Let’s Not Bicker And Argue About Who Is ‘Overcharging’ Who For Ink

One of my most treasured comedic film moments comes from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”  Michael Palin, after witnessing considerable carnage in and around Swamp Castle makes this plea: “Let’s not bicker and argue about who killed who.”

Anyway, since I was broken in under the direction of Arthur Kallet (a co-founder of Consumers Reports), I have deep roots in the consumer-testing industry, and have always reviewed products from the perspective of the end-user.  As Wirth Consulting has reported, there’s currently a movement among some consumers that ink-jet printer/All-in-One vendors label the actual amount of ink contained in their ink cartridges.  And, since, its entry into the market in 2007, Eastman Kodak has been aggressively claiming that their ink-jet printer/All-in-Ones have the most affordable ink costs, and alleging that other vendors are actually overcharging customers for ink.

First, I’d like to point out that I’ve been involved in the testing of copier and printer ink/toner yields for many, many years.  I was also heavily involved in the development of  American Society for the Testing of Materials (ASTM) F.05 page-yield test methods and procedures.  My (former employer’s) lab and efforts were instrumental in basic R&D/marketing claims for the ICRA (International Cartridge Recyclers Association).  In summary, I have printed/copied enough page-yield test targets to pave the streets of London.

The development of page-yield standards was always a dicey proposition and it took years of work at ASTM before any kind of consensus could be reached.  This is because the ASTM charter specifies that each subcommittee consist of a specified mix of consumers, manufacturers and observers, and there were monumental economic issues at stake for many members.  One vendor would insist on using their internal test method as a foundation, another would insist on using their test target, somebody else would challenge the test method or page coverage/composition of the test target as not realistic and the conversation would devolve into a debate about how to measure original page coverage.   This went on for many years while myself, as committee chairman, looked out for consumer interests.  Finally, once our committee hashed out test methods and procedures, it took ANSI/ISO to stick a fork in it with ISO/IEC 24711, a standard that has been adopted for ink-jet and solid-ink devices.  ISO/IEC 24711 is described as “a method for determination of ink-cartridge yield for color ink-jet printer and multifunction devices that contain printer components.”

Thankfully for consumers, the Wild West of vendor-reported ink yields was over and they could actually compare the ink cost-per-page of various products on a level playing field.  Using these recently replicable numbers, let’s do a cost-per-page analysis on ink-jet MFPs from the major vendors that are priced in the range of $125-$175 using the the hardware and cartridge pricing that we obtained from the Staples® Web site.

Ink Cost Per Page for MFPs from $125 to $175

Make & Model Cyan Cartridge Price*/Page Yield** Yellow Cartridge Price*/Page Yield** Magenta Cartridge Price*/Page Yield** Black Cartridge Price*/Page Yield** Total Cost Per Page
$10.99/325 $10.99/325 $10.99/325 $10.99/450 12.587¢
Pixma MP560
$13.99/535 $13.99/510 $13.99/530 $15.99/324 12.933¢
WorkForce 310
$13.99/350 $13.99/350 $13.99/350 $18.29/245 19.457¢
Officejet 6500
$14.99/700 $14.99/700 $14.99/700 $19.99/1,200 8.090¢
ESP 5250
$14.99/378*** *** *** $9.99/536 5.829¢
Prospect Pro 205
$18.99/600 $18.99/600 $18.99/600 $18.29/510 13.081¢

*Staples® Web Site pricing
**At 5% page coverage per color for a total of 20% coverage
***Multi-color ink cartridge houses cyan, yellow, magenta, and photo black inks, as well as a protective coating, in a single cartridge

And the Winner Is . . .
Indeed, Kodak at 5.829¢ (followed closely by HP at 8.090¢).  The ESP 5250 has a considerably lower cost per page and TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) than the other five other All-in-Ones in this comparison.

Houston, We Have A Problem
However, there is a big problem with taking these numbers at face value.  While it is indeed valid to compare all the numbers above, you can’t include Kodak in the comparison because it employs a multi-color cartridge.  Why is this so?

The multi-color (or chamber) cartridge that has been used by many other vendors in the past has been largely abandoned in favor of individual cartridges for each color because of a single glaring weakness:  The multi-color cartridge houses roughly equal quantities of the various ink colors in a single cartridge.  While this may keep down the cost of cartridge manufacturing, it doesn’t do the user any favors at all unless they print documents that require the exact same ratio of all of the ink colors.   This is because as soon as one color runs out, you need to change and dispose of the cartridge even though it may still contain considerable quantities of the other ink colors.  In theory, you can still print with a muli-color cartridge that has run out of one color but your color image quality will be hideously wrong (think psychedelic) and the software/device will continuously nag you until you relent and change the cartridge.  The bottom line is that nobody, I repeat nobody in the real world is going to be able to wring every last drop of color ink out of a multi-color cartridge and their cost per page will suffer accordingly.  How much it will suffer can’t be determined, but you most certainly don’t have a leg to stand on when you start pointing a finger at who is overcharging who for printer ink.

What’s Next?
Wirth Consulting has purchased a Kodak ESP 5250 and will shortly be performing a WYSK Hands-On test on the device  Using our standard test method, we’ll look at the aspects of performance that are important to users including image quality (especially photo image quality for this class of products), reliability, ease of use, and maintenance procedures.  And yes, we’ll let you know when and if the ESP-5250 runs out of ink during the printing/copying of our standard test suite when compared to similar products that we’ve tested from HP and Lexmark.