printers, especially Canon models, are designed so the waste ink cartridge, essentially a large foam-filled container used to store the cleaning ink, is NON-user-replaceable, and in many instances, attempting to do so results in cracking the plastic frame, rendering the printer garbage.

So one way or another, ALL inkjet printers are downright scams that should be avoided! It's only once you get into the high-end, wide-format pro inkjet printers that you get truly user-serviceable parts and better ink life.

For the ecotank printers, while they do more cleaning cycles, the ink used is small compared to the cost of an ink cartridge. The only issue is the cleaning cycle dumps ink onto a sponge on the left side of the printer, and when that sponge is full, it will refuse to print until you take it apart and clean the sponge, though that takes a few years.

No, it does NOT take a few years; for an average user using one of these to actually print photos, the sponge has been shown to fill within MONTHS. Please don't spread FUD in defence of these scam machines.

FUD? To quote Inigo Montoya: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." 💀

FUD stands for fear, uncertainty, doubt. I think the word you are looking for is disinformation. That said, whether it is years or months depends on how often one must perform the print head cleaning. If the printer is used regularly, it will require cleaning less often and could very well last more than a year before the sponge must be cleaned. For infrequent users, ink jets are a terrible option because much of the over-priced ink will go toward the print head cleaning that will need to be done too often.

It depends on the amount of use and how often it cleans. For basic use (occasional documents and a photo once in a long while), you can go years. Though even with moderately heavy use, they are designed to go about 1.5 to 2 years without needing to service it as they do not want people using RMA services while under warranty.

The Canon printers can fill within a few months though if you do a lot of photo printing and it ends up doing a "system cleaning".

What some printer makers do, is a short cleaning after each print on both cartridges even is only one was used. Some Canon photo printers with a continuous ink supply, will do a short cleaning before and after a print, in addition to longer cleaning cycles after a number of prints.

Edit, found a video showing one example of how they get people when they buy a CIS unit.

I take it that you don't print your photos at home. My P800 uses ink only when I tell it to. Yes, the P800 fits your description of 'ALL' when it comes to inkjet printers.

Printing a 16X24 color image uses about $3.50 worth of ink. The paper I use costs around $4.50 a sheet (17X25 since I print a lot of 16X24s). I save a LOT of money printing at home vs having a lab do it, paper quality taken into account.

One other thing to mention, ink costs go down with bigger machines. The ubiquitous Canon Pro 100, a dye ink printer, has an ink cost of about $1.30US per ML. My machine uses 80ML cartridges and cost about 73 cents an ML. Get to the big guys like the 24" and above, the cost per ML goes down even more.

If you print a few shots a year, then it's off to the lab. If you're like me and a lot of other members here that print a lot, do it at home. You control the output, you control the cost, and it's just fun to do.

So not true..

Talk about disinformation. For example the Epson Ecotank 8550 does require the maintenance tank to be replaced.
One it has been designed to be replaced by the user.
Two it costs around £25.
From my experience after churning off well over 100 A3 images I’m still on the original ink with only the grey ink tank falling in level to any great degree.
I do think we have to be careful about making sweeping statements like yours.
Yes inkjet printing is a minefield but not all printers are the same. If you want to know about printing and printers then watch this man. As far as I’m concerned this guy is the printing god. If you want to know about printers and printing then Keith Cooper is the man.

Man I'm glad this video was made. I've always wondered what's the deal with my Canon Ink Jet printer. I rarely use it and it seems like I'm always having to replace the ink cartridge. It's ridiculous how much it costs for such a little amount. What a total ripoff. One thing is for certain, I will never buy another inkjet printer.

Not only are the cost of cartridges a rip off, but if you ever move country the printer itself becomes useless. I have a Canon Pro10S which I bought in the UK. I moved to Japan with it and Canon Pro10S cartridges in Japan do not work in the printer. Same with a very low end HP we use to just do docs with. Yep you can get a cartridge that fits and is for that printer, but only if it was purchased in the country the cartridges came from.

wow.. Man I love you and your channel. But. How. In. The. World. are you this far behind when it comes to printers and their consumables???? Years ago I learned that if I were to use printers as much as I wanted then I needed an ink solution that did not include OEM ink cartridges or those stupid two cartridge printers. They are the worst. I did refillable for the the longest time. Messiness and the fact that if you do not refill as soon as you run out the printhead will clog made me give that up in favor of cheap individual color cartridges. My current printer is a Canon TS 9020. It uses 6 in dividual tanks. I but cheap ebay knock offs that work just fine. The minute a cartridge runs out I pop a new one in and run a head cleaning cycle. Done. I have had this printer for 5 years or so. zero issues. Beautiful photos. Only 8.5 by 11 but seriously how many 13 x 9 s am I going to print? Your video is quaint. It seriously is something I would have been watching 8 years ago but hey better late than never. Also consider when a person has very little money they have to find solutions if they are going to participate in a great many things. My solution for printers was born of financial necessity. Yours out of simple frustration. Keep this in mind when you review "affordable" photo gadgets. "Cheap" 150 dollar lenses are not cheap at all for many of us. The eco tank is a way for the company to provide a better system and keep you as a customer instead of losing you to third party cartridge producers. Many people for a long time have use Continuous Ink Supply systems for common printers for many years. CIS for short.

I apologize if I am trying to educate you on something which you are fully aware. It just really caught me off guard that you would be so far out of the loop on the scam of printer ink as a world famous photographer. You have traveled the world with the best of photographic equipment providing insight and beautiful images along the way yet this printer thing is as new to you as sliced bread once was. Makes me laugh and shake my head in wonder at the same time.

If you want to save ink, do NOT turn off the printer. The electricity cost is minimal. Whenever you turn on an inkjet printer, it goes through a "cleaning" cycle which dumps much ink.

How true is this? Given that even when left on they periodically run the cleaning cycle anyway?

My main photography printer is an Epson P800. I also have a Canon MG7720 as a copier/scanner/knock-off page printer. Both of them just sit there - no periodic cleaning. If I turn them off and back on, they go through several minutes of "marking territory". Your model spraying may vary.

Interesting video.. but if you want to get into photo printing you need to consider a number of factors and do sone research. I would highly recommend checking out no frills straight talking no bullshit Keith Copper, he of the check shirt. You want good quality printing info then HE IS your man.

I have owned the same Epson 24” printer since 2013. I have never performed a power clean, which the printer will demand I perform every few months, and will use about $75.00 worth of ink. There no reason to do a random power clean except to waste ink. A power clean should only be used when the head is blocked with dried ink. The secret to preventing ink drying out is to only turn the printer off occasionally. Yes, it is a waste of electricity, but it works.

Canon make the same type of printer with ink tanks. While both the Epson and Canon ink tank printers are more economical in theory, there are at least two main issues with them:

1. Because the print heads are not swapped with cartridges, they instead need to be kept from clogging by a regular "flush" of ink. This ink needs to go somewhere. This is for almost all models into internal foam blocks that are not user replaceable. When you hit full ink waste, you need to send the printer in for an expensive service.

2. Even before you hit the above issue, many of the printers have problems where the print heads clog anyway due to ink drying in hotter environments, periods of not being used, etc. There are also a lot of YouTube videos with users experiencing air bubbles creeping into the tubes that are supposed to feed the ink to the heads. When this happens, no mega-flusing cycle in the world helps so unless you are prepared to do some McGyvering yourself – you guessed it, a manufacturer service is needed.

I worked for a company that developed a photo quality color printer in the early 1990’s. It used solid ink which it would melt and squirt through a jet onto a rotating drum. The image would then be transferred to a sheet of paper. The inks were developed by a team of chemists and cost only a few cents to produce per cartridge. They sold the printers at cost and the ink for $35 per refill. This was a 1000x markup.

Wanted to also add in response to your latest video:

When manually filling a cartridge, you can often get around 7+ times as much ink in it than what comes from the factory, though keep in mind that many refill services, e.g., places like Walgreens that may offer it, will often only put like 5ml or less of ink total into the cartridge.

Canon cartridges typically have 1 hole under the sticker for black ink, and 3 tiny holes for color. For the vast majority of canon cartridges, the top part near the print head where the canon logo is on the sticker, will be the magenta ink, Near the bottom left of the sticker is the cyan ink, and the bottom right of the sticker area is the yellow ink.Canon uses a really thin needle (similar to what hospitals use when giving injections, but most ink refill kits use a larger diameter needle, thus you will need to expand the hole slightly.
After that, you can inject more ink, and essentially fill it until the sponge is fully saturated.
After that a cartridge that will typically start fading after around 50-70 document prints, will last for around 400+ prints.

You can typically refill until you encounter a large clog where letting the print head sit in a small pool of 91% alcohol does not clear it, then the cartridge is typically useless unless you want to refurbish it with a deep cleaning where you pry off the lid with a box cutter blade at the seam, and then remove the sponge, and wash the inside with warm water (preferably in a bathroom sink since white porcelain doesn't hold stains from printer ink. Then you can get many more refills out of it, though you have to make sure you properly superglue the cover to make sure it doesn't leak (the cover needs 100% super glue coverage at the seams.

PS, unlike the ecotank printer, many printers that rely on overpriced cartridges will not add a page count timer for the ink waste sponge, thus after around 5-7 years, consider taking the printer apart enough to get to the waste sponge and then wash it so that the sponge doesn't overflow.