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The Inkjet Money Pit

"Your inkjet printer may be quietly eating you out of house and home," wrote Marlo E. Schuldt, developer of the Legacy add-on Heritage Collector Suite.

Is this statement ever so true! I discontinued use of my inkjet printer a couple of years ago. Although the initial cost of the printer was cheap (it was actually free with the purchase of another product), it seemed like I was always purchasing more ink. Over time, I also noticed the pictures I had printed began to fade.

In fact, at last weekend's seminar in San Luis Obispo, California, I learned from fellow speaker, Dick Eastman, that pictures printed via an inkjet printer may only last 15 years at the best.

After I threw my inkjet printer as far as I could, I did as Schuldt's article suggests. I purchased a color laserjet printer. The initial cost was more than an inkjet, but over time I regained the price difference in savings on ink. However, I still wonder if printing to photo paper via my color laserjet printer will give me archival-quality photos that will stand the test of time.

In Schuldt's article, "The Inkjet Money Pit", he answers the question of "how much does inkjet printing really cost?" He provides guidance on how to attain archival-quality prints of your prized digital photos. He concludes, "Now you know why inkjet printers are so cheap. They might as well have an automatic withdrawal hooked up to your bank account."

Click here to read the article.


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All true, inkjets were never intended for anything but short-term-use output. I would not archive anything with a laserjet either. I upload my photos to one of dozens of archival/print sites offered by most large drug and grocery chains (check the place where you used to have your film developed, they probably offer it or are connected with someone who does). Yes, you pay more per print than on your printer, but they are "real" photos on real photo paper and will last (and look good). Over time, I don't think I spent significantly more this way and it's orders of magnitude less trouble, which is easily worth whatever extra it costs me.

Many online photo services are quite a bit cheaper per print than any printer that you are likely to have in your home. Sites such as shutterfly and winkflash make prints for as little as 9 cents. A site to compare rates is at Printing at home, it is a lot faster, but you are lucky to get a 4 x 6 print for less than 25 cents.

I love my color LaserJet for its running cost and quality. I can leave it for weeks and the ink does not dry.
Printing photos on a LaserJet is very expensive – I have tried the 8 and 9 cents per print (at Clark Photo). When you add the cost of S&H you’re up higher than 16 cents per print so I am switching back to Costco. Overall cost is cheaper (and the archival quality will be better than a LaserJet).
For general printing on the LaserJet, try turning the color off unless you really need it. The color toner cartridges are more expensive than black. I use grayscale as a default unless I really want color.
Another advantage of a good color LaserJet is that I can easily print both sides (the printer does it for me.

I minimised my inkjet use by not printing emails and newsletters. Instead I "print" to PDF I can then back these onto CD or USB stick for safety and archive. Rather than using the full Adobe @ $400, I use pdfFactory which cost about $40.00 four years ago. It's also saved me a fortune in paper!

Before you bad mouth inkjets too badly, you should realize that thousands and thousands and thousands of professional and/or semi-professional photographers use inkjet printers, by Canon, Epson, and HP. They are tested throughly for advanced aging/archival qualities which are said to be in the range of 100 years. There are two types of inkjet ink, dye and pigment, and pigment is said to be better. The paper, as in most things wanting to be archival, is important and always acid free. The truth about inkjet is that the cartridges are expense and overpriced and a ripoff. The companies are selling razor blades, not razors.

" printed via an inkjet printer may only last 15 years at the best." That should read, "at worst". At best inkjet images printed using a modern printer and photo paper will last at least 80 to over 100 years. See who is the foremost authority on the subject. Schuidt's article is self serving and at best a good laugh and worst false and inaccurate information that will lead a novice astray. I have yet to meet a inkjet printer that uses gasoline instead of ink regardless of the price. BTW, the majority of serious/professional photographers have closed their darkrooms and switched to all digital, including inkjet printing.

Mac computers will save an item as a PDF file, by selecting that under the PRINT command,. and choosing Save As... PDF. Works like a charm! And it's built into the system software.

This is a bit like cheap mobile phones where the appliance is subsidised to get you onto an expensive system. I use an HP inkjet and one way to cut down on costs is to always have the print setting at fast draft which uses less ink ( unless you are printing something important) and to ignore HP reminders that your cartridges are low on ink. I find that I can run for about 2 months before there is a nticeable loss of quality. Also, my next step is to use one of the cheaper suppliers for cartridges as I understand that Ebay is a good source.

I use the inkjet for correspondence and file copies for retention. For photos I use a dye sublimation printer, it's a bit more expensive, but the quality is most satisfying. Kept from sun and UV light, I expect at least 50 years from these prints.


In response to a question of "Laser printers for photos?", Elsa Wenzel, an Assoc. Editor of CNet says: "Sorry, but color lasers aren't built for photo buffs. Inkjet printers, on the other hand, have made incredible advancements in a handful of years, so pick one to fill up your professional studio dossier or home photo album."

I'm new to geneaology so I'm not sure why we are concerned about the lifespan of Prints. I beleive most geneaologist now use software to hold their geneaolgical records, a digital format. Do they print out vast record sheets and store them in boxes somewhere? So shouldn't our photos be maintained in the digital format too. Let's save trees and ink and not print at all. With advancements in current and future technology I think our digital files will last longer than a hundred years. I have been working with photography for over twenty years. I have done most of my own processing, both film and prints, and can say that I now do it all digitally. Flim is going the way of the 8-track (that should tell you how old I am). Prints will follow.

I have found that going to a reputable third party like Cartridge World serves me best. Their refilled laser cartridges are truly 'full' of toner (apparently HP only fills their cartridges about 3/4 full) and the inkjet cartridges are also very full of quality ink. There is a noticable difference in the cartridge weight. Also, the color tanks on my brother photo printer cost about $12.99 at staples, etc. At Cartridge World it was $7.99 with trade and my HP black laser toner cartridge which is about $80 elswhere is $53 at CW. I'm sold!

Purchasing a printer is like any other purchase of equipment, the consumer has to take the time to educate themselves about what is available in the marketplace, know what their needs are and evaluate the most cost effective solution. Inkjet printers are not all the same. There are a wide range of quality, features and cost. Lumping them all together good advise.

The entire article failed to quote any studies, experts, or other articles back up claims that only laserjets produced archival quality prints of photographs.

This seems to a bit unprofessional. It is fair to have an opinion, and to express that, but it should be made clear that it is a personal opinion based on personal experience, expert knowledge or validated studies.

No photo will keep its quality whether professionally printed or not. Given time they will all fade if you look at them even if you put them away in a drawer they will fade eventually. Keep the original photo file on your computer, back the file up (essential) transfer to your next computer when neccessary - then after one year or fifteen when your print has faded - make a new print. What could be simpler!

If anyone is interested in a PDF writer for windows, try It is free, no popups or ads, no trackers, and installs as a printer driver. Therefore you click 'print'- chose it as a printer-to save your document or item as a pdf document. I have used it at work and home for the past 4 years and works flawlessly. IT people at work led me to it.

I cut ink cost by using two different printers. I have an inexpensive (abt. $200) B/W Oki that I use as my default printer for all of my every day printing and for Genealogy printouts. It takes up little space and is very inexpensive to operate and I get quality printouts. The majority of work that requires a printer does not require color and I can save a lot by not using my injet all the time.
For photos, I use a Cannon MP600 and get excellent quality for my photos, but I use it for only photo work. However, if I am doing a lot of photos, it really sucks up the ink. I prefer to print my own photos and do my own editing and cropping.

Although the linked article is very pro-HP, HP printers have some of the very highest cost per page rates. Their ink cartridges also now contain microchips which expire the cartridge -- used up, half used or new in the box. So if you have an HP and don't print much, be sure to buy cartridges from a place that has a high turnover and check the expiration date. They aren't kidding about the date.

Yes, some ink jets now last longer than a decade or so, but the ink and paper choice is critical for longevity. Most (not all) so-called "photo printers" are very different and have a much greater longevity than a typical ink jet; you can't compare a professional quality photo printer to a $49 special at Staples... sadly, that's what most home genealogists are printing on. The inks are also water soluble.

Laser printers (and color copiers; same technology) also need good quality paper to last, but the printed ink is literally melted plastic. On good quality acid free paper, it's not going to degrade this century, at the least.

A similar technology to thermal dye sub, dry ink printing, was cheap and available for the home user but is no longer available. They had to pry my old Alps dry ink printer from my hands when the last of my feverishly stockpiled ink cartridges ran out. Now THAT was a durable printout with no smearing, soaking into the paper or fading.

Modern color photo processing methods are not as superior as you would think. Compare your 100 year old photos to ones taken in the 70's and 80's -- those newer photos are visibly degraded. The black and white processes were far more stable that what we get today, but most "black and white" photos are now processed using the color processing chemicals. Again, paper and processing are critical steps. If it's for posterity, don't trust it to the bargain basement photo stand unless you know which process they are using and what they are printing on.

Don't trust your images exclusively to digital formats, especially home "burned" CDs which are a different (and vastly inferior) technology to a pressed CD like you would purchase music on. "Burned" CDs have longevities in the ~2-10 year range, unlike pressed CDs which are very durable. Besides, 100 years from now, no one is going to be able to see the images on your CDs -- one will need to constantly migrate the digital images to new technology. Unlike a good photo print, you can't just store it away for the great grandkids. Computers fail; a paper backup trail is critical. (And a good digital backup offsite as well.)

The best strategy is what the pros do - a variety of formats, and when transferring to a new format, keep the old copy intact, too. Research your options regularly and choose the best available.

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