/ 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?

Linda says:
22 January 2017

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!


I am glad to hear your non Canon ink cartridges work well Andrew, although your guarantee has gone but spare a thought for users of Epson and HP who have had firmware downloads blocking use of any other make of ink cartridge , their blocking is so good now that you would need a high tech hacker to change things its pretty sophisticated and no HP have still not downloaded an update to allow third party inks to be used .


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.


On your side Andrew we ( the USA has ) the US Magnuson Moss Warranty Improvement Act but on the other if you return your printer for repair and they find you are using non-proprietary inks , and they have the techniques to find that out they come out with – you have not kept to our own brand inks and those inks have caused your printer to develop a fault therefore you are not covered under our guarantee , you would then need an expert to state that you have not done that and possible court action over a £50 printer. Even Canon USA inc. state- we make no guarantees of any kind —including NON-Canon ink cartridges or refilled ink cartridges that “cause ” ( their interpretation ) damage to the product.


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?

Derpy says:
3 April 2017

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.


Derpy , and how many UK citizens are going to consult a barrister over a £35 printer , where you are not only up against America,s top corporate lawyers but you are dealing with a foreign country (America ) which doesnt allow its laws to be overridden and we Brits are foreigners in the eyes of US Justice where the same protection does not apply to non-USA citizens , living overseas. No matter how you maneuver this legally you are not going to win , even US citizens are getting blanked by all the big players in this business , lawyers letters are ignored etc . (QC) -£1000/hour /top lawyer -£500-£800/hour , for the best it could rise to £5000/hour —for a £35 printer Derpy ?????