Printers are the kind of purchase that people make based on price sensitivity. Few understand that the real cost of a printer is not its upfront expense, but rather the cost of replacement ink over its lifetime.

Most printer manufacturers have adopted the Gillette shaver business model. Gillette takes a loss on every handset and makes its profit on replacement blades.

Hewlett-Packard -- the dominant printer company -- exemplifies this approach. They lose on every HP printer they sell just to make a handsome profit on ink cartridges.

There is a company taking the opposite approach. Epson has a new line of printers called EcoTank. You pay a real price ranging anywhere from $400 to $500 based on model, but here's the thing: You get 2 years of ink free upfront, and when you do need to buy more ink, you get another 2-year supply for $52. Think about all the money you can save over a lifetime of printing!

 

Get the best printer for your money

If you want a cheaper printer that's still reliable, Consumer Reports recently took a look at printers and recommended the HP Officejet Pro 8100, which sells for around $100 and costs 1.5 cents per printed page.

A few other printers the magazine really liked were the HP Officejet Pro 251DW  (inkjet, $230), the Epson Expression Premium XP-620  (all-in-one inkjet, $90), and the HP Officejet Pro 8620  (all-in-one inkjet, $200).

Keep these tips in mind to save even more money with every page you print:

  • Choose draft mode when you print. This is a lower resolution mode that still looks great. You can drop cost to just under a penny a page.
  • Buy third-party ink. Printer companies hate it. The reality is some third-party inks aren't good. Others are just fine. You have to experiment.
  • Choose high-yield cartridges over standard cartridges. You may pay 20% more for these kinds of cartridges, but you can get double the prints. Not all printers can use high-yield cartridges.

Some time ago, I read a TechWorld.com report about how cartridge manufacturers give you a notice that your cartridge will soon be empty when nearly 60 percent of the ink is still left. If you throw it out at that point, more than half the ink you pay for goes unused!

So when your computer tells you replace to the cartridge, instead just pull it out and shake it. You'll probably get several weeks more of use out of it. After all, manufacturers have a clear financial incentive to shortchange you and make you buy more of their product. What you pay to print per page skyrockets if you throw that cartridge out or recycle it too early.

Multi-ink cartridges are the worst because they have individual ink banks for up to three or four colors. Any one of them can run out before the others do.