This may not come as a shock to most people, but it really is true that buying a printer and making prints at home is just not cost effective. But printers are cheap these days, you say! Yes that is true – cheap printers are cheap. So cheap, that some printers which claim they can print photo quality and cost only $99 will usually be out of their service life within a year (or close to it) after purchase. The main reason for this is that the cheaper printers are made with cheaper components inside (print head, ink nozzles, arms and slide rails) that they just don’t hold up through the wear and tear. Did you ever notice your printer start to vibrate or shake while it was printing? This is not a good sign. It means something is off-kilter on the inside and can only continue to get worse. So what do you do? Buy a new printer every year? That’s not very cost effective… Oh wait, it uses ink? If you own an inexpensive printer, it must siphon the ink out with a straw like a thirsty hamster at his water bottle. The ink cartridges ‘run out’ just a little before they are actually out of ink. Then, when you go to purchase new ink, you may find out that a full set of replacement inks cost more than your printer did (and your printer came with a full set of ink). It’s the old razor and razor-blade trick they’re pulling on us. At one point one of my clients realized how ridiculous this all was and instead of buying a full set of replacement inks for $92.75, he purchased another printer instead for $79.99 which came boxed with a full set of inks. He did this twice. How ridiculous is this? I got to thinking about all of this one day just over a year ago when I had it with spending so much money on ink for my Epson 2200. I never had and still don’t have any complaints about print quality, compatibility, etc. But here was the scary, eye-opening revelation: I calculated how much printer ink actually ends up costing. We thought gas prices were outrageous over the course of summer 2008? Wait until I tell you that the price of ink for the average home printer costs $4,769.10 per gallon. I am pretty sure printer ink is right up there for most expensive liquid in the world behind nasal spray and possibly other medications. This calculation is based on an average approximate per cartridge volume of 11-12ml and an average cartridge standard retail of $12.95.
So, like I said…I got to thinking about how much I keep spending on ink supplies and while we’re at it, I decided I wanted the capability to print larger anyway – 17-inch instead of 13-inch. Well, when I did the math for larger printers (for example the Epson 4880), I found that the per gallon price of inks exponentially decreases in price – close to 6-times in price. Due to larger ink tanks (which last longer) and a lower per milliliter cost, ink price per gallon is around $815. But then again, the printer is much more expensive. So then what do you do? To look at it this way (and from my perspective), the higher priced the printer, generally speaking the better built it is. Also, I was able to consider that by having the ablity to make larger prints would cut down (in the long run) on large expenses of having large exhibit prints made at local labs and I would be able to color profile and match everything in my controlled environment – and I would have the accessibility to experiment on all paper surfaces and develop new printing methods. Not to mention it would open up a new source of revenue for me in offering custom printing services to my own clients and running printing workshops to teach other amateurs, enthusiasts and budding professionals the proper and essential steps of digital printmaking.
The point of this article, in the end, is to say that unless you have a large chunk of disposable income or you can generate money from the sales of your prints, it isn’t really cost effective for the average consumer to purchase a home photo printer for making 4x6s & 5x7s every once in awhile – especially 8x10s! On average it will cost an individual 65 cents per 4×6, $3.00 per 5×7, and $6.00 per 8×10 to produce at home; (and that’s assuming you can find your way quickly through the software and print driver menu) Additionally, if you don’t use the printer except for every once in a while, the print heads dry and get clogged up and you have to perform a head cleaning process which wastes more ink, and then one ink cartridge runs out, and it won’t print at all unless ALL cartridges are ready, and you don’t have a spare cartridge in your desk drawer so you have to run out to the store, and then you realize that you would actually have the print by now if you had just taken your memory card or a CD full of photos to your local camera shop or print lab and have them made for you at a much higher quality than any of these cheapy home printers can muster.
By the way, I am quite pleased with my purchase of the Epson 4880, which I have had for over a year now. The printer has paid for itself and continues to generate revenue (and save me money). Look for my review of the Epson 4880 printer here in the coming weeks.