Three Major Printer Makers Make Ink More Affordable

Instant Ink, EcoTank, INKvestment - do they save you money?

Users, journalists, and everybody else seems to agree that inkjet printers, especially entry-level, low-volume models, cost too much too use, in terms of the per-page cost of consumables--in this case, of course, ink. Everybody knows a major part of a printer manufacturer’s income comes from the sale of consumables, but nowhere is this more obvious than with low-cost printers, such as HP’s Envy 5660 All-in-One Printer, or perhaps Epson’s Expression Premium XP-630 Small-in-One Printer. The printers themselves don’t cost very much (under $100 if you shop around), but keeping them replenished with ink, especially if you print a lot, is costly.

Higher-end, business-oriented printers (such, as, say, Epson’s WorkForce WF-4630 All-in-One Printer), on the other hand, since you pay significantly more for them up front, don’t cost as much to use on a per-page basis, for two reasons: You’ve already paid a premium for the device itself, and since you’re probably printing significantly more than would buyers of low-volume models like those mentioned above, the cost per page is already cheaper due to volume.

In any case, for one reason or another, three major printer makers--Brother, Epson, and HP--have developed and instituted ink delivery programs designed to save you money on ink; they are INKvestment, EcoTank, and Instant Ink, respectively. Up front, off-the-bat, the first thing to understand about any of these programs is that, for the most part, the more you print, the better deal you get, within the limitations of the printer itself, that is.

That said, with all the shenanigans designed to sell ink over the years, you can’t help but ask yourself if these programs, too, are more gimmick than substance. What can say is that, overall, printer makers haven’t severely compromised the cash flow from ink sales with these programs, but they have made some concessions that will, if you’ll make a concession or two of your own, save you money on ink.

The newest of the three programs, INKvestment is the most straightforward, and, as we said in our review of the MFC-J985DW XL Work Smart All-in-One Printer, the least imaginative. Basically, what Brother has done here is two-fold: thrown additional high-yield ink tanks in the box with the printer and lowered the price of the ink cartridges themselves, so that they deliver CPPs of under 1 cent for black-white-pages and under 5 cents for color.

INKvestment printers come in two flavors: the MFC-J895DW XL mentioned above comes with three sets of high-yield ink tanks (what Brother says is “2 years” of ink, but that, of course, depends on what and how much you print), and the non-XL MFC-J895DW, which comes with only one set of cartridges.

Of these three services, Epson went to the greatest links to create an actual new product. EcoTank printers come equipped with, in the case of the WorkForce ET-4550 EcoTank All-in-One Printer and a couple others, ink reservoirs mounted on the right side that you fill from a bottle. An exception is the high-volume (and high-priced) WorkForce Pro WF-R4640 EcoTank All-in-One Printer, which comes with receptacles for hanging big bags of ink on both sides of the chassis.

Like INKvestment printers, EcoTank machines require a significant investment up front. The printers run between about $300 and $1,200, and most of that money goes toward the ink; the printers themselves, without the EcoTank add-ons, sell for a fourth or fifth of equivalent EcoTank models. Here’s the bottom line with EcoTank: use it a lot, print and copy copious pages; the more you print the more you save, compared to comparable non-EcoTank models. Either of the above WorkForce printer links will take you to an article that explains EcoTank’s economics in greater detail.

The older of the three services, Instant Ink is a good program for HP’s entry-level printers, such as the Envy 4520 All-in-One, but the company has also expanded the program to its larger, higher-volume business printers, even though, if you print a lot it doesn’t make a lot of sense. As described in this HP’s Instant Ink article, Instant Ink is a monthly subscription program consisting of three tiers all ranging below $10. However, rather than explaining it all again here, click the preceding link for more details.


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