It has been three months. You've been using your new printer without a second thought, perhaps even impressed with the quality you are getting for your (so-far) small investment. Cool.

Huh? What's that blinking light? Oh, you are out of ink. Eh, no big deal. You'll just go get some more.

For fifty-freaking-dollars. Or maybe just $16, for one of the three color cartridges your printer uses. Don't even ask about the price for the black cartridge. Oh, you're out of blue (technically cyan) ink but only want to use yellow, or even just black? Too bad. Your printer won't let you. You have to go buy one so you can print and not use it.

But you're smart, and you've heard about having your ink cartridge refilled for much less than buying them brand new. So, you won't have to pay as much for that color cartridge you don't need. And this is true, you won't, and refilling does work (see below), but you will be made to jump through flaming hoops and walk across fiery coals to get your printer to cooperate.

Here's the deal: the aforementioned situations are some of the ways consumers encounter ploys large printer manufacturers (HP, Brother, Epson, Lexmark, Dell, and Canon) use to increase their revenue and get more money out of you. Business is business, I suppose, but it really drives me nuts. People don't see the value in educating themselves about printers, the cartridges, how the technology works, or what exactly they are paying for, so it is particularly easy to take advantage of these buyers -- and they do.

Here are a few concrete, concise, practical and useable nuggets of information about the home printer market that will directly help you maximize your buying power, and undercut those jerks:

  • Ink vs. Toner: There are two types of printers/copiers/fax machines/etc. made and marketed to home or small office users, the difference being in the substance used to put the words and images on the paper. Ink is a fast-drying liquid and toner is a super-fine powder "fused' to the page. The latter are usually known as "laserjet" or laser printers. Almost every other kind (officejet, deskjet, photosmart, inkjet, etc.) use ink. Toner is vastly more economical and delightfully less difficult, if you are only going to need to print in black. Students, people with modest proffesional printing needs, and those not intending to print pictures are generally going to benefit and SAVE way more by using all black laser printers (color laser printers get expensive due to the fantastic quality; not generally worth it for the average consumer). Laser printers have a higher upfront cost, but the output per dollar is far better. However, for those of you printing pictures of the grandkids or who print very infrequently, ink is a cheap route for color printing and the upfront cost is much less. So if you don't think you will be printing more than a few times a year, ink is the way to go. Posts to come on this.
  • Refilling WORKS: Having your ink cartridges refilled, or buying already refilled (also known as "remanufactured") cartridges does work. It works. Refilling works. Ok, you get it. But it works. There is legislation in place that forbids these large printer companies from essentially monopolizing the ink cartridge industry by preventing the use of refills. Now, that's not to say you won't have to click an "OK" or "Continue Printing" button ten times, and be mindful that there are certain exceptions/technicalities (basically, these companies exploiting loopholes), but refilling works and results in remarkable savings. This applies to ink and especially toner. Cartridge World is the leader in refilling, but big chains like Staples, Walgreen's, and even K-mart have entered this market. Refills DO NOT void your printer warranty, yield comparable quality and pages, and are simply bogged down by a stigma generated by, you guessed it, the large printer companies. Refills will require more patience, and can have some hiccups, but are not the counterfeiting evil these large companies purport them as. Posts to come on this (and just about everything...).
  • Various Tips: Always consider the price and style of the cartridges the printer you want to buy takes, especially with ink. Honestly, forget about the printer. There are only so many features they can have -- the cartridges are what you will buy over and over. As with anything, ten mins of researching the ink quantities of the cartridges can save you lots. Beware of cheap printers, or really, really good deals on a printer: replacing the cartridges will often delay your retirement, hence the low price of the printer. There is no one company that is any cheaper or better than any other, though I have no problem stating that Lexmark is particularly expensive with absolutley no added benefit. As for the rest, per dollar they are practically the same. The more you pay for a cartridge, the more ink or toner inside, and that is almost proportionate for every cartridge and across every brand.

I will have more posts coming expanding on these issues. However, keep this in mind and I guarantee you will make an optimal purchasing choice.