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Friday, 08 October 2010


This article might help resolve this question: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/printers/3800-costs.shtml

Hi, I enjoy your blog, and read it twice weekly.

Your estimates are right on. I own both a 7800 and 9800, and ink costs work out to 45 cents per ml. 220 ml for $ 100.

The larger printers are built like battleships, and can print 8 hours per day for many years without wearing out. Some photog's might consider buying one used in good condition and enjoy the benefit of the lowest unit cost for ink, while still getting many years of good service from the printer.

Make it simple: what does ink cost per gallon?

Could someone answer that?

Buy the 99980, and it's free. Better, buy the 9999980 and Epson builds you a new house.


What is the cost per print using ink jet, let's say 8x10?

How does that compare to the cost of outsourcing your printing to a quality printer on photographic paper, Frontier or LightJet?

I haven't done the numbers, but I've always been leery of the long term cost of using inkjet cartridges.

My local shop, Reed Photo-Imaging, prints from digitally uploaded files. Once you have figured out their color profiles, you can load without correction. Then it costs $4.95 for the first 8x10 and $1.75 each for 2-10 additional copies on the Frontier printer using "Fuji Crystal Archive Professional paper" at 300dpi.

The LightJet printer can handle larger images, but costs rather more, $30 for the first 8x10 image. The quality is supposed to be a lot higher, but I haven't tried that for myself.

"What is the cost per print using ink jet, let's say 8x10?"

You can't really figure it out with that level of exactitude because different images use different amounts of ink. The best your calculations can do is to average across a number of prints in your own workflow.

You can overthink this stuff, too. None of us get any extra brownie points on the great scorecard of life for eking that last tenth of a cent per print from our equipment and materials choices (this comment is just a general one, not directed at you particularly!).


I love my 2880 even more than I thought I would (a very nice birthday present from my wife). For the "average" enthusiast photographer home user my guess is that this is plenty of printer for them. Even though I print 5 or 6 prints every week for some students, the ink supply is still okay, and I'll spend 50-80$ every once in a while for another reload (not all at once, usually, which I think runs $110).
A friend who sells prints during the summer and uses the 2880, however, goes through ink like milk and would clearly do better with the larger printers.

The folks at Cone (who sell their own inks for the Epsons) state that there is about 15% (as I recall) ink left in the Epson cartridges when the printer reads 'empty.' If so, the cost per ml needs to be adjusted accordingly.

I was 'fortunate' that my 3800 needed servicing just before my warranty expired last year. The service rep, after repairing my machine, gave me a full set of inks for free as a result of my inconvenience. Too bad the warranty expired... I wouldn't mind being 'inconvenienced' every year.

I doubt the printer companies make money on the machines. It's all about the inks. Reminds me of razor manufacturers.

"By the way, I made a decision about my new computer: I'm replacing the furnace instead."

That's an excellent way to teach an important lesson to your teenage son.

As someone just looking in from the outside, I find it amazing that the printing process this far into the whole digital revolution remains its weakest link. Despite the incredible, optimal results that are now possible in image manipulation, getting to a level where one can consistently produce prints that reflect those advances remains an extremely costly, trial and error procedure.

At least with darkroom practice and experience (and I'm no great fan of it), one gained skills that would last a lifetime. Now you have to basically relearn with every change of software, monitor and printer (not to mention paper). Digital printing is still at a rather primitive level- which I guess is to be expected only ten or so years into it.

What's a furnace?

Sort of like a fireplace, only instead of warm air escaping out the chimbley, money does.


Don't feel so bad about the furnace because:
- You only save money $50-80 a month when you use it and in most places that's less than half of the year
- You didn't have any cash, which meant you would have had to finance the difference so the true cost was much higher than just the furnace and installation cost. I for one could get by with less debt.
- And even if you did have the cash, you have to discount the future savings by the cost of inflation at a minimum and more appropriately the opportunity cost of the cash.
- ... and getting a cheaper one means you're not committed to staying in the same place...

The same can be said of printers. I bought the 3800 and think it's worth every penny and I end up using it more because it's cheaper to use, but it's definitely not right for everyone. Sometimes it's better to go cheaper till you figure out what you really need or want.

Too bad about buying the furnace instead of a MacPro -- do you know how much heat that MacPro can kick out?

Why not use a big tube amp for warmth instead?

"Why not use a big tube amp for warmth instead?"

What, and give up my *little* tube amp?

EL34s 4ever,


I now print on a special, electronic le papier noveau (pardon my non-existent French), by Apple. Unfortunately, the print size is fixed to either a "small" on the 4 or "large" on the iPad.

The paper is expensive, but you only purchase it once. The quality is truly, truly brilliant. Extra-screaming-ordinary. Also on the bright side, I can re-print on it any time I want, any image I have ever taken, instantly, by - you will not believe it - merely touching the said paper!!! And oh yeah, my ink costs are zea row.

Humour cast aside, my- gasp!- $29 home printer only prints text in B&W, and when I want to hang a special something on the wall or other, I delegate the task of pulling hair balking at several hundred dollar "re-fill" (you gotta be kidding) to a professional who enjoys using less than mild version of English language aimed directly at Epson et al. I shall partake no part in said proce$$.

So given Ctein's pricing - if you're filling up an Olympic swimming pool with Epson 3880 ink it'll cost you about $US1.375 billion dollars but they probably do a discount.
On my sums it's about $2100 per gallon.
If the energy companies can work out a way to use Epson ink to power a vehicle there's clearly a fair bit of money to make.
Oooh yes, think of the colourful exhaust fumes too...

Dear Jeff,

Fine-tuning the numbers to better than 15% just isn't worth the trouble.

But FWLIW... The 2200 left about 30% ink in an empty (sic) cart. That is why chip resetters were so popular-- I saved several hundred dollars by investing in one of those.

Starting with the 2400 the printer was much better at measuring the ink level, and an empty cart really was empty, within a percent or so.

Now, if anyone out there doesn't believe that ink prices are totally arbitrary, the cost of the 2200 and 2400 carts was essentially the same... But the 2400 carts came with 30% less ink... But you got the same number of prints (if you didn't own a chip resetters like moi, grump) .

Funny coincidence, eh?

pax / Ctein

I have toyed with the idea of buying a printer for years, but I could never bring myself to bite given the costs of ink, paper, etc.--to say nothing of the space and effort it would require. Recently I found a local business whose owner does superb custom framing and matting, and prints on a $19,000 Canon inkjet printer. Given that even if I did own my own printer (which would not be able to match the Canon), I would STILL have to take the prints to him for matting and custom framing, I've decided to put off the printer purchase indefinitely. I have decided to direct the savings into additional lenses, which I think is a far better use of my money.

I'd really look into using a good print shop instead of getting a printer for your own use. Depending on your print volumes you may find you get better prints for less money and a lot less headaches. After all, printer drivers, clogged lines, paper jams, ink replacement and so on is suddenly somebody else's problem.

If you print a lot, or if the printing itself is a part of what you like with this hobby then you can ignore that alternative of course. But if your aim is just getting a good quality print, chances are that may end up being both cheaper and easier over the long run.

...furnace instead...

In other words, it's the high cost of being poor. Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich, really illustrates what happens when you can't afford what would save you money in the long run. You have to keep paying more on a daily basis because you absolutely have no other option. And then there're all the predators that take advantage.

Mike Bailey


"That of course means that the ink for the smaller R2880 costs $1.18 per ml."

That's just over 31,000 (yes, thirty one thousand) Dollars a gallon. Still complaining about the price of gas?

@ Sam from Oz: "What's a furnace?" Having been in your part of Oz (Lake Macquarie) recently, it's what you folks need in your uninsulated homes when the winter is "unusually cold" as I was told by my Ozzie mate only after I had paid for my flight out to visit him! : (

Move house to somewhere with a temperate coastal climate to minimise heating (or air conditioning) bills. There will probably be more interesting places to photograph too.

I bought a 2880 and an Eizo monitor last year which was as much as I could stretch to that was even with a £100 rebate for the 2880. I'm not a working photographer nor am I a prolific printer. The argument for getting the 3880 makes perfect sense but I can say that the Eizo has saved me a fair bit of ink to. To get the 3880 I would have had to opt for a lesser monitor and that wasn't something I was willing to do. I think I got the balance right, at least for my needs

Bottom line? Printing costs are an expensive lottery.

This post only reinforces my view that the printer companies are really ink companies. Their business model reminds me the most of the corner drug dealer who gives you your first few purchases for next to nothing knowing that you will then be hooked for years and forced to pay whatever exorbitant price he asks from then on. In the case of inkjet printers, they essentially give you the printer and then charge you $3,785 per US gallon for ink (converted from the numbers provided by Ctein for the Epson 2880 ink price from Atlex at a price of $1 per ml). No, I didn't misplace the decimal point.

OPEC has got nothing over Epson. 2880 ink sells for approximately $159,000 per barrel (US petroleum). Oh, yes, for the frugal amongst you you can bring the cost down to $87, 450 per barrel by buying a 3880 instead. Not a bad business model....

I get my prints done at Costco. I'm not picky, so I just export JPEGs and have them printed. If they don't come out quite right, I do it again (each print is basically free in all sizes except maybe the 12x18, which cost a little bit).

If I were picky, I'd download a color profile for my local Costco from that site that did the profiling and be more careful.

The only thing this doesn't really work for is black and white.

I admit that if I took prints more seriously I might not be so casual about this. But my experience is that those Fuji digital minilabs make good and sometimes great prints.

In 1994 we built our current house. Since we are out in the country natural gas was not an option.
After some research we ended up with a vertical closed loop water source heat pump.
It cost twice the price of a conventional system but it is also entirely indoors and preheats our tap water.
The installer comes out twice a year to service it. After his last visit he said it was still good as new.
The extra initial cost has long since been offset by monthly savings. In sixteen years the highest electric bill we have ever seen was $220 and the average is about $90.
There's a saying "people on a budget buy everything twice".
Thanks for reminding me of the wisdom of that as it applies to printers.
Last winter I got really close to springing for a big printer and somehow it turned into a snowthrower.
I wonder what my printer will be this year?

So what will this furnace contraption run on? Could you put a radiator in the darkroom for cosy winter printing sessions?

My heating 'system' runs on coal and wood and heats a few radiators. It's my first year in this place, but I'ver put the word around that I need firewood and I'm already being given some free. I suppose it is more trouble, but I would rather be chopping wood and tending the fire than working to pay my fuel bills.

What's a Chimbley?

Reality is the opportunity to explain to yourself that photography and the related elements are a hobby (and in your case, indirectly a form of income).
Hence the heating furnace is a neccessity in Wisconsin where chilling weather could arrive the middle of October and linger until the middle of May. A secure roof over your head, warmth of remaining in bed on cold mornings, yet knowing your child needs assistance to be awakened, fed and out the door for school in the morning. You can now linger over that cup of coffee, fuzzy and warm because your heating furnace is working. A new printer will still be cold and unfeeling on the warmest day in the house. You are not!
And that's what it is all about.
A warm house (and a warm heart) is a neccessity!

The question is a no question here. Reasons:

1. We use Debian 5 and Ubuntu 10. And while there are third party drivers for the 2880, there's none for the 3880 yet.

2. Costs per print are huge, compared to superior quality fotos from pro services, even if you don't consider and calculate all those waste prints, until you finally got the colour and everything right, even when using ICC profiles.

3. Epson printers were well known for problems with the ink drying in the tubes on their way to the print head, once you didn't use the thing for half a year or so. So for occasional use, a printer (especially from Epson) is waste anyway.

4. For postcard sized prints to give away, local print services are just nice. For prints which you hang onto the wall, we let the fine art pro printing guys make them. Everyone deserves to earn their living, right? And for business cards, I'll try moo.com or any other service.

All that said, I would still love to meet ctein, but we live in the wrong part of the world for that. And I would also have loved to get one of those Peter Turnley Paris prints, but couldn't afford them (even if I considered their price sensational).


to stan b. re:printing being the weakest link:

it does take some effort and planning, but there is no reason to believe that you can't get precise, repeatable results. digital printing is a skill/art/craft and requires knowledge.

on another note: after unpacking and setting up two epson 4880s for our print lab, i noticed the free ink cartridges supplied with the printer are nowhere near full. they are just for charging the print heads, etc.

can't really count full cart prices in the calculations...

"What's a Chimbley?"

A column of bricks with a hole in the middle through which Santa Claus enters your house.


"And that's what it is all about."

What if the Hokey Pokey is really what it's all about?"

"That's just over 31,000 (yes, thirty one thousand) Dollars a gallon. Still complaining about the price of gas?"

What I'm trying to understand, is why photographers accept this. Even if ink cost 50¢/ml, it still is obscene.

How much did Dektol, stop bath and fixer cost per gallon?

I bought a HP 8750 refurb on eBay, and bought past date (6 months) carts. HP claimed their dye inks would last like pigmented. Ha! Even in my portfolio case they faded. There is no way on Earth I'm going to buy an Epson. Even buying a CIS Cave paint inkset is outrageous.

Could someone explain how ink companies get away with this?

Sort of like a fireplace, only instead of warm air escaping out the chimbley, money does.



"What's a Chimbley?"

A column of bricks with a hole in the middle through which Santa Claus enters your house.

And through which dollars exit your house.

Dear Beau,

How peculiar. I am not at home, so I cannot directly check the carts for my Epson 3880, but I looked at the descriptions of what is shipped with the 3880 and 4880 on the B&H website and they very clearly and specifically state the boxes contain 80ml and 110 ml carts, respectively. They even give the part numbers. B&H is reputable and generally particular about such things.

If I were to find that I had been shipped "starter" carts, I would be rather more than a little miffed.

Who did you buy your printers through?

pax / Ctein

beau: "i noticed the free ink cartridges supplied with the printer are nowhere near full."

This page states that the printer is supplied with full 110ml cartridges. As with any large format printer, a fair amount of those first cartridges will be used to charge the lines. You can argue about whether the ink in the lines is of any value to you (you're never going to let those lines get empty...).

If you're sure the cartridges were not normal full 110ml ones then Epson would appear to be in breach of their advertising.


The issues that Paul mentions in his Featured Comment are the reasons why I very quickly decided that I didn't want anything to do with printing my own. For non-critical applications, Mpix does just fine, and for critical ones, I have a professional do the job for me. I don't know whether this makes economic sense on some scales, but I have very little free time, and I hate wasting it on fussing with fiddly technological items when I could be doing something more fun or productive.

James, above, has the answer to why the ink cartridges supplied with a new 3880 don't seem full. Epson's FAQ for the 3880 suggests that by the time you walk back to check ink levels using the Epson print software on your Mac or PC, the readings will show 80%. Ouch. I don't see an easy way around this for Epson's current designs.

Impressive printer, though—I don't own one but I've set them up for others and have been impressed, though the type of material used for the trays and feeders seems a little cheap. The owners I know still rave about them. That has to be good.

I bought a HP 8750 refurb on eBay, and bought past date (6 months) carts. HP claimed their dye inks would last like pigmented. Ha! Even in my portfolio case they faded.

Dear Misha,

What paper did you print on? I've had pictures attached to my children windows, at full sunshine (I live in Mediterranean Spain), during more than three years without evident fading. My HP8450 used Vivera dye-inks as well...

The only thing about home printing I'm really happy about is fade resistance.

Dear Paul,

Welcome to the world of fine printing. It's never been any different-- in the darkroom there was always the time you spent and the money you spent, and both had to be figured into your "real world" costs.

Sometimes the time is small and the printing is easy. Other times the gods conspire against you and you spend days, if not weeks, chasing down some problem with your printing, wasting many irreplaceable hours and quantities of expensive supplies.

Certainly it was that way for me and every other fine printer I knew. At least I could recoup some of those expenses by writing cautionary articles for my readers (my article on VC paper focus shift was such an example). Most folks don't have that out.

Someday fine printing may be at the "set it and forget it" level. We're far from getting there.

If you decide to become an "online printer" you'll just be following in the footsteps of many pros who decided that spending hours 'debugging' a wet darkroom was a lot less productive for them than going out any making new photographs. There's nothing dishonorable nor unprofessional in such a course of action.

And it kept folks like me employed, so we didn't mug little old ladies for their purse change. See, it's a social good! [vbg]

pax / Ctein

I'm not likely to buy a large format printer (even if I could afford one, I just don't need one badly enough), but I don't see the relevance of comparing the price of ink to the price of gas (or of water, perfume, caviar, ice cream, or anything else).

Sure, the manufacturers are taking advantage, but it's not like the ink costs peanuts to make and, more importantly, to make consistent from cartridge to cartridge and batch to batch.

On a smaller scale, I've tried lots of cheap ink solutions, and none were anywhere near good enough for commercial or fine art. I've also tried 3rd party inks that gave me BW results far superior to stock inks, but they were not cheap. I've tried 3rd party color pigment inks that seemed of decent quality, and while I can't speak to how close they were to stock, they weren't cheap, either.

That's all anecdotal, but the impression I have from all this is that while the going prices may be pumped up, they may not be as pumped up as all the wailing would suggest--that very high quality color printing is simply expensive.

Am I wrong?

I previously had an Epson 4800. It was a wonderful printer but I found, for my needs, it was uneconomical vs the 2880. I simply did not use it enough and ended up wasting more ink with head cleanings than in actual prints. There's a reason why the bigger 'pro' Epsons have a user replaceable 'waste' (er, 'maintenance') tank.

Oops, sorry I forgot to put the link in my previous post. The 'this page' I was referring to is the "detailed specs" tab of


Historically, the cost of wide format printing per square foot has averaged somewhere around $0.15. This cost accounts for all consumables (ink, prinheads, cleaning cassettes, etc.). Lately, some manufacturer's have started releasing models with larger ink tanks. While they are more expensive, they dramatically reduce the operating cost per square foot. For instance, a Canon iPF825 printer allows you to use either 330ml or 700ml tanks. If you opt to use the larger tanks, you can get your cost per print below $0.08 per square foot.

Dear robert e,

Based on how the price scales with cartridge size, I think it is safe to say that small cartridge buyers get charged a 2X-3X premium for the ink (above and beyond the S&H costs). More than that, I am doubtful about.

Not that we wouldn't mind a 2-3X price reduction! But comparisons to mass-consumption goods are just plain silly.

OTOH, priced fine tea lately? Or truffles? Or saffron? Or balsamic vinegar (I mean the real stuff, not the 5% crap you buy at the Safeway)? There's way too much stuff in my pantry that costs as much or more per gram/ml as inkjet ink.

This realization, somehow, does not make me feel better. [s]

pax / impoverished Ctein

IF you is only interested in black and white prints, an alternative is to fill your own cartridges with black pigment inks. There are a few vendors who supply inks and cartridges, but the only one that I have dealt with is:


The inks cost about $400/gal, in the units being discussed here (and you can actually buy them by the gallon).

Some of their ink sets have been developed in conjunction with (or by) Paul Roark, who provides a good deal of information and support:


I have had particularly good luck with the Epson 1400 printer and the UT-14 inkset from inksupply.com. For just about all practical purposes, the ink cost is nill, and the inks work quite well on cheap Costco glossy paper. This provides a way to make proofs at minimal cost, and then make final prints on a higher quality paper.

Obviously, there are potential pitfalls here, including big messes and damaging a printer. But, my own experience has been very good. My impression is that the quality of the black pigment inks is very high, but color inks are more problematic.

Your mileage may vary . . .


In response to Kevin's 8c/sq ft which had me scratching my head, I looked up the Canon press release:

"the imagePROGRAF iPF825 [...] for high-speed production of full-colour and monochrome output to meet the needs of the Geographical Information System (GIS); Computer-Aided Design (CAD); Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC); Reprographics; and other Technical Document markets."

That's not quite the same market as fine art printing. Even an average figure is somewhat moot, given the variance in media price and differences in ink load for each media.


The fundamental question, at least for me, is whether it’s worth the expense of buying and maintaining a 13x19 inkjet printer. Most people I meet who want a copy of one of my photos are perfectly happy with a small (800x600 pixel) digital file. On the few occasions when I need to provide an actual print, it's seldom any larger than 8x10, in which case I use my aging Epson R800. The one time I needed to produce dozens of 11x14 prints for a print sale I used a local custom lab. The lab owns a much better printer than I could ever afford and produced top-quality prints at an economical price. That said, if I ever needed to replace the Epson R800, I’d probably go for one of the newer, larger pigment printers, if only because they do a better job of printing B&W images. But you can bet I’d wait for an attractive rebate before I’d buy.

"On the few occasions when I need to provide an actual print, it's seldom any larger than 8x10, in which case I use my aging Epson R800."

Does Epson still make a letter-sized pigment printer?


>>Does Epson still make a letter-sized pigment printer?<<

Yes, the Epson WorkForce 40. It's only a 4-color printer though, unlike the R800, which uses 8 cartridges. It appears that no one is making letter-sized, photo-quality inkjet printers these days. I did saying my R800 is aging.


I'm super late on this one but I think you get a tax write-off this year by installing a more energy efficient furnace. Part of the economic stimulus. My AC compressor outside is from when my house was built in 1985 so my extra money is going to go to replacing that this month. I'd also rather be spending the money on something else. Hopefully the house will now be cooler and the utility bills lower.

If someone else pointed this out, sorry, I just skimmed the comments for it.

Dear Mike, et.al.,

Epson does make letter-sized pigment ink printers:


Before pooh-poohing the mere 4-color printers, it's worth taking a look at what they can do, especially if they are profiled. Ultra-fine droplet sizes can work wonders.

I would be VERY leary of using any super-cheap third-party inks. On the whole, Henry Wilhelm has found that permanence is severely compromised with those products. There is quite a range of performance, and quite possibly some are fine... but most are not and without an independent verification I would never trust my printing to them.

pax / Ctein

I just had to change an ink cartridge for my aging, letter-sized, pigment Epson R800. I weighed it (not very accurately). The so-called empty one was 28g and the new one was 42g, a difference of 14 grams. For this, we in the UK might pay as much as £14 (to keep the numbers simple), which calculated up at 1 ml per gram comes to $5985.82 US per US gallon.

Changing this one cartridge used up about 10% of all 8 cartridges including this new one, according to the Status Monitor display. I've today learned that this was not very many millilitres of ink. But it cost me, say, £1.40 for each of the 7 colours plus £1.00 for the glop (that's cheaper) adding up to $17 approximately. And it's brought a couple of the other colours down to the point where I am wondering if I should have changed them too (wilfully discarding 20% of each, or a further $7.60) while I was at it, rather than incur another $17 penalty in a little while.

Big tanks good.

"Epson does make letter-sized pigment ink printers"

That what OG says too, but I thought Dura-Brite was a "pigment based" inkset, meaning one of those pigment-dye hybrids...thought I read that somewhere, not sure.


Dear Richard,

10% drop is on the high side-- an printer-initiated auto-cleaning cycle might have happened to occur at the same time. But 5% is normal. So, yeah, changing carts in that printer loses you 1/3-1/2 of a cart of ink overall.

I've gotten into the habit of changing out any carts that are below 20% when one runs out. I'm saving money that way. Correction: I'm wasting *less* money, he said grumpily.

pax / Ctein

Dear Mike,

Hmmm, I didn't drill down far enough to find out. But just went to the more pertinent info, which is what the permanence is:


Noteworthy: not as permanent as the Ultrachrome inks... but more permanent than any wet darkoom color print ever was.

Also noteworthy: the comparison to 3rd-party inks and papers. Caveat emptor in spades!!!

Henry has tests for a number of Durabrite printers (along with lotsa others) on this page:


Henry is not always right about these things (and he'd be the first to admit it), but his batting average is better than anyone else's. I've bet he was wrong on occasion. I've lost.

pax / Ctein

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