/ 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?


Modern ink jets are not worth mending. A waste I know but there we are.
My main printer (have three) is an Epson I bought on ebay for £1.47 with no cables. Found some cables for next to nothing and I use cheap after market refilled cartridges. It’s all worked without missing a beat for a couple of years but if it all goes pop tomorrow my investment has been equal in value to a couple of mars bars.

Reality is printers are just a vehicle to sell original manufacturers cartridges. Lexmark are the worse, cartridges are very expensive and far fewer aftermarket alternatives are available. Epson on the other hand seem to work just fine with almost any refill.

Duncan Powell says:
22 December 2020

Spoke to HP today re Model HP Color LaserJet MFP M281fdw cartridge problem.

Error on screen ‘Supply problem’ occurred after an HP software update.

Printer has been working well for many months with Cartridge Save – ‘Compatible High Capacity 4 Colour HP 203X Toner Cartridge Multipack – (HP CF540X/ CF541X/ CF542X/ CF543X) which for a pack of 4 cartridge cost only £139.36.

Following the HP software update HP advise I will need to use their products. HP high capacity cartridges – set of 4 equivalent cost £445.96 which is 3.2 time the price and in my experience no discernible improvement in quality.

Clearly the risks associated with not using HP cartridges is with the user (me), however I do not feel that it is appropriate to be blocked from using other cartridges. It’s like buying a VW car and being told that you can only use VW fuel and not Esso, Shell, Sainbury’s fuel etc. It is an unfair restriction on the use of the product and will cost me a fortune.

Hi Duncan – We have been discussing firmware updates being used to block use of third party cartridges in a more recent Conversation: https://conversation.which.co.uk/technology/printer-software-update-third-party-printer-ink/

Most of this relates to inkjet print cartridges but on page 15 there are posts about HP laser printers. If you can get hold of and install an earlier version of the firmware it seems to be possible to restore operation.