Why Are Printer Ink and Toner Cartridges So Expensive?

2nd Jul 2018

Why Are Printer Ink and Toner Cartridges So Expensive?

Your inkjet printer needs ink to print. Your laserjet printer needs toner to print. 

Why are these necessary components of laserjet and inkjet printers so expensive?

Remanufactured and compatible ink and toner cartridges have emerged as a potential solution to the high price tags for genuine OEM ink and toner but these cartridges are of inferior quality and most printer brands advise against using them, even going as far as to not cover damage caused to printers by remanufactured or compatible cartridges in their warranties.

Genuine OEM ink and toner remains the highest quality and safest option for printer owners, but with quality comes higher prices. And higher prices come with some obvious questions:

Why is printer ink so expensive? And why is toner so expensive?

Where do these prices come from?

Let's dive in and see how ink and toner costs are being formed.

Research and Development Costs

ink and toner research and development

HP claims that it spends $1 billion a year on ink research and development. You would think ink would not require such intensive R&D, but HP suggests otherwise. 

Is HP simply trying to validate their high prices or does ink and toner really require $1 billion's worth of R&D annually? 

Who knows.

The inkjet and laserjet printing processes are advanced and the most important components of these processes, ink and toner cartridges, must be well-designed in order to prevent malfunctioning, but $1 billion per year is steep and possibly exaggerated. 

However, the high costs of R&D remains one of the fundamental arguments for the high prices of ink and toner.


Ink and toner cartridges are not one-size-fits-all. 

Ink and toner cartridges are designed for a specific printer model or multiple printer models, increasing the R&D and manufacturing costs needed. 

Imagine if all HP printer models used one toner cartridge model, or even if all printer models within a printer model line, for example HP LaserJet Pro, used one toner cartridge model. That would require far less R&D and would significantly lower manufacturing costs. 

However, this is not the case. 

Some ink and toner cartridges are compatible with one printer model. Some ink and toner cartridges are compatible with multiple printer models. 

There remains a great deal of specialization in ink and toner cartridge design and this warrants increased R&D and manufacturing costs.

Selling Printers at a Loss

Printer manufacturers will sell printers at a loss, drawing consumers in with tantalizing low printer prices, and then keep ink and toner cartridge prices high as this is typically not factored into the buying decision. 

These manufacturers know that the overwhelming majority of printer owners prefer genuine OEM ink and toner and will remain brand loyal rather than opting for less reliable remanufactured and compatible products. 

They know that they have you. So manufacturers suck you in with low printer prices and then keep ink and toner prices high. 

Supply and Demand

Inkjet printers use a lot of ink and laserjet printers use a lot of toner. Printers are a common household item. 

Almost every office has at least one printer, if not multiple. There is a massive demand for ink and toner. 

Similar to gasoline, when there is a great demand for something and a monopolized limited supply, prices increase. The main name-brand printer brands, most notably HP as the market leader, control the market and dictate the pricing. 

Companies that sell compatible and remanufactured ink and toner cartridges have emerged, but they are unable to seriously compete with the few name-brand manufacturers that control the market. 

This happens because they are selling lower quality products and are at a major disadvantage while attempting to design competitive products for printers that the name-brand companies have manufactured which allows them to design their ink and toner cartridges specifically for the printer model.

The brand manufacturers control the market and will continue to going forward. 

The demand for ink and toner is consistently high with minimal fluctuation. Barring the potential for new advancements in printing that somehow reduces the need for ink and toner, which is very unlikely, the demand will remain high. 

As a result, the prices for genuine OEM ink and toner will remain high as well. Printer owners are left with the task of finding the best prices available for genuine ink and toner, which typically does not come from big-box retailers. 

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