/ Technology

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?

Andrew says:
17 September 2016

HP have apparently preprogrammed many of their printers to stop accepting third-party ink from 13th September. Not clear if there is any recompense: I’m certainly not going to pay HP’s protection money after this.


Clive325 says:
27 February 2017

I’ve had bad experiences in the past with third party ink, but am not prepared to pay £50 plus for a set of Epson cartridges that don’t seem to last very long, even with my minimal use. I have ordered a set from INKredible costing 1/5th of the price. They also give which give a refund promise, so I guess there is nothing to lose.

Lizziebee says:
26 May 2018

I tried firstcallinks in my Epson XP-630, but they didn’t work. Firstcallinks helpline did their best to help me install them, without success. However, they sent me a free returns label, and gave me a full refund very promptly. Disappointed they didn’t work, but excellent customer service so worth a try for other printers. Think Ink Cartridges work fine in my Epson.

Thanks for posting Lizziebee. Some people are wary of third party cartridges in case they don’t work. I doubt the companies would still exist if many people did have problems.

Received today, 2 sets of ink for Cannon MG6150 printer from Inkredible. Full set of 6 in each pack, total cost £26. Impressed with cost, fact printer recognised ink cartridges immediately and, Windows print tests perfect. How nice I can order cartridges in future at a very reasonable cost with no problems if installation or print. Well done Inkredible,

Most people have no problems with third party cartridges, Ron. I’ve used another company for about ten years and not had any problems. I suggest you don’t allow any firmware updates, which have stopped printers working with third party cartridges for some users.