Thursday, May 6, 2010

HP Vivera Ink Promotion

Commentary and some math: HP Vivera Ink Costs

When ever I need to print on my HP D7160-series color inkjet printer, it is invariably out of ink. The printer is only occasionally used and because of this, it always goes into a cleaning cycle. I suspect this wastes most of the ink. Naturally, today I needed to buy ink for a project.

HP's normal 02 "Combo-pack" of Vivera inks, with 5 color ink cartridges, no black, sells for $49. This price never varies.

However, I've noticed my local office-supply store has a special is a combo-pack (5 color ink cartridges, no black) plus 150 4x6 sheets of photo paper for $39.

At first glance, this is quite the deal. Notice HP does not say "free" 150 sheets of photo-paper. This combo-pack, not illustrated here, has a +150 logo on the bottom-right corner of the box and some text on the side.

The Deal:

It turns out the amount of ink in the cartridges is different. In the +150 package, the ink cartridges have an expected capacity of 150 photos while the regular cartridges print 220 photos (actual yield varies). This information is on the back panel, but it is not obvious and you must compare between the two packages to understand the difference.

Doing the math, it is nearly a wash, after noting HP sells 150 sheets of 4x6 for $10:

(This assumes you are printing photos. If you are printing white copier paper, then the 150-sheets would do nothing for you and the ink cost would be 32% higher.)

Additional information:

These printers use 6 individual ink cartridges -- a desirable feature -- which gives better print quality and you only need to replace the empty color rather than an entire combo-cartridge when one goes dry.

HP sells apparently three different sizes of color ink cartridges (not including the black, which are physically larger). The color cartridges are the same size and shape, regardless of capacity:
  • Half-size (shipped with new printers and promotions)
  • Standard
  • XL Size (only in the primary colors)
Each color has slightly different page counts, based on statistical printing averages.

Standard Sizes:
Black - 660 pages $20
Cyan – 400 pages $11
Magenta – 370 pages $11
Yellow – 500 pages $11
Light Cyan – 240 pages $11
Photo Magenta – 240 pages $11

Double-Sized XL:
XL – Cyan – 600 pages $15
XL – Magenta – 535 pages $15
XL – Yellow – 750 pages $15

(Not sold individually)

A full set of ink cartridges, including black, will cost about $80.00.

Best Buy / Cheapest:

Buying ink in a combo pack works out to be $9.80 per cartridge (vs $11), but seldom do you need all of the colors at the same time. However, in the long run, it evens out and you will save $1.20 per cartridge. But you must use the ink before it expires (each cartridge has a micro-chip and the cartridges know how old it is. They quit working if aged (2 years?); HP insists this ensures the highest-quality output.).

Notice there is little cost-per-page benefit in buying the XL cartridges over the standard sizes (0.28 vs 0.30 per average page).

Best Practices:

If you do a moderate amount of printing, buy a black-and-white laser printer for your normal day-to-day printing and use the color when you need it; this is especially true if you have school-age children. A low-end laser is about $220 and will pay for itself when compared to ink. This is what I do.

But, if you seldom print color, the inkjet becomes even more expensive. The long-times between print jobs means the printer spends most of its ink in cleaning cycles and page-counts go in the toilet. This is also apparently what I do.

If you can, take the images to a local full-service camera store and print at the self-serve kiosk. These prints will be cheaper than at home and you will be able to print larger prints.

I've not tried mail-order printing or refilled ink cartridges; I would like to hear your comments on this.

Savings at Office Supply Stores.

Ink must be a good markup. I buy from Staples Office Supply, where members (free to join), get a 10% discount and a (10%) quarterly rebate on all purchases. Old cartridges can be turned in for recycling, earning another $3.00 credit/rebate (starting June, 2010 - $2.00). The rebates arrive quarterly as a Staples-only-check; use it to buy paper. Other office stores may have similar programs.


If you print a lot of color, inkjet printing is very expensive.
If you print just occasionally, ink jet printing has many hidden costs and it is even more expensive.
Moderate printing is also expensive.

Related article: Unhappy InkJet Printers