Why Printer Ink Should Be Packaged Like Chanel No. 5

It’s not as absurd as you think. You won’t believe what printer ink is actually costing you.

There are few liquids on Earth that cost more than printer ink. In fact, at a cost of $4,285 per liter, it’s almost double the cost of even the most expensive perfumes. Put that way, there are few people on Earth who would argue that printer ink is actually worth that much, yet that is what the vast majority of us pay, ounce by ounce, and cent by cent. As a way of highlighting the absurd cost of printer ink, Australian artist Celeste Watson has subversively redesigned the packaging of Hewlett Packard printing ink to resemble Chanel No. 5.


There’s a reason we live in an era of $40 computer printers: companies are making all of their money off the ink, and not even particularly honestly. They can afford to give the hardware away at cost to get you hooked. Even if you believe that printer ink is worth thousands per liter, the cartridge industry routinely pulls shady tricks such as building chips into their cartridges that report empty long before the ink has run dry, or for colors that are more likely to be used.

These are the shady practices of the inkjet printer industry that Watson’s work skewers. Removed from the opaque plastic cartridges that obscure the volume of the fluid inside and put inside clear glass perfume vials, the price of printer ink takes on a laughable air of luxury.

In Watson’s design, each color of ink sold by Hewlett Packard has a label on the back, warning consumers about what’s inside. The packaging of the blue ink, for example, points out that while HP will claim that there is “technology” in ink, it is made up of 70% water (and as previously mentioned, the technology that is built into many cartridges exists to cheat). The red packaging, on the other hand, points out HP’s (very real, and still happening) policy of testing the toxicity of ink on lab animals, which may be a good thing, because printer ink contains “confirmed animal carcinogen with unknown relevance to humans.” Finally, the yellow ink box points out what we already know: that HP will put less ink in the cartridges of colors consumers use more.

In the grand scheme of things, there are few women in the world who wear Chanel No. 5. It’s an expensive product that many would consider an unnecessary extravagance. Yet how many of the same people are paying twice as much for a far less precious fluid, drop by drop? If they knew ahead of time what they were buying, who would pay $126 an ounce for ink? This isn’t a joke: it’s practically a crime.

You can see more of Watson’s work here.

[Images: Courtesy of Celeste Watson]