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Cheap printer ink – is it worth the gamble?

Row of printer ink

Branded printer ink is expensive, so opting for third party alternatives can save you money. But since many of you have contacted us about your negative third party experiences, are such cheaper substitutes worth it?

You know the cheap ink that isn’t the same brand as your printer? That’s third party ink.

Although we’ve heard experiences of them producing sub-standard prints or not working in certain printers, some of you are still willing to try another brand to reduce printing costs.

And while three-quarters of the people who contacted us were reasonably happy with their alternative inks, there are still questions over the compatibility, quality and cost of these inks.

Third party inks aren’t always compatible

Compatibility depends on the printer you own and the ink supplier you try. Third party ink isn’t available for every printer and sometimes cartridges don’t work due to simple bad luck.

Which? Convo commenter Peter was one of the unlucky ones, ‘I haven’t used [third party] cartridges since I found that an HP printer didn’t even recognise that a cartridge had been inserted. So that cartridge may have been cheap – but it was a complete waste of money.’

We’ve also experienced failure from some cartridges here at Which? HQ and it’s something that some third party ink suppliers actually admit to.

Do we always need good quality prints?

We tested a small handful of third party cartridges and although the prints produced weren’t better than branded inks, in some cases quality was actually on a par. Even so, is getting the best print quality always essential?

If you want a good quality photo print to keep or display, a photo processing service is likely to be cheaper than printing at home. But how often do you really need top quality, long lasting prints? If I’m honest, I don’t.

In our survey of over a thousand people, respondents on average printed 72 black and white text pages and 24 colour pages per month. This is in comparison to just 33 photos per year.

Perhaps we need to compromise

I reckon using third party ink boils down to three things: being brave enough to give them a try; not being overly concerned about having long-lasting top notch prints; and accepting it may take a little time and effort to get your money back if they don’t work.

In our previous printer ink Conversation, Stella said that her ‘prints look just as good and the printer runs fine.’ So if your biggest priority is saving money, surely third party ink is worth a shot?

Comments
Member

Did I read somewhere that printer ink is much dearer than some vintage wines? Compare the price per milliletre of ink to the price per litre of fuel. Ouch. Yeah, OUCH!

Making us, the poor consumer, believe that using a compatible ink will invalidate the warranty/produce inferior results is clearly a ploy by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) to scare us in to forking out more for their expensive ink.A practice made even easier for the OEM by the incorporation of chips on cartridges that are only truly compatible with their printers. Surely this restricts the rights of consumers and narrows choice? Should the European Commission be investigating this practice. Imagine if Ford were in cahoots with BP so that their fuel tanks were only compatible with BP nozzles? Imagine an operating system that forced you only to use the Internet Explorer browser. Or an MP3 player that only let you buy MP3s from their own store…:) . Isn’t that the same thing?

Ultimately, it’s our choice. Thankfully, many compatible cartridges do work for everyday results but how many people are too afraid to try? I had a Lexmark printer once. The OEM cartridges were so dear that I contacted Lexmark to ask why. I was told that buying their cartridges was like buying a new printer. So I did – and I made sure it wasn’t a Lexmark.

Having said that why spend so much time and effort printing high quality photos at home? Leave it to the photo experts. It’s much cheaper, the results are often better (obviously choose a Best Buy!) and it just takes out the hassle of cropping, adjusting, measuring and spending time and money purchasing specialist paper and printing using OEM cartridges.

Member

I’ve had hit and miss experiences with non-branded cartridges. The first few I got were fine. The last few were absolutely terrible. I’m all for printing draft quality, not necessarily needing top quality. But when both cartridges are new and your black is pink and your red is blue (or something like that) things really aren’t right at all!

Member
G L Attaway says:
29 October 2010

I have never had any problems with “Cartridge World” refills currently at £7.50. I get excellent quality from my Canon Pixma printer. Why should I pay £18 + for originals which last no longer than the refills?

Member

Is that per cartridge or per set (of 5)? I’ve just bought 3 sets of 5 cartridges (i.e. 15 in total) for my Pixma MP640 (Canon) from Badger Inks for about £32 inc P&P. I’ll let you know how they get on. I accept that refilling is prob more landfill-friendly though.

Member

Well, I would tell you but I’ve just been told by UPS that they’ve been delayed at the airport.

Member

I have had poor results from refilled ink cartridges and toner cartridges, however, I have recently refilled my own toner cartridge and found that it be a very satisfactory process at 1/3rd the cost of a new cartridge.

Member

I’ve not really compared the print quality from my original manufacturer ink versus the refilled ink closely, on my printer, but they appear to be roughly the same – I’ve not noticed a decline in quality anyway.

I’d be keen to go back to the same shop again for another refill when the time comes. I guess it’s less of a ‘gamble’ if you’ve found a shop, cartridge and printer already that combined together seem to give good results.

I’d also like to avoid paying the extortionate prices that the original manufactuers charge.

Member

Never had any problems with Refresh Cartridges for my Canon MX850 and being buying non branded cartridges for many years. I couldnt notice the difference in quality anyway and I doubt if many would.

Member

I think that buying own manufactured printer cartridges are a complete rip off! After spending a fortune on these, I decided to start refilling my printer cartridges and have been doing so now for years. One of the best stores I have used for this is Cartridge World. They are really hel