How Much Ink (and Money) Is Your Printer Wasting? A Lot More Than You Think.

When your printer is telling you it's time to change that cartridge, it's probably fibbing about how much ink is actually left in the tank. The folks at Bellevue Fine Art Reproduction had an inkling that their Epson Stylus Pro 9900 large format printer was lying to them every time it said a cartridge was empty and since printer ink is one of the most expensive consumer liquids on earth per fluid ounce, that could equate to some serious coin being thrown in the trash with each replacement. Watch them go step-by-step, weighing the cartridges and calculating how much ink is left inside when the printer won't use it anymore. Not only can you see their results, but you can do it yourself at home with their instructions.

It should be said that Epson is not the only printer brand guilty of inaccurate level readings and even these findings are not enough for Bellevue Fine Art Reproduction to stop using Epson printers, as they produce absolutely top-tier results. Even so, they are really hoping the people at Epson see this video and can be convinced to look into the issue. If you happen to know anyone working there, we encourage you to point them in this direction!

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michael buehrle's picture

why does this surprise anyone ? everyone knows that they rip you off every time. that's why they can give away the printers, they gouge you on the ink. get yourself a bulk system and you can see how much you have left.

Adam Ottke's picture

Everyone always knew you wasted a little bit of ink...but did people really think it was THIS much? I didn't...and I print a TON -- now to the serious dismay of my conscience.

Eric Lefebvre's picture

Roughly every 6 cartridges you replace you've wasted a whole cartridge of ink. Each 700ml cartridge is about 250$.

How many cartridges do you replace in a year?

X = number of cartridges.

X / 6 * 250$ = money thrown out the window every year.

Let's say you replace all 11 cartridges every quarter? You've just thrown out 1750$ out the window.

11*4 / 6 * 250$ = 1750$

Insane right?

James Dyrek's picture

I have found that it is far cheaper to use a lab.

It's probably cheaper to just buy stock photos than to go to the bother of buying a camera and lights and all that other crap ;).Seriously, printing has always been a part of the creative part of photography, just as capture and post are. I find that the control I lose - as well as the satisfaction - of printing my own isn't worth the savings.

I'd disagree with that. Unless you're working in the darkroom, the creative process is done the moment you hit print. Any issues with printing are trying to make the print what you see on the screen. I've worked in a few labs, from Ritz Camera to different pro labs. At Ritz, I had a lot of wedding photographers as customers. At one of the pro labs, Jerry Uelsmann was one of my customers. His wife, Maggie Taylor, gets her printing done at a highly specialized lab in St. Pete, FL.

I strongly prefer to send out my printing because it frustrates me. Plus, if I don't like how it prints, I'm not out the paper and ink.

I suppose you're frustrated because the creative process is not done when you hit "print." Labs certainly have their place, but you exert no control over the process. Different paper/ink combinations have different printing characteristics; it is in printing where you decide and control how the final print looks.

That's a technical process, not a creative one.

Sean Molin's picture

It's true. Unless you're doing serious volume or making a butt-load of profit off of art prints.

It's not even just the ink cost, but the fact you have to print on a regular basis just to make sure the heads don't jam up. And then on top of that, these dedicated photo printers seem to evaporate ink just by sitting there.

What's funny is that many labs are using the printer in this video!

Andrew Griswold's picture

One of the most interesting things I learned out college was how one large corporation based out of NYC simply changed the standard typeface used in the office emails and presentations from Times to a slightly thinner but similar serif font and saved tens of thousands per year. Pretty incredible what just a little can do.

Sean Molin's picture

There was a proposal to the US Government that they could save 30% of the $467m annually spent on ink by switching to the lightweight font.

But now imagine this extra ink that's being thrown away on top of this. In this particular case, BFAR is giving up near 20% of each cartridge. If we even went down to a conservative 10%, the US Government is throwing away $46.7 MILLION dollars in ink every year already.

Of course... it's pretty well-argued that that statistic is overstated:

They might save more like 5%... and they're also using far cheaper ink than us plebeians. I'd say the "unempty" cartridges are certainly the biggest loss even to the government.

Michael Kormos's picture

Let's not forget that's U.S. Government. They'd probably waste more ink with all the paperwork required to make the change than they'd actually save.

It's the intention that counts... everybody knows this! ;)

Andrew Griswold's picture

Yup, that might have been it. ha! The government. I worked in printing for a year out of school and being a designer I was all about figuring out how to save on costs. We would flip through so many numbers and cartridges to see the exact lifespan of each one. Crazy how much you can stretch it and save.

Robin Browne's picture

Screw the alert. Print until the printer stops, put in a new cartridge and keep going. The picture turns out perfect, no lines or color shift. Epson 3880.

Sean Molin's picture

My Canon PIXMA Pro-1 won't let me print if it thinks a cartridge is empty.

But if your printer does, absolutely keep going! It's like a keg of beer. When it blows that glass is free. ;-)

Today I changed 3 cartridges from my Epson R2880. I would have stopped if I had seen this article first. From now on I'll keep on printing until I get wrong color. I wonder if other brands have the same issue. My printer is getting old and if there is a good quality but more reliable printer I may consider them.

Sean Molin's picture

The PIXMA Pro printers are great. I have the Pro-1, but it doesn't let me print if even one of the 11 cartridges is detected as "empty".

Sean Molin's picture

The PRO-1 and PRO-10 use pigment. I buy aftermarket cartridges and have no issues.

Ericson Joseph's picture

this happens to me when im using my picture mate printer, lots of ink remaining but it say the cartridge needs to be replaced. Maybe its a safety measure.

olivier borgognon's picture

What is the community feeling about CISS ? Further development of these systems might put pressure on the brands and get them to act a little more for value and less for profit when it's based on waste and not on quality of service and quality of the product itself. ?

Ross Floyd's picture


I would avoid this. CISS will almost certainly void your warranty. The tanks and bottles the inks come in are also not a closed system like cartridges, which can introduce impurities that would destroy or at the very least clog the printhead. The quality of pigments is also not guaranteed.

We looked into this when I ran a very large lab for the University of Illinois. As they are, the cons to us outweighed the benefits.

olivier borgognon's picture

Hi Ross,

Thanks for the insightful answer and time taken based on your experience. I know a few photographers using CISS systems and being very happy with them, however all the elements you state are clearly cons to using them and with high volume or a Lab would clearly have to include these elements in the decision making. Warranty to me seems the least important one, as most printers are guaranteed 2 years and then out, so the CISS should be installed after the warranty period expires.

I much appreciate your input and am sure this could lead to a very interesting article on CISS vs NOT CISS on Fstoppers, with some of your valuable input.

Thanks again,


Ross Floyd's picture

Thats a great point too Olivier - post warranty I would totally have at it. I have no allusions about my prints needing to last 80 years or longer either hahaha. So I wouldn't worry so much about ink quality - I would be very curious to see side by side prints though. Image quality is always paramount for me, if one could get the same or similar results with a CISS then it could be very interesting, especially on a printer smaller than the 9900. I'd still be a little squeamish messing with a $7000 printer like that, warranty or not.

Ross Floyd's picture

Also not sure this is 100% profit driven. Not all systems can be engineered to be 100% efficient, not many are. Do you get all of the peanut butter out of the jar? I sure don't.

I will say that 200ML is A LOT of ink. And peanut butter is like 10 cents an ounce not $11.00 an oz.

This printer is also a lumbering beast, it takes eleven 220ML cartridges to just prime the thing (fill all of the tubes essentially) out of the box and roughly $2000 more to fill it with ink to get the first print out.

Note that the cartridge system is just one part of the inefficiency.

It dumps a bunch of ink on startup to clear the printhead.

If you get a clog, it dumps more ink.

If you want change from photo black to matte black its also a very expensive proposition - eating another 220ML to charge with the new ink.

Before the 900 series, EPSON printers weren't "ink limited" out of the box, which means that the amount of ink they put down wasn't even optimized. You had to have a $2-3k RIP software and $2k i1 pro and a hell of a lot of knowledge to make them even run efficiently and calibrated.

As infuriating as this is, I would temper that with the knowledge that technology is getting better all of the time. Their new P800 and P600 are more efficient at ink switching and use than the 3880 (which most of us are likely to buy), mostly because the cartridges have been moved closer to the printhead! Go figure.

Also getting perfect color prints takes minutes!! That beats the hell out of enlarging in a color darkroom and running RC coated fuji crystal archive through a colex machine for hours!!

Eric Lefebvre's picture

"Do you get all of the peanut butter out of the jar?"

I'm pretty sure you don't leave 15% to 20% of the peanut butter in the jar. :p

Ross Floyd's picture

Peanut butter is delicious! probably less than 3% is lost. hahaha

Sean Molin's picture

I use a mini spatula with jars of food like this. I certainly leave less than 1% at the most.

olivier borgognon's picture

Kind of agree with you and the Peanut Butter side by side example. This being said, engineers are capable of working on 100 years resisting ink, precision printheads sending micron size drops of pigments of ink on paper, instant dry etc.

Why on earth does nobody think/work of making ink cartridges like pastry/cream funnels ? ink sticks in corners of tube cartridges if the opening is vertical (such as in peanut butter jars), food or liquids stick in containers with corners, but it will slide on non-slip materials with no angles or edges (such as funnels).

Printers work with electricity, and if we consider ink is stored in somewhat a vacuum, we could be using the ideas from what was done in Sanatoriums (inverted pressure rooms) to draw ink out of the cartridges on demand...

Now i'm not an engineer, so i'm probably asking for the moon with such simple thoughts, but if we can do it for Plumbers Glue Guns, why can't these guys do it for Printers ? I guess we would certainly be far from 20-25% of the content wasted.

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