HP print cartridges through the ages, a slow-motion ripoff

A little work with a handsaw reveals that over the years, the amount of ink in a new, official HP refill cartridge has been in decline. Prices, of course, have not been in decline.

I then removed the top of the cartridge with a handsaw and as you can see from the picture below the hydrophobic sponge fills the cartridge totally, just as I would have expected for the best part of fifteen quid, I then took another HP 350, the same cartridge but this time the manufacturers date was 2012 on the cartridge, I removed the top in the same way as before and to be totally honest I could not believe what I was looking at, the hydrophobic sponge inside the 2012 cartridge is only half the size!!

Mmm, I was beginning to smell a rat; as the saying goes… this got me thinking even more and I started to wonder if all the newer cartridges are like this, so this time I chopped the top off of a new HP 301 cartridge to have a look at the sponge, surely it can’t be any smaller…..or can it? Guess what! The sponge inside the HP301 is almost 40 percent smaller than the 2012 HP 350, which means that we are actually getting less ink for our money now than ever before. Why is that? The price isn’t shrinking though, that’s for sure!

HP Introduces Nano Sponge (via Reddit)


  1. Deja Copypasta Batman!

    There is a reason they don’t make them clear…

  2. So glad I dumped my HP printer for a laser printer. The starter toner cartridge that came with it lasted nearly a year, I’d have gone through 5-6 ink cartridges in that time. It’s already paid for itself in what I’ve saved not buying ink. 

    1. and you can have hours of fun re-filling the toner cartridge when it runs out– it’s like black icing sugar! IT GETS EVERYWHERE.

          1. That was my first thought, too. They need a creepy little girl in the picture.

      1.  I used to refill, but these days you can buy aftermarket toner carts for very little more than the refills cost and save the hassle.
        It helps a lot to not buy HP, they chip their carts and do other things to make it difficult for aftermarket toner manufacturers and rebuilders.  I buy Brother printers these days, their ink and toner carts are just plastic boxes with ink/toner in them so it’s easy to buy aftermarket.  Also their color lasers don’t print yellow FBI tracking dots on the output.

    2. Same here.  I bought a color laser on sale a couple of years ago and haven’t looked back.  I’ve saved a fortune over the cost of ink during that time.

    3. Yeah, my initial reaction was actually, “wait, people still use inkjet?” I have a fairly inexpensive brother network printer (2070N, IIRC) that works fine. Doesn’t print color, but I have no real need for that. Handles black and white fine, the toner lasts a long time, and replacements are cheap.

      1. They do, becuase that is what they find as all in ones stuffed on shelves at their local brick and mortar.

        1. I can find laser MFPs on shelves at my local B&M just fine.

          Problem is, people think they need color, and that means you’re looking at $500+, and modern consumer lasers are now pulling the same scam with toner cartridges.

  3. There’s oodles of literature on how many pages b/w and colour you get out of ink or toner cartridges. Manufacturers often claim way more than the press reports. And then there are “independent testers” who claim something else. Which is when the discussion of average amount of toner per page starts (obviously a text page requires more black but less toner overall than a full 4c picture). Don’t get angry, just take a closer look at what the original manufacturer does. And what the alternatives might be.

    Disclaimer: You guessed it, way back in the middle ages I worked for one of the manufacturers. Not any longer though. The above is just consumer due diligence. I think.

    1. So with your insider’s enlightened perspective, can you tell us which manufacturers are less deceptive, proprietary, and greedy this way?

      1. something like a black ink cartridge contains approx 8ml of ink, they used to hold more – up to 40ml originally, but printers are apparently more efficient these days. Many printers will leave a third of ink in a 3rd party cartridge when reporting it as empty. I used to refill in k cartridges for a small company – we’d charge £5 for a black refill – the 1litre of black refill ink we used cost $9. Even on a low cost refill, the markup is staggering.

        1. To be fair, printers are a loss-leader industry. The markup on modern razor blades is similarly staggering.

          1. The free handle, expensive blade way of things seems to have permeated the tech industry. Cheap computers, expensive accessories. Cheap TVs, expensive cables. And the dance goes on and on and on…

          2. I don’t always shave.  But when I do, I use a single blade safety razor.  Pretty much the same reason I use a laser printer with “Replace Supplies Override” enabled.

          3. I don’t always shave.  But when I do, I use a single blade safety razor.  Pretty much the same reason I use a laser printer with “Replace Supplies Override” enabled.

          4. I don’t always shave.  But when I do, I use a single blade safety razor.  Pretty much the same reason I use a laser printer with “Replace Supplies Override” enabled.

      2. Well, in one corner, we have a company that was a founding pillar of the tech industry, started by two titans of modern management, which sold the canonical device in nearly every category for over 4 decades… and in the last 15 years has suffered near-fatal hemorrhaging in people, product, and profit.  The entire global enterprise shambles forward, zombie-like, sustained by only two products – commodity IT servers  and consumer inkjets.

        And in the other corner, there’s everybody else.

  4. All this really proved is that the sponge inside the cartridge has gotten smaller.  They didn’t weigh the fresh cartridges and compare them to the same cartridges once the printer said they were empty to see how much ink was actually in them.

  5. There’s a difference between reduced sponge size and reduced ink.
    The only ink that matters is the ink that actually gets onto your page. If the bigger sponges held more ink, then any extra ink they held but that never hit the page was just wasted.

  6. if i understand correctly the sponge size does not determine the amount of ink, it merely  pushes the ink in the ink well, especially when it is low, to the correct location for the ink jet to suck it up for printing.  it could still contain the same amount of ink and just be making better use of the sponge.  in fact it could possibly hold a tiny bit more if you remove the volume that the excess sponge was taking up.

    Is that in an incorrect understanding?

    The article notes that the new cartridges have the same page yield.

    Also of note, these are NOT the standard cartridges, these are the low use cartridges which hold less ink and are cheaper.

    1. This, in spades.

      If they’ve managed to deliver the same results while using slightly less materials, they ae to be congratulated. And if they haven’t managed to deliver the same results, while claiming they have, they would be committing fraud in making that claim, which seems like a foolish way to save a small sum on each cartridge.

      I’m sure they’re gouging their customers, and I don’t expect them to stop anytime soon. But this overheated exposé of sponge sizes seems to miss the point completely.

        1. Um, what?

          I didn’t endorse gouging, I just said that sponge size has nothing obvious to do with it.

  7. Every printer sold makes a loss for its manufacturer. This explains why they seem to break so goddamn often, and also (since raising the price of printers isn’t really an option) why they have to squeeze the profit margins on ink.
    Does the average consumer even choose a printer? Or does the guy in Staples just load one into their trolley and say “half price if you get it today”?

    1.  You can buy printers that are not loss-leaders and for which the supplies are not ridiculously priced, you just have to make the decision up front to pay $500 instead of $125 for the printer.

      I once left a “free” Lexmark printers at the store when buying computer systems.  The sales person tried to force me to take it, but I would have just had to pay to dispose of the useless thing.  They didn’t want it either since it wasn’t worth the effort to try to explain where the excess inventory came from.  I thought about taking it outside the store, putting a “free” sign on it and leaving it on the curb.

      1. I get the same impression with laptops. My parents have a Acer laptop aimed at the business marke, and it keeps on going. But Acers aimed at the consumer market seems to die within a week of the warranty running out.

      2. “You can buy printers that are not loss-leaders and for which the supplies are not ridiculously priced, you just have to make the decision up front to pay $500 instead of $125 for the printer.”

        Or pay 125 for a laser printer. Who really needs color for their prints aside from every once in a while? What consumers, and even small businesses need “giclée” printing?

    1. Laser printers even better.  If you need to print photo quality, outsource to your local photo shop/drugstore/etc.  It’s actually cheaper to pay them to do it and you wind up with better quality prints.

      The ease of use and cost per page of a laser printer compared to ink is crazy.  You can shut off a laser printer and leave it for a year, and it will print fine when you turn it back on.  The inkjet will be all clogged up.

      1. Another alternative is to use laser for text, and those special photo printers for images. The latter uses a process closer to what you get at the photo shop than laser or ink.

  8. I don’t get what any of this has to do with cost per page printed.
    I don’t get what any of this has to do with cost per page printed.

  9. it’s rather sad that it’s cheaper to buy a new printer once you’ve run out of ink… which is what I’ve been doing. Just sad.

    1.  A better (and more efficient/ecological) idea might be to buy a more economical printer.  Not all printers are loss leaders where it’s cheaper to replace it than to refill it.

      You just have to do some consumer research, spend a bit more, and you will find printers that can be more economical (ie: they support higher capacity cartridges that don’t cost much more).  You’ll probably be spending at least $150 on such a printer, but it will also likely be a better printer in addition to being a more economical one.

      1.  Agreed.  We made the upgrade to a halfway decent printer after years of shitty, cheap “replacements,” and have had much better luck with print cartridges with a slightly larger investment.  (Plus it replaced our aging fax machine, too.)

    2. Many inkjet printers come with starter cartridges which yield far fewer prints. This may not be as good an idea as you think – not to mention how wasteful it is.

  10. I read the first paragraph of this blog post at 11 minutes and 3 seconds over 11, I read the second paragraph of this blog post at 11 minutes and 7 seconds over 11 and I couldn’t believe my eyes! 

  11. Pretty disappointed in BoingBoing for posting this. It seems we don’t think about things anymore, just read the knee jerk headline and pop it on the blog.

    This doesn’t show any evidence at all of HP ripping anyone off. The sponge changes size. So what. The comments on the linked post give plenty of ideas of how to do this properly, rather than doing something meaningless and posting sensationalist knee jerk headlines. I suppose a post that just said ‘HP not actually changed over time’ wouldn’t have got the publicity this has though. 

    1. To be honest, this sounds like one of those studies that Maggie KB so efficiently debunks using the power of science.

    2. Knee jerk! The size of the sponge might not be direct evidence of the cartridge being supplied with less ink (although I am willing to believe this), but dang diddly dangles- I got less that 45 prints from my last hp cartridge. The printer itself was an awesome bargain, replacement cartridges however have always been and will continue to be a rip off. We must just learn to not be surprised by this. Boing Boing does not disappoint me by revealing the contents of these opaque boxes of partially soaked sponges. The documented reduction in size of the cartridge innards are certainly evidence of its evolution, but the only fair way to test if you are getting less muck for your buck is to set up two (or however many) identical printers and infinite print jobs to see which cartridge lasts the longest. Fair testing is wasteful and useful!

      1. Hey, I’m a printer by trade so I know the situation is pretty bad. What really bugs me here is that there would be so many ways to legitimately show the downward spiral, but the size of the sponge just isn’t one of them.

    3.  I agree. The amount of ink, as well as how much printing can be done with that ink, is what needs to be tested. It is not scandalous by itself for HP to save money by using a smaller amount of material in their cartridges unless the consumers are getting shafted in the process.

  12. Even just from the photo it looks like more or less the same amount of ink soaked in different size sponges, this seems pretty misguided.

    Ink’s still a ripoff tho, and refilling laser toner in my experience is not really worthwhile in terms of print quality and the amount of toner that actually ends up inside the cartridge vs  all over yourself/the room. :)

    1. Yeah, this was my quandary too.  Anybody else?  If anything, maybe this is the first thing HP has done right in that they are attempting to be green-ish?

  13. I knew I was getting less sponge for my money.

    I mean I get just as many prints, but what about the sponge I’m getting short changed on?


    The real problem (well, one of many) with the printing industry is the amount of waste involved; disposable printers and little plastic cartridges with microchips to get 2 dozen pages printed. It’s crazy, and disgusting. This looks suspiciously like a reduction in waste to me. Can we get a ‘thanks’ HP, rather than punishing them for reducing weight and materials in a like-for-like product?

    It’s this kind of reaction that forces companies to continue bloating products in huge boxes covered in ribbons.

    1. People applying for jobs who need to print resumes because most companies seem allergic to or afraid of email and open standard documents

    2. me. i print out images + text for artwork and academic/long articles to read (reading on a screen sucks) at least once a day.  

      my canon pixma printer has held up well since 2005; it’s slow but it gets the job done.

    3. me. i print out images + text for artwork and academic/long articles to read (reading on a screen sucks) at least once a day.  

      my canon pixma printer has held up well since 2005; it’s slow but it gets the job done.

    4. I got rid of mine. I printed so infrequently, the cartridges had always dried out. I had to buy new cartridges every time I wanted to print something.

    5. Photos for mah albums and frames, photoshops for bday cards, photocopies for legal documents (like taxes and shit), sheet music (and scripts and shit).

      There is one print job I need to do but it’s gotta be right, I know I can email an image from my phone to my printer so it comes out even when I’m not home. I gotta be having a video skype with the missus when she’s at home and talking to me in the telly, then I say “MACFRYY!!” and then “YOU ARE TERMINATED! READ MY FAX!” then email the “YOU’RE FIRED!” image through to her. Man, that would be sweet. I wouldn’t actually fire her of course.

  14. What I find most annoying about HP printer ink cartridges: the date chip embedded in them. Some of their printers are designed so that if you install a new-but-expired ink cartridge (one that has been sealed up since it was manufactured, but whose “freshness” date has expired), the printer driver won’t allow you to print to the printer. So what are you supposed to do with that unused ink cartridge?  You can’t use it. You can’t get a refund. Toss it?

    I discovered that if you carefully cut the chip out of a newer cartridge and put it into the expired one, the printer prints just fine.  No problemo. HP claims that they date the cartridges this way so that an old cartridge doesn’t clog the printheads. Why not let me find that out for myself instead of ripping me off with your overpriced cartridges?

    1. can you post this to instructables as this has happened to me but did not know it hackable.  Thanks for the info.

    2. That’s freakin’ terrible. My Dell printer at work is constantly (CONSTANTLY) trying to sell me ink from their official website, plus it claims it’s out of ink when it’s got a good 100 pages left. Every day I have to say “Fuck off, printer. Don’t try to sell me shit, I know how to fucking buy ink.”

    3.  I’m horrified.  Why wouldn’t they just want you to destroy your printer and upgrade?  Seems like better business, since both options will piss off a ton of customers, haha.  I think my dad uses an HP printer, I’ll remind him to keep an eye out for those.

  15. On the subject of waste reduction.. why make the cost of ink almost comparable to the price of a new printer. I just bought a new wireless printer for about  70 dollars, the cost to buy a new set of ink for this printer? 50 dollars. Guess what I’m going to do when the ink runs out?… buy a new printer and hello landfill to my old one. 

    1. thecardcheat:This is the old “give the razor away so you can sell pricey razor blades” gimmick.   They can only make a profit on selling a printer once, but can make a profit every time they sell more ink.  And the profit margin they can make on ink is insanely high.I once had a $50 printer which cost $50 for a full set of ink refills, and later that printer was being rebated down to $30.It’s a scam and a tremendous waste, but none of the manufacturers seem to be able to resist.

  16. @Jose, RE date chip:
    What makes it even worse is that the HP printer driver sets a permanent “expired” flag on the printer cartridge when it detects it, to prevent people from changing their system date as a workaround.   One person lost his full set of all his HP ink cartridges because he set his system clock forward a few years while he was experimenting on something.

  17. The last time I did any research on my own on inkjet printers the simple rule seemed to be, the less you payed for the printer the more you’d be paying for cartridges. And when the printer is only a few bucks less than an ink cartridge, leave it on the shelf!

    Like everyone else here has mentioned I got a laser printer and have never regretted the big outlay of cash. Yea, the toner cartridge that came with it held less than what you’d get off of the shelf but that lasted a good year and a half. My 7 yr old printer has needed only 4 toner cartridges in its lifetime.

  18. What most people don’t realize is that you only get that number of prints from an inkjet cart if you print them all at once. If you print a few pages here and there like most of us a huge proportion of the ink ends up in the cleaning pads.  100% of laser toner ends up on the page.

    My $90 HP mono laser works wonderfully and cheaply with 3rd party carts for about $20. Inkjet is tech whose time has definitely gone.

    1. Not to mention that it begins drying up the moment you take that label off. I only bother with laser printers for that reason.

  19. I made a living word-processing off and on for 20 years. A print cartridge for the classic HP LaserJet III cost $79 and was good for 5,000 printed pages. A print cartridge for the LaserJet 1020 is essentially the same, costs the same, and prints 2000 pages if you’re lucky. They long ago have adopted the “razor blade” business model of making the holder cheap and charging a fortune for blades.

    For inkjet cartridges, though, Lexmark is the worst offender., in my experience.

    1. I have a laserjet 3p, it still runs. The laserjet 1020 ain’t going to last nearly as long either.

  20. This just reaffirms how much I already despise HP printers, especially the “all in one” crapsters they sell. Horrible printers that often will have the scanner disappear for no reason, won’t share between PC and Macs, etc, etc.

    Screw HP Printers to hell.  Total ripoff.

  21. Years ago, before I switched to a laser all-in-one, I was poking around inside my oversized HP inkjet printer and found to my horror a fist-sized pile of half-dried ink. The printer had been just spitting it out in an empty space to the right of the actual printworks. I walked over to a nearby Office Whatever and checked their inkjet printers and found the same thing.

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