Over the past several years, we have seen ink manufacturers offer high capacity tanks and cartridges more frequently.  The marketing strategy behind the higher capacity tanks is that customers pay a lower price per page for more ink – similar to a bulk deal at a club store.  While these cartridges have been available for some time, the last few years have seen an influx in the number of these products on shelves.

Almost all of HP’s current ink families are available in standard and high capacities.  Epson also offers range of capacities, while Canon has stuck to high capacity options exclusively in its two-cartridge systems.  Even Kodak offers high capacity tanks now, while maintaining its claim to the lowest ink replacement cost.  So what does this mean? Are manufacturers just pushing higher-priced items or can consumers really get a value from spending a little bit more at the register?

To start with, what is the monetary cost difference between a standard and a high capacity cartridge? Generally speaking, across manufacturers, high capacity inks are an average of 26% more expensive than their standard capacity counterparts.  Each of the major OEMs varies in the premium that they charge for their high capacity inks.  Interestingly, Brother leads the pack with a 68% price difference for individual high capacity inks compared to individual standard capacity.  On the lower end of the spectrum, Canon and Dell price their high capacity products at 14% and 18% higher than standard capacity inks, respectively.

The main argument and marketing message that manufacturers push when advertising their high capacity inks is the savings that consumers can realize.  The main savings really comes in the form of cost per page.  Of course, consumers are going to pay a higher price for more ink, but the value of that cartridge is also greater.
While we saw that Brother had the highest average mark-up for high capacity tanks, the manufacturer also has one of the largest yield deltas between standard and high capacity ink tanks.  On average, Brother standard capacity tanks have a yield of 422-pages, while the high capacity tanks offer a yield of 1,095-pages.  HP advertises quite frequently that consumers can print up to three times the number of pages with XL inks versus standard.  gap intelligence data supports the advertising claim with the average difference slightly under three times with 1,066-pages for high capacity and 463-pages for standard capacity.  Customers can definitely realize a savings when they front a few extra dollars at the cash register for high capacity inks.

On some of the newer printers, we see that consumers can save quite significantly on cost per page when they purchase the high capacity tanks.  HP offers a discount of about a 40% on the color CPP and 35% on black CPP for the high capacity hp932/933 inks compared to their standard counterparts, when used with the HP Officejet Pro 6700.  The manufacturer offers a slightly larger discount between standard and high capacity on its SOHO- targeted Officejet Pro 8100 with a color CPP discount of about 36% and a black CPP discount of 40%.  Epson’s official premium for its T711XXL inks over its T676XL inks is unknown at this time as the manufacturer does not offer pricing on its website.  However, according to channel pricing, the difference in price for the higher yield inks exceeds the increase in yield, leading to a very unusual premium for the higher capacity tanks.  Brother offers considerable discounts of 36% and 60% for its color and black and white CPP, respectively, on its MFC J5910DW.  Likewise, Lexmark offers high discounts of almost 40% on the color CPP and 25% on the black CPP for its Pro715, which uses its lex150/155 ink tanks.  Each of these manufacturers offers a rather high discount for customers that opt to purchase the high capacity inks rather than the standard.

The availability of high capacity inks has drastically increased over the past several years.  While there are many legacy products still available in the market today that do not have XL counterparts, most manufacturers’ current offerings are available in standard and high capacity.   Canon slightly switched up its strategy with its latest two-cartridge system, the PG-240 and CL-241, which debuted in late 2011.  The series offers three capacities of the black cartridges and two for the color.  The manufacturer’s standard capacity cartridge is currently only available on Canon.com’s website, while the high and extra high capacity versions are available throughout the US channel.  Offering three capacities for a single printer is a unique strategy, providing even further choices for potential home and office users.  The lack of availability of Canon’s standard capacity black and color cartridges throughout the channel indicate that resellers may be hesitant to stock so many products from the same line.  The reasoning could also be coming directly from Canon, who may be pushing its higher priced, higher capacity inks into the market.

Consumers may continue to complain about the high cost of inks, but manufacturers have come a long way and are offering different options to fit various needs.  The availability of high capacity inks has definitely increased over the past several years, catering to consumers who are willing to spend a little bit more upfront in order to gain long term savings.  Yes, the price is higher, but so is the value.  Consumers will likely move more in the direction of purchasing higher capacity inks versus their standard counterparts as information regarding cost per page becomes more prevalent in the main stream market.
Inkjet manufacturers are targeting small and home offices much more than the everyday consumer, a factor also leading to the influx of high capacity inks.  Inkjet has been trying to gain a place in the business segment for several years and higher yields are part of the key.  Toner customers have long accepted that they will pay more for supplies but receive considerably better CPPs in exchange.  Inkjet manufacturers are hoping that they can capitalize on this accepted notion in the business arena as well.