Tech Q&A: Inside the hidden costs of printers and ink cartridges

Steve Alexander, Star Tribune on

Published in Business News

Q: I have an HP Envy Photo 6255 printer. Is there a way to modify the printer so it will accept only black ink cartridges?

—Jan Hunt, Woodbury, Minn.

A: Yes, but there are some hidden costs. HP, like other printer manufacturers, operates on the old razor and razor blades business model: Printers are sold cheaply and ink is sold at high prices.

By some estimates, a lot of printers are sold at a loss just to enable the sale of profitable ink cartridges (see This affects consumers in different ways:

—The kind of printer you have will allow you to remove the color cartridge and print only with the black cartridge (called "single cartridge mode.")

That's because your printer uses an ink-squirting mechanism, or "print head," that's contained inside each ink cartridge. This design frees you from having to buy expensive color ink cartridges that you don't want.


—The other kind of printer can't print anything unless it has both black and color ink cartridges present, and all contain at least some ink. HP says that's because the print head is part of the printer, not the cartridge, and as a result both types of ink are needed to clear the ink pathways during automatic maintenance. That clearly adds to the cost of buying ink. (For a list of HP ink jet printers that require multiple cartridges, see

But here's the surprise. While your printer can get along on only a black ink cartridge, HP charges you for the privilege: Your ink cartridges cost more for the amount of ink they contain.

So, if you print frequently, your ink costs can be higher than they would be for a printer that requires multiple ink cartridges in order to print (see

Here's some advice for readers who are considering buying a new printer: There appears to be a workaround that can lower ink costs. The trick is to buy an HP printer that requires both black and color print ink cartridges for printing.


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