After much research and trial and error I found that the easiest cheapest method of printing is a continuous ink supply built into a printer. Once you are set up you can buy ink inexpensively by the pint, quart or gallon. A pint bottle of ink will cost no more than one of those itty bitty 1 oz. cartridges and will last hundreds of times as long.
A continuous ink system runs tubes from the refillable ink containers into the moving ink head in the printer. The printer operates normally. You simply refill the outside container with bulk ink and keep printing on the same originally installed cartridges. There are a number of outfits that will sell you a kit to do this yourself. I’ve heard of occasional satisfaction with this method. But installing this gear can get really messy and hairy. You are on your own if it does not work correctly. And some printer models are easier to retrofit than others.
This is an interesting way to save money on ink, we use a Xerox solid ink printer but this is something we might consider down the road.
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Any chance of this being added to the arduino printer shield?
I’ve been researching CIFS systems for several years and while the system do require a lot more maintenance and cost more initially than what "normal" printer cartridges do, the over all benefit and cost reduction per print is worth it.
I got an HP Photosmart D7360 and the average size of the colour cartridges are 3,5ml (well some are 2,5 and some are 5,5) except for the key (black) that is 20ml. If you run out of one colour or the cartridge becomes to old you have to change it if you want to print at all. Oh and they dont tell you how much ink is in the cartridges, you really have to dig into their various websites to find it. Pretty much a scam.
Now if you look at real pro equipment that I’ve used at work mostly Epson large formats, the cartridges are good size and CIFS systems using third party inks are common. Lyson particular if you work with Epson printers. And you buy it in 250ml, 500ml and 1 liter bottles.
Sure one set of CcMmYyK (lower case is lighter than uppercase) will set you back a hefty lot but the print cost will go down to a few tenths of € cent leaving the paper as the largest expense.
With a CIFS system and some ingenuity with arduino you can get nice graphs of just how much ink you are using per print in a nice display and know exactly what the cost per print is.
There are a few problems with CIFS systems, some inks use metals in their chemical make up and oxidize and leave metal salts in the ink fogging the ink and destroys your printer heads, so you need to watch out for that. make sure your printer has exchangeable printer heads (like HP, unlike Epson) and make sure that you check the ink for fogging.
And the most important thing is never ever to let the system print dry as it will be hell to clean (with Ajax window cleaner) and you will be stained not for life but for the next few weeks.
Another thing to watch out for is noname low cost inks, good inks are a science and especially pigmented archival inks are harder to make good than dye inks. While there are archival dye inks they do cost just as much as the pigmented ones. It is however easier to make cheap dye inks.
Problem with cheapo inks are the archival stability of the colours and fading. Good inks should theoretically last for at least 75-100 years before any fading becomes visible, great inks last longer 100+ years. Of course these are tested in speed aged conditions and not in "real time" as inkjet printers were not around in the age of the gas lamps.
There are to my knowledge two good manufacturers one is Lyson (American I think) the other is OCZ (German), there is another one from China that makes great UV Curable ink for very large format signage but I’ve forgotten what its name was. There are of course others for VLF signage inkjet printers with all manners of inks UV curable or not problem is they sell barrels or tens of gallons (thats 25-50 Litres) of ink which might get a bit to costly.
One thing that is interesting with CIFS systems is that if you are a bit daring you can run photoluminecent ink through the system and print in part invisible images =D or run with all grey scale inks for warm/cold tone B/W prints.