With branded printer cartridges costing upwards of £40 a set, it’s no surprise that people turn to cheaper alternatives. But are cheap third-party printer ink cartridges any good?
Would you believe it? Third-party cartridge suppliers topped our first ever ink and toner satisfaction survey. So maybe it’s time you left those expensive Epson, costly Canon and highly-priced HP inks behind?
The cost of ink is important when buying a printer. The cheapest printer in a store can easily cost less than a set of branded printer cartridges, meaning you’ll quickly spend more on prints than the printer itself.
Third-party ink – from a brand that differs from your printer – costs less, but the majority of people don’t use it. Our printer ink and toner survey of 10,097 owners found 65% use branded ink.
Printer-branded vs third-party ink
So why are people spending out on branded printer cartridges? According to our survey, the biggest reason for avoiding third-party ink is the belief that print quality wouldn’t be good enough. Another fear is that third-party cartridges would damage their printer.
While it’s true that some third-party inks don’t produce outstanding print quality, in the past we’ve seen some that rival official cartridges for print quality. And how often do you need top quality prints anyway? The majority of home printing is text documents, emails and webpages, most of which a draft print is good enough for.
As part of our new printer cartridge satisfaction survey, we asked Which? members to rate the cartridges they use for value, quality of different types of print and ease of use.
To produce a customer score for each cartridge brand or supplier we asked members how satisfied they were with it and how likely they’d be to recommend it to a friend. Twelve third-party brands and retailers achieved higher customer scores than the highest ranked printer brand – Brother – did for its ink. Lexmark cartridges languished at the bottom of our table.
The downsides of cheap ink
With so many happy third party ink users it seems you’d be crazy not to make the switch from printer branded ink.
However, cheap ink isn’t entirely without drawbacks. On average, 15% of third-party users said a cartridge refusing to work in the printer was the most serious problem they’d encountered. This compares to just 3% of those who use printer-branded ink.
Sometimes you can fix it by removing the cartridge and putting it back in again, but if that doesn’t work you should have some recourse with the retailer. If the cartridge claimed compatibility with your printer and you’d installed it correctly, you should be entitled to a refund or replacement cartridge.
Even though niggles like this were more common with third-party ink, plenty of people are still willing to make the switch for a better balance of cost and quality – are you?