/ Technology

Would you pay a monthly tariff for prints?

Print button on printer

We’re used to paying monthly for minutes on a phone contract, but what about paying a monthly fee to print from your inkjet printer? That’s what HP proposes with its Instant Ink service…

Printer ink is expensive stuff – it’s not uncommon to pay upwards of £50 for a set of printer-branded inks. So if someone offered you 50 prints on your home printer for £1.99 a month, would you go for it?

That’s the proposition of HP’s Instant Ink service which works with a number of wi-fi printers in HP’s range.

What is Instant Ink?

With the Instant Ink service you sign up online and are debited an amount each month for a specified number of prints, depending on the plan you choose.

There are three printing plans. The cheapest at £1.99 a month lets you print 50 pages per month, or you can pay £3.49 a month for 100 pages or £7.99 a month for 300 pages.

It doesn’t matter what you print – photos, text or images – just how much you print. Any unprinted pages at the end of a month from your quota are rolled into the following month, but if you use up your page quota before the end of the month, the printer won’t print unless you pay a top up.

When ink cartridges run low, the printer uses wi-fi to communicate with HP and have new cartridges sent to you, so you never have to pay for, or go out and buy, new cartridges.

Is it good value for money?

The key question is ‘is it cheaper to sign up to monthly prints than to buy cartridges?’ and that very much depends on your printer, the ink you use and how much you print.

When we asked Which? members how much they print, the average was around 20 black text pages and 10 colour pages a month. Few people said they ever printed photos. So the average person wouldn’t reach the 50 page quota in a month.

In our tests, printing 30 pages over time, turning a printer off between uses, printers spend between £1.61 and £13.86 of ink, depending on how much ink the printer uses to clean itself when you leave time between prints. This makes the Instant Ink program look like good value on many printers. However, if all you ever do is print in black and white, and predominantly text (which doesn’t use a lot of ink on the page), printing costs are lower. And if you only print a few pages a month, paying a subscription could be very much like paying for more calls and data than you ever use on your mobile phone.

If you print a lot of colour pages or photos – the more expensive types of print in terms of the amount of ink they use – you could be quids-in with Instant Ink.

One thing is clear – a switch to paying for a set number of pages per month could see you becoming very precious about formatting before you print in order to fit as much as possible on a single page. Because even the tiniest dot of ink on a page printed on the Instant Ink service will leave you with one less page to print from your monthly quota.

Would you ever consider making the switch from cartridge shopping to signing up for prints?

Would you consider paying a monthly fee to print from your printer?

No (83%, 561 Votes)

Yes (11%, 73 Votes)

I don't know (6%, 39 Votes)

Total Voters: 673

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As a marketing wheeze briliant but I would not touch it with a barge pole. The idea that overall this service is not designed to make HP a profit is untenable and seems to be aimed at taking out of play the independent ink suppliers.

I imagine that there will be some people who will see this as a really useful service, but then they probably are not particularly fussed about spending and value. On a technical point I am a little concerned that if you are not connected to the Internet, say because you use your smartphone for most things then you may run out without ink being despatched.

Printers intended for home use have traditionally been cheap to buy and the manufacturers have made their profit by selling expensive consumables. Their best efforts to persuade us to buy the manufacturer’s ink and toners have failed, thanks to improvement of third party products.

Monthly printing tariffs could suit a few people but are no doubt intended to get us to spend more and discourage us from looking at third party products. Not for me, thank-you.

I would prefer to pay more for decent quality printers with replaceable parts and pay less for inks and toners.

Sonic says:
19 January 2015

I swear by HP printers and am now onto my third, a wireless version which as usual has a black and a tri-colour cartridge. I print a mixture of text documents, colour (e.g. posters) and photos and I have a feeling this offer may be of value to me, but I was wary of it and haven’t taken it up (yet).

One thing to note, after several successes with Tesco cartridges my previous printer suddenly refused to recognise them, and for the rest of its life I ended up going back to genuine HP. My new wireless printer refused Cartridge World’s offerings, even telling me ‘a used or counterfeit cartridge has been detected’ – too clever!

I guess I need to monitor my printing for a month and see what I actually do produce, then work out if I can save money

My HP wireless printer (obviously a different model since the coloured ink is in separate cartridges) does work with cartridges refilled by Cartridge World though the ink level is not shown. I bought HP cartridges from Internet Ink until they offered cheap compatible cartridges. These work fine and the ink level is displayed.

For many years I bought genuine HP cartridges but like other printer manufacturers they are being rather greedy.

We have two Brother printers and probably get through about 100 sheets of paper a week between us [we make a fair number of photocopies]. I wouldn’t be happy about paying by the sheet as it’s often the case that the last page of a printed document only carries a few lines of printed image. We also “waste” a certain amount through drafts, reworked and updated documents, and formatting trials. A multipack of four Brother cartridges for our machines costs about £50 but they don’t have an equal lifespan and it certainly isn’t correlated with the paper consumption rate. It’s usually necessary to buy varying quantities of the colour cartridges and buying them separately is more expensive. We had some early success with generic cartridges from a stationery supplier but now usually buy Brother cartridges which have never let us down. I installed one generic cartridge two days ago but problems have occurred and I have had to replace it with a branded one. I share the concern raised by Diesel [at the top] over printing while off-line and not realising you’re getting close to the sheet limit although you still have plenty of ink left perhaps. I can’t see us wanting to bother with all that.

I have had a Brother duplexing laser printer for over 9 years and this I use for pretty much everything. My wife has a large Epson all in one ink-jet which uses 35ml cartridges for her printing needs. Laser printers are very practical and long lived.

I do print out some documents where they are lengthy and require serious reading – that is the ability to quickly reference back to previous statements or tables or diagrams – or to annotate.

There is also the matter of eye strain from reading too much on the computer. I have an A4 size e-reader with e-ink screen to provide a better reading experience. Even this , with a screen roughly 3 times a normal e-reader is not as flexible[!] as paper.

I have had great success with b/w laser printers, both at work and at home. If you have the room it’s worth buying one with a decent sized toner cartridge, which will be cheaper to run.

I print some documents for the same reasons as Dieseltaylor, but eye strain is not an issue because I just expand the text with the trackpad on my laptop, which works in the same way as a smartphone or tablet but better because there is no need to touch the screen. No need for reading glasses when using a computer. I wish I could say the same for small printed text.

renniemac says:
19 January 2015

I have HP printer, and did receive notice from them about the monthly plan. when I looked at the cost of inks from HP they were dearer than Staples. therefore I will continue to use staples online for my inks.

I use a Canon printer and get, to my mind, excellent results, including photos using Canon ink. I am suspicious of any “subscription” scheme like HP’s – cynically I doubt if it will operate in most consumers best interests. I use draft text to economise, low quality when testing a photo, and admit to printing off hard copies of many electronic documents for records (and in case I have a computer problem). Labels and envelopes would count as single prints even though they use a miniscule amount of ink. I just couldn’t be bothered to worry about whether I should print or not in case my allowance over-ran.

I question the sales practice though for OEM ink. If I buy individual cartridges on line they are around £10. Why so much? Many seem to make the same charge for mutiple cartidges in one posting. And this price is even higher in high street shops. Many on-line sellers list the same cartridges at around £5 plus £5 p&p (why so much?) However, my recent supplier only charges one lot of p&p on a whole set of cartridges, reducing the actual cartridge cost to a more acceptable £6. Perhaps a practice Which? could turn its attention on?

Malcolm – You could save a lot of time and effort by saving your files as pdfs and keeping backups. If there is a problem with the computer, the documents will be accessible on an old computer or replacement.

Apart from cost and the space taken to file printed paperwork it is very easy to locate information by searching. I have just been looking for an important issue that was discussed over ten years ago. Knowing the document mentioned a figure of £5000 allowed me to find the relevant set of minutes in seconds, which related to a meeting in 2002.

I have a Canon printer that uses 6 cartridges and for which the Canon branded cartridges are about £13 each. I have found a seller in the Amazon marketplace from whom I can get two complete sets (12 cartridges) for just under £21 including delivery. In my view the yield per cartridge and the quality of the printouts at least equals Canon branded-ones.

The HP idea seems to take the “excessive cost of branded inks” notion a step further by making the excessive excessive. Cost aside, I see too many pitfalls such as if a large urgent print job (say by a student) takes the cartridge capacity from the right side of low to zero and the delay in getting a new cartridge shipped out. And I wonder is there something in the small print that would catch out someone who, say, decided to print 50 high quality A4 photographs out each month and so used lots of ink.

Sometimes companies are so stupid.

HP want people to use their inks and come up with this ridiculous scheme. The overheads of software, postage, staff wages, helpline (because there are bound to be problems) must be no small amount.

I have a suggestion for you HP.


If other companies can sell compatibles at around £25 a set then so can you.

Why not try it for a year and see how it goes. The only overheads would be ordering more from manufacturing.

Bob Fasoli says:
20 January 2015

I swopped to a Kodak printer due to the cost of inks on my old HP. The quality of the Kodak is no where near as good as the HP which is also much quieter. Also with my old HP you did not just buy ink you bought new print jets everytime. This meant prints were always of very high quality. I did find that other ink supplies were not a pstch on HP original. With cartridge world refils I found you had to print a sheet every couple of days otherwise the end would dry up and become unusable.

HP was definately the best. I also believe that this method would mean people would think more and print less, only when it was correct. Print Preview is the way to go.

I like the “roll over” and if I decide to change printers, personnaly this would be the way I would go.

This Conversation has made me realise how little I print compared with ten or fifteen years ago. I rarely print photos because they can be viewed on screen and distributed to others in various ways by computer. If I want to sit and study something or proof read an important document I will print a copy but the great advantage of viewing documents on computer is that they are searchable.

I used to use a b/w laser printer most of the time because it is faster and cheaper to run. That’s less important these days and the laser printer is mainly a backup in case the inkjet printer runs out of ink at an inconvenient time. In addition, I don’t want to keep two printers on standby.

Good points, Wavechange.
We use our printer less and less, it’s main use now is as a scanner. I convert as much as I can to pdf and view via OneDrive on my phone or tablet.
QR codes for ticketing, boarding passes etc are a development that is helping to minimise paper.
There is a long way to go as anybody who has bought a railway ticket – or should I say tickets – can testify.

I have scanned many documents to pdf but I’m not using the scanner often these days. Unless it’s something important I just take photos because it is quick and easy.

QR codes need a bit more promotion since many people still don’t know what they are.

David McCauley says:
21 January 2015

What annoys me is printing tickets, boarding passes etc and “collect at store info” (I’m looking at YOU Dixons & Currys) where the whole job over-runs by a couple of lines (usually a disclaimer) causing a second page to come out. Yes there are ways around this but how many pages get wasted? Perhaps Which? could examine the worst offenders?

Yes, so much stuff that we are expected to download and have with us [like travel insurance documents] is not formatted for economical reproduction ar even for easy reading on the screen especially if it is printed in columns]. Mostly, some clerk has been given the job of scanning an in-house master copy and putting in a link to it. We recently found that some passes we had to download were rejected at the entrance because the QR codes had not been printed with sufficient resolution. So we all have to have state-of-the-art high-resolution scanners/printers nowadays do we? In my experience the company’s access machinery or system fails more often than our domestic equipment – it’s just so annoying when they blame a customer for holding everybody up.

Excellent point DM. Remembering to click to fit to one page is easily forgotten – and presupposes you know that it is single sheet item.

Why not charge a simple per-page price? Why force consumers to predict in advance that they will print exactly 50 or 100 pages? This kind of bundle pricing, whereby consumers are forced to buy more of a service than they actually use, should be outlawed in all industry sectors.

An A4 colour photo will obviously use a lot more ink than printing an envelope, so the concept of charging effectively the same for each seems quite flawed. I’d rather take my chances and buy ink when I need it; I’m then paying the true cost of the print. I simply don’t trust “convenience” schemes like this one. Likely to work in the supplier’s favour, not mine.

As Katie has pointed out, unused pages are rolled over to the next month. It’s not a service I am interested in but it’s better than zeroing the credit at the end of the month.

Yes, but even with rollovers, it results in wastage and problems. For example, what if you want to print 60 pages in one month and 20 the next month? The pricing is rigid and inflexible.

I don’t like this scheme and I hope it doesn’t gain traction. We don’t want Andrex getting any silly ideas.

It would make sense to maintain a reasonable page credit in case you need to do a lot of printing – just like keeping a decent amount of credit on a PAYG phone.

At least you know what the running costs per page will be. As many have pointed out, some inkjet printers use a lot of ink keeping their heads clean. HP may be successful with this scheme, particularly if other companies offer similar arrangements. Those of us who are not keen can just carry on as before.

I have to ask if John is still using one of the old fashioned roll printers.

Not now Wavechange. It’s one sheet at a time.

My Brother is brilliant but it has one annoying habit: it waits until I am using it before it tells me it’s run out of paper; why can’t it look first?

If you get a printer from Big Brother it will probably order another ream of paper for you.

Laurie says:
22 January 2015

My Panasonic printer offered me the change to join Instant Ink and made it quite difficult to install the printer properly, with the right drivers when I refused. I’m not against the principle of the scheme per set but how do we know that Panasonic aren’t keeping track of the contents of our printouts?

Anyway, if these companies lowered the price of their cartridges, people wouldn’t use these cheaper ‘unbranded’ inks. They can’t expect customer loyalty while they’re ripping us off. If they sold their printer and inks at sensible prices I’d stay loyal. I don’t mind them making a little bit of profit but not the profits they’re making at the moment.

I’ve just looked at the Epson Ecoprinter – £330 includes ink (in 4 refillable tanks) for 4000 black and 6500 colour prints. Replacement bottles of ink are £8 each. This shows a truer real ink cost. So the cost per page is around 11% of the HP scheme.

The downside is the unsubsidised printer cost (and how long will it last?) and you need to do a lot of printing to use the ink (and will that stay viable for a long time?). But it does point to the economics of an alternative way of paying for your prints.

Have Which? tested (can’t find a review) or are they testing this printer?

Hi Malcolm, I’ve spoken to our printer researcher and there are plans to test this printer. I can’t give you a date for when the review will be released quite yet, but I’ll let you know once we know 🙂

Thanks Alex. I am still not receiving email updates on comments so have only just seen yours. Sorry. Look forward to Which?’s review.
For a low to medium user this printer’s ink will clearly take a long time to be used. I wonder how you can assess whether the unused ink will stay viable for that long, and how well the printer is built to last long enough to recover its cost?

WARNING! I use the HP Instant Ink scheme. Just before my birthday and Christmas, I chose the 300 package with the idea that everyone could print out photos they liked. (I had a selection of frames.) Sadly a family member was rushed into hospital, so only a few were printed and the quality of the prints was poor, “Grainy” was the verdict of my son. Dull.
I thought I could still print 300 copies using the rollover. After Christmas, the updates on how many prints we had made were unavailable. In the new year, I was dismayed to discover only 50 copies had been rolled over.
In the Ts and Cs, it states that you can only have the number of rollover copies your next plan has.
I asked them to send the relevant part of the Ts and Cs, but it does not appear to have been sent.

Thanks for the warning.

I did not have any difficulty in finding details of the HP Instant Ink scheme. It does not make good reading: https://instantink.hpconnected.com/uk/en/terms

I cannot see anyone wanting to use the service after reading the NO WARRANTY section. It would be good to lawyer look at that because I expect that our statutory rights will provide some remedies.

As Enquirer 123 says, the number of pages that can be rolled over is no more than permitted in the current month. When pages are rolled over from the previous month, these can only be used when the current month’s pages have been used and cannot be rolled over again.

The T&Cs look very much biased in favour of HP. The way to get best value would be to use the Instant Ink printer just for A4 photos and do the rest of the printing on another printer that is not under the Instant Ink scheme.

I work for one of the biggest players in the print industry, although my employers do not sell products into the home office market in the UK. In a business environment, this sort of service is very common and in most cases they are very suitable. I would personally never consider one for my home printing however, because the volumes are variable, between 20 to 50 most months and 50-100 occasionally.

What this means is that (for inkjets) its far more important to ensure the printer does not use massive amounts of in during the startup and self cleaning process (see article at top of page), because over time the cleaning cost can dwarf the still not insignificant cost of manufacturers own cartridges.

My last machine (a Canon MX pixma) used quite a lot of ink and eventually gummed up completely, as did the previous Epson, so I’ve swapped to an HP Which best buy, which does seem to use less ink.

However, I still do not buy manufacturers own brand cartridges. I use those from RefreshCartridges and have always been delighted by the service, the low cost and their willingness to help with any issues. In the past I’ve had the occasional malfunctioning cartridge and they will always replace these free of charge.

Oh, and if you don’t want to print colour and photos, and don’t want a scanner/copier, then a laser printer is a much better bet in my view.

Laser printer manufacturers sometimes quote a page life based on 5% coverage per page, which backs up what you say.

I don’t understand why the amount of toner used does vary with page coverage. Laser printers work by coating a drum with toner powder and when little gets printed on the page, most of the toner goes into the waste collector – either in the cartridge or a separate container.

Please can someone explain why I’m wrong.


Less than 20-25% is wasted according to Wiki. Dependent on the make and type obviously.

One thing I had not realised was that there is a certain amount of lubrication provided by the toner aswell as simply fine particles. Quite an interesting subject and the hacks to get the most from your cartridge shows human ingenuity at its best : )

As to its dangers etc:

Carcogenic, and with the newly released research on nano-particles this seems to be straying to the same area – that tiny particles can damage our lungs and perhaps we need to be more interested in testing regimes and long term exposure..

The same danger applies to photocopiers, which work on the same principle – using toners and photoconductive drums. Copiers and laser printers should be in a well ventilated area. There might be additional dangers in coloured toners. I made a point of leaving my office when my colour laser printer was running.

I notice that iron oxide is shown as a non-hazardous component. In the form of rust it can affect some asthmatics. I am one of them.

renniemac says:
26 January 2015

I don’t see the point of being precious about printing. I am a crafter and use craft CD-ROMs for a lot of my work, the amount I print varies month to month depending on orders, but to have to watch what I print is not a good idea, no control over printer. my printer an HP is Wi-Fi but wont be using it in this way. I like the idea of going to my printer and printing when needing my graphics printed. as I previously said I am happy with price from Staples and wont be taking the monthly plan anytime soon. I think I like to be in control and have no nasty surprises when using any technology, I think this is why I don’t like monthly phone bills preferring pay as you go services. also the more people who take up the monthly plan usually means price hikes on a captive audience, and how easy would it be to cancel. stick with what you know and trust. keep the ball in your court.

I have a Canon printer and I think it could work in my favour if Canon offered the service. This is because I don’t print very often: about once a week, maybe 4-5 pages each time. However, when I do print, I always want the best possible print quality and therefore stick to Canon branded ink. Although I use very little ink for printing, I do use my printer’s scanner function frequently. Unfortunately, whenever I switch it on just for a scan, the printer still turns on and cleans its head, thereby wasting ink, even though I have not printed anything at all since the last time it cleaned its head. So I am mostly paying for ink I don’t use. At least, under a monthly scheme, assuming I could estimate my monthly allowance requirement accurately enough, I would only pay for ink that I do use.

Routine head cleaning is a necessary part of keeping an inkjet printer working. If this has to be done because if there is a blockage, the printer will use a lot of ink attempting to sort out the problem.

It’s ridiculous that printers commonly go through routine head cleaning every time they are switched on, which discourages users from switching them off to save power. It would be easy to limit the cleaning to once a week or however long the manufacturer believes is necessary to keep the heads clean. Presumably the manufacturers prefer to have frequent cleaning to minimise blockages and make more money if we are using their ink cartridges.

My Canon printer costs around 1p a day in standby mode. Probably significantly cheaper than switching on and off and using ink regularly in a cleaning cycle. Your manual should give the standby power consumption.

I have measured the power consumption of my wireless inkjet printer and it is low. I keep it on more for convenience than to minimise ink use. The laser printer is old and is connected to an old router to allow wireless printing. This takes a fair amount of power so is turned off when not in use.

Kess says:
29 January 2015

I have never spent £50 on branded ink. My black cartridge costs £20 from Argos and lasts about 6 months, so I guess it depends on how you use your printer and what printer it is.
I wouldn’t pay for a printing package because of how little we use it, but if you use it a lot of have a family, I suppose it’s probably worth while.
Up front costs is the thing for me even at £20. A printer plan is a great idea for those on a lower budget who want to be able to print some items every month or so without the larger up front cost.

A better option would be to stop printers from needing a colour cartridge just to be able to print black and white and make ink cheaper than it is to buy a whole new basic printer with cartridge.

It’s often easy to print a colour document in black and white but the printer will still use coloured ink to clean the print heads to prevent them blocking. I have even seen printers that refuse to print in black and white when the coloured ink has run out. 🙁

Kess says:
2 February 2015

That was never the case in printers I had before. You could clean the print heads without colour. It just wouldn’t be as good. It’s only the last 8 years that I have had new printers and this new way of so called cleaning. In any case i’m talking about printing. Surely cleaning and printing are two different things. The old days you could still print in black ink no matter if you had colour or not. I was still able to clean the printer heads when I got colour ink eventually.
In any case my printer still works without much colour but I see through all the excuses or why printers need this or that.
Having a partner who is an IT engineer helps!

Kess says:
2 February 2015

It’s well known about Planned obsolescence. In many cases, it’s cheaper to buy a basic printer that comes with an a black colour cartridge than buying the black and colour for your original printer.
I don’t believe people at home have to worry about cleaning print heads as much as a business doing it day in day out or an office have to.

I don’t buy the excuse about cleaning the print heads. The same goes with computers. back in the day there were things you could do yourself. What with the dumbing down of everything, they have taken away options those of us more experienced were well used to doing.
I didn’t grow up with a mobile and I only got my first computer in 1999 so I am no tech *young* person here.
I have no problem printers and IT equipment being more accessible to those who are not so techy, but to push excuses on consumers is another thing entirely.

Those on lower incomes are also greatly affected. Particularly those who cannot buy in bulk or up front costs.

This printing package as I said above is a good idea for those in that situation as I happen to be, but I think it’s naive to think we aren’t being lied to and I highly doubt the terms and conditions and the service will benefit the customer as much as any business says it will.

I may not be a total techy in printers or the total workings, but I do know that previous printers were able to be cleaned or at least print in black without the need for colour ink and that those printed papers were just as good as what my new printer prints now.
What a business or office says doesn’t matter to me. What matters is my printer at home.
Printing photos is another matter and maybe where my argument stops.

If you don’t need to print in colour, a laser printer is a much better option, as others have said.

I’m sure that inkjet printers ‘waste’ more ink than is needed to keep their heads working, but I know from experience that blocked print heads can be difficult to clean. There is often a warning about how much ink can be used cleaning a blocked head.