The Upgrade

How Big Printer Is Trying to Crush the Counterfeit Ink Trade

That great deal you found on Amazon may have a dark side

Lance Ulanoff
Published in
6 min readApr 25, 2019
Credit: vladacanon/iStock/Getty Images Plus

TThe team moves through a dark, narrow hallway, emerging into a room crammed with an odd sort of contraband: toner and ink cartridges stacked almost to the ceiling. Authorities question a woman who deflects at first before finally admitting that all of them are counterfeits.

The video, shot in India and shared with me by Hewlett-Packard (HP Inc), illustrates the raids local authorities have conducted hundreds of times around the world to try and stem the flow of counterfeit ink and toner cartridges. It’s reminiscent of a drug bust, and the economic stakes are nearly as high.

According to the Imaging Supplies Coalition (ISC), an organization representing the business interests of companies like HP, Epson, and Canon, counterfeit printer consumables cost the industry $3 billion a year. Given how much an official ink replacement costs, you probably think the industry can afford the loss.

But as Consumer Reports pointed out last year, there are a couple reasons these companies charge as much as they do for your ink. The first is the most obvious: You’re paying off your printer when you buy ink. The cost of printers is low because, in the long run, printer manufacturers make more on ink. But in the short term, these companies have to pay for the cost of components, as well as developing and building the printer to begin with. In addition, the ink and toner cartridges are more than just containers—they’re complex (read: expensive) pieces of technology.

Seized counterfeit toner cartridges. Photo courtesy Hewlett-Packard

HP and the ISC wouldn’t comment on consumer frustration with the high cost of ink, but they both acknowledge that people naturally look online for the best ink prices they can find. These knockoff deals supposedly lead to HP fielding customer complaints, even though HP didn’t sell them the bogus printer supplies.

“When you have a brand that carries this amount of customer recognition and trust, there’s always somebody trying to capitalize on that brand…



Lance Ulanoff

Tech expert, journalist, social media commentator, amateur cartoonist and robotics fan.