/ Technology

Feeling the love for cheap printer ink

Colour ink cartridges lined up

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?


I have a Canon laser printer I-sensys LBP6670 which has one cartridge, 719.

Has anyone advice on buying a replacement cartridge as I have just looked on Amazon and the Canon cartridge is £61.48.

I’ve used really cheap compatible cartridges in my Canon Pixma 4000 and 4000R printers for years with no problems – and for the last 2 years in a Canon iP7250. The last lot I bought for the 7250 cost less than £2 for each set of five – about 35p for each cartridge compared to £10-12 for Canon’s own. I print only photos on high quality paper and canvas and find colour reproduction is superb – I would defy anyone to be able to distinguish it from that obtained from using original cartridges. I found that a tweek of about -10 yellow when using Photoshop is required to get the most accurate results and purest blacks for monochrome shots. There is some colour shift in prints that have been exposed to strong sunlight for a year or so, but a this happens to some extent with all inks and you can make a new print every year for 30 years for the cost of just one print from the official inkset I’m not too concerned!

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Sorry to hear about the blocks for Epson and HP users Duncan. At the prices they charge for cartridges might it be best to just dump the printers and buy Canon? Are you sure the guarantee is void is you use 3rd party inks? I thought I read recently in Which? that manufacturers couldn’t do that.

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Thanks for this Duncan. I’ve kept the original Canon inks that came with the printers, thinking I will install these if I have problems. I think consumer protection is better in the UK with regard to this – can anyone from Which confirm this?

As far as I know (though I am not stating this as fact, as I am not fully trained, as such you should speak to a fully trained lawyer if you want actual legal advice, as such do not use what I say for purposes in a court of law or any other legal scenario or anywhere besides the hypothetical), in the UK, if a product is not fit for purpose for consumers following the 2015 act, they cannot restrict liability, however, it would need to be a fault with the printer unrelated to the ink, so for instance, lets say the ink nozzles clogged up and couldn’t be cleaned, 3rd party ink may have caused it… which could be a problem (i am unsure here – i will come back to this later), on the other hand, if it was that the scanning function on the printer failed to work (on your first attempt at using it 6 months after purchase and you had caused no damage to it), you will still be entitled to protection under the consumer rights act for repair or replacement even though you had used 3rd party ink, because these rights cannot be restricted by warranties or contracts if they are binding a consumer.

Now then let me return to ink caused harm, here there are two possibilities, one ink based harm due to 3rd party ink could be restricted to you from the original printer seller, because their product wasnt faulty, you damaged it, on the other hand, it may be possible to take an action against the ink sellers, with respect to the harm caused amounts to more than £275 (rather high), as such if it is lower than that amount, you could only get money back for the ink, similarly this itself could be restricted if you were paying obscenely low amounts for the ink, because one consideration in determining if it is of satisfactory quality is the price paid. take for example, buying printer ink half the standard price from the brand, this ink could be expect to perform to safe levels if the originals were £40 for a full set, or £14 individually, so you pay £20 for a full set of cheap ones, or £7 individually for cheap, you can still expect reasonable performance, and non damage to products, on the other hand, if you are paying £2 for a full set, you are probably not going to be able to claim. That said, this is merely my understanding of the law, and I am by no means a fully trained lawyer, if you want reliable advice, contact a fully trained solicitor or barrister in the England.

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THks is why we have Which? and Which? Legal surely, to help when cases are clearcut. When they are of dubious merit then be pragmatic.

Simon Gahan says:
3 June 2018

I agree with your comments Andrew, i too use a Canon IP7250 with the same price generic inks and get great results, and i’m a professional colour printer for a living. The colour profile usually is a bit off, so i tile four or five test strips on an A4, evaluate them then print them with a tweak. Works for me. My favorite paper is Permajet Oyster 271, very nice finish, all for around 30p a print, can’t say fairer than that.

Stephen says:
18 December 2019

Andrew, I am considering making the change to compatible cartridges as most of my printing is for drafts and daughters homework. Only very occasionally used for photo printing. As I also have a Canon ip7250 i’d be interested to know the source of the compatible ink cartridges you use for your printer.

Anni Hamer says:
24 April 2020

I just bought the new Pixima ip8750. What off-brand are you using?

Fiona says:
27 February 2017

After using non branded inks my Epson printer refused to accept any yellow cartridge, official or not. I ended up having to dump it, I didn’t want to run a printer that cost 100 euro per ink refill! What annoys me most is that it was still full of ink, and I had a lot of black and white documents to print, but no it’s all or nothing – if a colour is empty there’s no way to bypass the message and just print anyway.
In fact I had an Epson that was a scanner/copier, and when the scanner malfunctioned there was no way to make it print, that one got junked as well.

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Brian Fifield says:
7 June 2017

When doing a search, many results are shown, can you show the dates of the individual results so we can choose the most recent? At the moment it is rather hit and miss, thnaks.

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This comment was removed at the request of the user

I would like to see Which go into more detail as to how it gets the results of it’s printer ink articles. I was the manager of a local Cartridge World for over 10 years and do not equate the results given with the experiences I was part of during this time.
Some of our customers included professional photographers, local NHS trust, Research Centre(through French embassy), local people and businesses.
One thing that was of great importance to all these was the quality of the ink we used(for which we gave a 100% no quibble guarantee which also included any damage caused to their printer, whether in or out of warranty, not many printer manufacturers give you that!), whether for ink jet or laser printers.
The savings the customers made against the cost of new was also a reason for using us.
I still have framed photos on the wall using the refilled and compatible cartridges supplied by us, good as new after 16 years, no fading at all.
It is well known that some printer manufacturers sell many of their printers at extremely low prices and make their recoup any loss through the sale of their cartridges.
This is why the compatible and refill industry has grown so much world-wide.

Mr Peter A Ford says:
27 April 2020

I’ve been using a CISS system on my Epson printer since new. In fact it was cost effective to toss a serviceable HP printer based on my usage. Last year I was away for a long while and the print heads needed extensive cleaning. This in turn caused the machine to be disabled due to the wast ink over loaded. What a ridiculous situation! So I bought an external waste ink kit with a reset code online and that completely solved the problem. My ink cost for the last 2 years = £10.00!!! External waste ink kit + reset code = £17.00. CISS SYSTEM = £30. Original cost of printer £39.00. Everything still good!