/ 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 Epson because of its good reviews. Built in obsolesence ?

The problem could be caused by a small piece of torn paper stuck in the paper path, as a result of a paper jam. If not, you could exercise your rights under the Sale of Goods Act, which are against the retailer rather than the manufacturer. See the Which? website for details of how to do this. The problem is that the retailer might require an expert report to provide evidence that the fault existed from the time of manufacturer. Best of luck.

tenire says:
22 September 2012

Products are design for fast and easy production, maximum profit, and an income-stream from consumables. Initial sale price may be subsidised by likely consumables; hence the deliberate microchipping of ink-cartridges to stop re-filling [which you CAN get round, but it should be stopped- it makes the cartridge unfit for purpose]
This financial approach applies to items such as the ink-jet, right up to cars. I recently had an engine control board submerged in water due to an incompetent design for drainage of it’s box. Impossible to repair, even if it was possible, software needed to re-programme it. There should be a requirement to enable customer maintenance, rather than hold him to ransom.

The_Engineer says:
29 September 2012

mose is correct on his failures estimate. The “bathtub” effect (for the more technically inclined see Aarrhenius and Bathtub curve) indicates that gubbins has an infant mortality {it fails at or soon after first turn on}; random failures during its use {that’s life}; and finally wears out with old age {like the rest of us}.

I sort of managed to dissemble and repair a 6 year old Canon Pixma that had printed 23,000 pages [the Canon diagnostic software allows one to see paper and cartridge usage.] On investigation from memory both Canon (and Which) seemed to be saying that 3 years and 6,000 pages were a good target; not for me it isn’t.

However, the Pixma heads failed about six months later, and my new replacement ink jet gets fed with compatible cartridges – not the cheapest but no failures yet – saving me 60% off Canons price.

I do print photo’s though usually to use as personalised cards for friends and special occasions. Photo albums get produced on-line as books; and for personal consumption they are networked to my TV. I very occasionally share photos with specific friends on-line.

I have a Canon Inkjet printer which has just failed, the indiction is that it is the print head. After some investigatiion I found that a new print head cost £54. It would be easy to fit but do not feel I should go down that road just in case it does not cure the problem. It seem very wasteful to bin the machine which has given good service for about 6 years and does all I need for helping to run a number of societies and my own private use. However if I buy a new Which recomended printer it may give quitea lot of problems judging from the user comments reported by Which and if I buy from a lower priced outlet may get poor service.

Like many products these days they are made using manufacturing techniques that keep the product cost down, but make repairing more difficult. Often it’s an assembly that needs replacing, rather than a part or a simple repair. Repair labour rates then make it prohibitively expensive to tackle. The upside is you get a remarkable machine for the price – think what you would have paid years ago for a colour photograph printer, a scanner, photocopier and a high quality document printer – now you get all this at home for a modest outlay.
The trick is to watch for quality and reliability in the tests, and buy accordingly – my Canon all-in-one MP600R is 6 years old, done stirling work and going strong.
The comment on consumables is clearly an issue. However, once the product is established you don’t have to buy the manufacturers ink cartridges – go for a cheap recommended third party version.

tenire says:
5 November 2012

Agreed, but my Canon has chips in the cartridges which try to stop refilling – they run low [not empty] and report ink out, then will not allow printing, or refilling and continuation . This HAS to be anti-competitive in law[?], after all I have purchased the cartridge to do with it as I wish. I have found that I can bypass this but it still is anti-competitive in intention.
As to repairing the printer, the design could be vastly improved if the original brief was altered to mandate easy access and re-assembly by a technician with on-line instruction. This is true for so much of our modern equipment. As an example this printer [MX350] stopped feeding paper; I am an engineer [grumpy, particularly with malfunctioning machines] and I found that a plastic shaft had been pulled out of a support by hasty manual paper handling. Very simple to fix, two fraught hours to find my way into it.
An Aldi pressure washer was left in frosty conditions, and lost pressure. The fault was a plastic valve costing 50p, and I had two days work tracing it back to Karcher and finding an independent spares agent who was excellent [www.sparesgiant.com].
Until the customer has a means [at the point of purchase] of exerting influence on a manufacturer to offer detailed service support at this level, or until codes of retail practice are adopted – rather like the recycling directives- nothing will change. Fat chance.
I’m grumpy because the two examples above would cost me £200 if the manufacture’s policy prevailed. They cost me next to nothing but a lot of effort and time to fix on my own initiative.

I simply cannot afford to allow repairs and services to drain money away as they would like.
And don’t get me going on the car…what a catalogue of aggravation and needless cost!!


I would like to see the practice of selling cheap printers and expensive cartridges banned, on environmental grounds. That would be good for the EU to take up.

Like you, I have struggled to dismantle and repair printers. A piece of torn paper can stop a laser printer working, yet involve a great deal of work to remove.

Incidentally, I managed to get a free spare part for a Karcher pressure washer. I pointed out that the part was made of unsuitable plastic and that later models used a more appropriate model.

On repair complexity, I have a 7 year old TomTom. Thought the battery might need replacing as it was holding reduced charge and found one online with a toolkit for about £13. Result. So looked online for instructions – only found forums where others related their experience. Downloaded the best – it was an excellent presentation of 27 pages of text and photos that required a complete dis-assembly. Decided to wait for battery failure – anyway, it’s normally used off the car supply. But why make a potentially replaceable item so innaccesible (unless you know differently)?

I dismantled my TomTom because it would not switch on one day. Disconnecting and re-connecting the battery did the trick and saved waiting until the battery had discharged. My XL was easy to dismantle after I discovered that the bezel surrounding the screen pulled off easily. The TomToms that I have repaired have had the battery stuck in place with double-sided tape.

I suspect that your TomTom will be one of the older ones with four screws on the back, hidden under rubber plugs, and a more accessible battery.

It is absolutely ridiculous that batteries cannot be swapped without tools, particularly given the short operating time of smartphones and sat nags, etc.

To say something relevant, there is information about taking printers apart on websites. Even poor videos can be helpful in revealing how cases are held together.

The practise of selling an appliance and then charging a lot for the consumables is not confined to printers – electric toothbrush heads, pen refills, the old Polaroid paper for example. It is a way of keeping the first cost down (maybe at a loss) but making profit ongoing. It is not only to private consumers – industry operates in the same way with spares. It all helps to recover the initial costs – design, development, tooling.
You can buy a low cost printer and buy cheap third party ink cartridges if you want – there is a choice.

I would be happy to pay twice as much for a printer if it was easy to dismantle and repair and the manufacturer charged half the price for consumables. I can understand why manufacturers don’t want us to use third party products if they could block print heads that are part of the machine, but that does not apply where the print head is part of the ink cartridge.

The way that industry operates is creating a lot of waste and costing heavy users a lot of money.

wavechange – I like the term “satnag” – that sums up exactly what happens when I choose to deviate from the route my lady guide has decided.

Thanks for giving me a great laugh at my own expense, Malcolm. Until now I have complained to passengers about Jane TomTom’s advice but I will complain about my satnag in future.

Unfortunately, a Google search reveals that the term is in widespread use. 🙁

I wonder how much more reliable, and easier to repair, are the “professional” ink jets. These seem mainly aimed at graphics and photos, so a “professional” b/w laser might be needed as well.

However – do we really know just how much of an issue throwing away cheap ink jets is? What proportion I wonder of those sold fail prematurely? Since my first computer in 1990 I’ve had 4 printers – a B/W Epsom where the printhead went after about 7 years, a Canon BJC-01 that would probably still be working except for connectivity, an excellent A3 Epsom colour 1520 that must be 12 now, and still works, and my current Canon MP600R that is 6 years old and used daily. I don’t see that as bad value.

A recurring issue I find is: just what is an acceptable design life for appliances? Forget your 1 year warranty, the Sale of Goods Act recognises that you should get reasonable use out of your appliance and, if not, have a claim against the manufacturer. See the Kindle conversation for an example of poor life. But what is a reasonable life? I would think Which? should give guidance on this so, if you do have an issue, there is backing to use. We should not all have to start from square one. Is this not a job for the Consumers Association Which?

With the exception of a Lexmark colour laser printer, I have been happy with my printers at home and work (several HP, an Epson and a Canon). Thanks to information on a website I was able to identify the problem with an expensive HP laser printer and replace rubber rollers with silicone rubber to prevent paper jams.

I think that it is reasonable to expect a printer to work for 10 years or X pages, whichever comes first, with X being determined by the manufacturer and part of the specification. Laser printers generally record page counts and all printers could be designed to do this. I would like to see all manufacturers providing decent guarantees covering parts and labour, providing that the product has not been abused.

Which? has given good advice on claiming our rights under the Sale of Goods Act but that is difficult enough when dealing with shops, never mind having to deal with Internet retailers. I think the way forward is for Which? and the public to push for longer manufacturers’ warranties and for warranty length to be a significant factor in selecting Best Buys.

It concerns me that the consumer is expected to deal with the retailer if they have problems. My one year old iPad is working perfectly at the moment but I bought it from Comet, which is now in liquidation.

tenire says:
8 November 2012

It should be mandatory to make available [to the end user] sufficient information to manage the maintenance and diagnostic routines which are now built into modern equipment. This is a strangle-hold which can [and is] exploited, since many problems can be solved simply, but if information is with-held it can be presented as a total failure. This is important, and will become more so; remember we are facing smart meters for energy use [with possibility for switch-off], diagnostics in our cars, digital rights management on our entertainment equipment and on the media. This is how big brother actually works.

Is it not time that manufactureres provide drivers for the latest operating systems. I have a perfect good printer but because I now run Windows 7 I cannot use it. This printer is not old but the only driver is for Windows XP. Even if they asked for a modest fee it might be reasonable. I had a good scanner which no driver was available so more cost and likely more to the tip-. Fortunatelyt I found someone who could use the scanner. It really is not good enough that bthe manufacturers do not provide a reasonable after sales service. Basicly they almost seem to be saying we are selling very poor quality equipment so it wont last long anyway.

I would argue that it should be the operating system manufacturers that should ensure that computers remain compatible with older hardware.

I keep a couple of laptop with older operating systems so that I can open files produced using obsolete software and use old hardware if needed.

I was annoyed when I found that my Epson scanner would not work with Macintosh OSX and no driver was available even months afterwards. Eventually, a driver did appear and my ten year old scanner is still working.

tenire says:
8 November 2012

Triumph – I’ve fixed it. I’ve now understood the devious marketing which the Corporations so effectively have deployed to make their income stream. I can accept the loss-leader prices they sell the printers for; I would accept a [slightly ] inflated price for replacement reliable consumables. I have rejected the intricate, devious, unfair, design effort which they use to so carefully install in the control-code for these printers, which make them stop functioning if I attempt to use it the way I have decided. repeat I, me, not you – the manufacturer. I have found on-line the reset codes for my printer which detected ink-refilling and stopped. NOTHING WRONG WITH IT, just cleaned the waste absorber, and reset counter . Calls to Canon Service asked me to remove the print-head; it’s not removeable. Service? – no chance. So, I now have identified a local service depot for printers. It’s EPSON; so I now buy Epson, local guy will do all I need.

tenire – I do agree that maintenance and reasonable repair instructions should be available for all but exceptional appliances. Apparently only Miele can repair their appliances – my local repairer said they didn’t make information available to him. In mitigation when I needed a new circulating pump I had a very helpful conversation with their technical department about how to buy a repair kit and fit it. But many things lack even basic maintenance instructions. Many of us are competent fixers. We might do something unsafe? That’s true, but I’m a believer in using common sense, know your limitations and take responsibility. But isn’t there a role here for professional fixers? Or would their labour rates simply be too high for the time involved? Surely an enterprise here – remember doll’s hospitals?

I agree Malcolm. I have been fixing things for myself and friends since I was a teenager and have never come to grief, nor has any of my friends who are prepared to have a go. It is important to know your limitations, but if something is going the be binned (recycled, of course) then there is little to lose.

Many gadgets are designed to be assembled quickly and can be very difficult and time consuming to dismantle, which is one reason why being a professional fixer is usually uneconomic.