/ Technology

Printer pile-up: are printers the most disposable gadget?

Man pulling apart printer

When the gremlins set in on your printer it seems easier to just ditch the thing and start again with a new one. But should manufacturers make it easier to fix printers, rather than playing up to this disposable culture?

According to responses to our computing reliability survey, more than a third of people don’t bother to get their printer fixed when it develops a problem.

That makes printers the most instinctively chuckable computing product in our survey.

Too cheap to bother?

Around one in five people tried to get their printer repaired to no avail, but for the almost four in ten who didn’t bother, is the cheap purchase price of printers to blame?

When a new printer can cost as little as £30, with a set of inks included, it’s probably easier to buy a new one than spend time and possibly more than the cost of a new printer on a repair. Especially if you don’t know what’s wrong with the printer – which one in five didn’t when theirs conked out.

Our own Patrick Steen previously shared how it can be cheaper to buy a whole new printer when the ink runs out:

‘I have come across a printer priced at around £70 that came with free ink cartridges – buying the refills separately cost the same amount of money as the printer itself. In the end, buying a new printer with free cartridges each time was a better deal (not very eco friendly).’

Laser printers tend to come with lower capacity starter cartridges in the box and even some inkjet printers do too, so if you’re tempted to buy a new printer for the inks, be careful.

But, in the bigger scheme of things, should manufacturers be taking some responsibility for reducing the likelihood of their printers ending up in the bin? Or how about making their ink a more cost-effective option? And more importantly, making their printers easier to fix?


Depends how much it cost. A £30 printer – no as it would cost the same to fix it, probably. Printers nowadays are priced at little or no profit to the company. Their profit comes from the ink and I assume that these companies find that they make far more money by doing this. The companies are not bothered about the environmental impact, only if it makes them more profit.
I’m afraid it is the consumer’s fault. We as consumers, obsessed about things being the cheapest possible alter the things we buy. The companies just give us what we want or go out of business. Look at your 10 year old washing machine and then go and look at the new ones – so flimsy and probably cheaper than your old one regardless of inflation. How can someone buy a £30 printer and expect it to print thousands of sheets and not break. Usually, you get what you pay for.
Thats why I moved to a laser at home – much much cheaper printing and if it breaks down, it’s worth repairing. I wouldn’t advise anyone to buy an inkjet.


Black & white laser printing is undoubtedly cheaper on a laser printer but I would be surprised if models sold for home/office use can be repaired economically. That is the advice I have received from those involved in repairs at the university I worked for, plus my experience doing my own repairs.

If you want to do colour printing, a laser printer is ideal for text but an inkjet printer is still the best option for printing photos.


na.. If I wanted to print photos I would go to Jessops or similar (my guess is that they don’t use inkjets). However, maybe inkjets have come a long way in the last couple of years.. last time I tried to print photos (photo paper) on an inkjet they looked really poor and used a lot of ink. I suppose nowadays most people just don’t bother printing photos, they stick them up on facebook, leave them on their laptop or cram them on a digital photo frame. Personally the only reason I can see for printing photos is if I wanted to blow some pictures up to make posters/prints or of course, a wedding album.

I guess my laser printer will break eventually but it certainly is built a lot better than a £30 inkjet. My experience of computer stuff is that if something is going to fail it will be either dead on arrival or dead within 6 months. If it lasts that you’ve got a good chance of it lasting years.


I don’t print my holiday photos but I do print plenty of documents including photos, produced by others and myself. I do not know what Jessops use to print photos, but inkjet printers are widely used for professional purposes. All the large format poster printers I have seen and used are inkjet printers.

I have had a lot of success with printers, both laser and inkjet, the only exception being a colour Lexmark laser printer. It performed very well to start with but the running cost was horrendous and when it started to produce streaky prints I was told that it could not be repaired economically. I have never had an inkjet printer fail, going back to an Apple Stylewriter in 1992. In the past five years I am using my b/w laser printer less because most things that need printed include colour.


I suppose I’m Mr Average when it comes to printing. I print off a few word documents but most printing is from the internet – in my instance, driving directions, lyrics and guitar Tab. I’ve, in the past, had an inkjet but when, because of lack of use it failed to work (it was about 8 years old) I decided that either I could buy a cheap printer and buy expensive ink, buy a dearer inkjet printer and buy slightly less expensive ink or I could forgo colour and go with a black n white laser that also saves paper due to duplexing. Each to there own I guess.

Ps – didn’t know that about inkjets being used by pro printers – interesting.

It’s a shame my old canon inkjet failed as ebuyer used to sell the ink at around £2 a pop :-()


I am not advocating inkjet printers, mose. I use a b/w laser printer whenever I don’t need colour. I paid £700 for an HP LaserJet because I needed a Postscript printer. That worked for over 10 years and then I salvaged an old laser printer from work, which worked fine apart from the network connection. Refilled toner cartridges are adequate and the local shop will replace any refilled cartridge that misbehaves.

NukeThemAll says:
16 September 2012

We have just gone through the utterly ridiculous, eco-toxic process of buying a new colour laser jet. Why? Because the cost of the cartridges exceeds the cost of a new printer, by a considerable margin (and yes, we did take care to compare cartridge capacities). Factor in any other reliability and consumable issues, and it was the only sensible choice – for us. We feel **slightly** better because the 10-20% of toner left in 3 of the old cartridges won’t be wasted – the new printer takes the same type. But the printer (minus cartridges) will soon be off to the ‘recyling’ centre. What a waste!!!! The manufacturers rely on cartridges running out at very different times, so that the user never appreciates the horrendous cost compared to a new printer. The answer to the problem is obvious but I simply don’t know what it would take, short of legislation, to enable it.


So far I have bought 1 dot matrix 4 ink jets and 9 lasers since 1980 They are all HP except a Canon Photo ink jet.and most are still used without brealdown today on high volume newsletters – lasers are far better for everything except photographs (I sell the photographs – the buyers far far prefer the glossy ink jet result ). The costs for the ink jets were around £300 each and the Lasers started at £1000 rising to £2000 for a duplex – high speed – high definition – colour laser. Only one dot matrix and one B&W Laser has actually gone wrong. All use re-fillable cartridges or OEM cartridges. The only reason I upgraded was because of the far better specifications – not because they broke down. I use on a weekly basis the Canon and all the lasers (the lasers used simultaneously to quadruple the speed of printing). Several friends experiences of the cheap printers show they break down too often – I did buy a cheapish multifunction scanner/printer but found it very poor to use and s l o w.


I work(volunteer) in a charity shop which does sell tested electricals.
However I find there is no market for 2nd hand printers- I really struggle to sell all-in-one HPs at £9.99 fully working with a reasonable amount of ink in.
So printers which are donated with no ink just get recycled it really is a waste, but with the low price of new printers it isnt surprising.


It’s because £9.99 is too expensive. There is no guarantee with your product and the item isn’t desirable. I was an assistant manager in a charity shop and we used to sell some electricals. Best sellers were game consoles (desirable). Printers… we would bin or sell for a couple of quid.


Home printing is not and never was about the printer. It’s all about having a repeat customer for the ink. Manufacturers will practically give you a printer because having their’s means you keep buying their ink, and that ain’t cheap.
Why do you think the cartridge design keeps changing so it only fits a limited number of printers?
Why do you think the cartridge security keeps getting upgraded so you cannot refill or by aftermarket versions?
It’s about selling ink, that’s where the money is, not printers.

My tip buy an little used, not the latest model, printer off ebay and get the ink there too.
Bought an Epson for only a couple of quid with no cables. Bought six sets of ink for less than a tenner. Thousands of good quality colour pages for very little money.

Also bought, a couple of years ago, a lexmark, Cheap printer but every second set of cartridges end up costing me as much as a new printer. Never again.

And as for repairing a printer? Can’t really see the point, but responsible disposal and/or recycling of parts is a good idea


As a retiered ‘mr fixit’ (not primaraly computers) I find A4 inkjet printers too fiddly and un-predictable to bother much with. Once you get to an A3 printer the situation is a bit different. Ink and print heads are expensive, Lexmark in particular have the print head built into the ink cartridge, so are too expensive to replace. The advances to printers also fuels the throw away culture. I have tried continuous ink supply systems but my personal usage is so low that becomes a problem, it may work well for a high user. Re-filling seems more trouble than it is worth, again as a low user. As it happens I get so many free ink cartridges given to me (local freecycle site) that I keep my old A3 running on those. I have a couple of A4 lasers (free, with spare cartridge!), I am soon to see if they can be re-filled with carbon powder.


I had a Canon printer that worked fine except that the LCD on the control panel had burned out so I could only control printing from the computer. The cost to even look at it was more than the cost of my new printer. I bought an HP Photosmart 5510 for around £50. A few months later I had problems with the paper feed when trying to print photos. HP were extremely helpful but in the end to solve the problem sent me out a new machine via UPS from Czechoslovakia. It probably cost more to ship the new machine and collect the old one than the machine cost in the first place! I was happy with the service, but a bit shocked about the carbon miles!

M Allsopp says:
22 September 2012

I bought an Epson Aculaser C1600 18 months ago and was very happy til 6 months ago- just as the guarantee ran out. There is a problem with an indentation down the centre of every page and if I use anything heavier than 80gsm paper, it smears. It is extremely annoying that it is not economical to repair so I will have to buy another if I want good quality. I bought Ep