/ Technology

Ink quest – the search for the cheapest printer ink

Printer ink falling into water

We’ve price-checked popular ink retailers and found that some charge twice as much as others for the same cartridge, but can you better our cheapest finds?

Some printers seem to drink ink, so paying as little as possible for cartridges is a must.

If you’re fixed on using printer ink of the same brand as your printer – like the 72% of people who responded to our Which? reliability survey are – shopping around for a good price on printer ink cartridges is essential.

The high price of printer ink

Kitting out a printer with a full set of cartridges isn’t cheap, as Alun mentioned in our Conversation ‘Are manufacturers cheating you out of printer ink?’:

‘Cartridges for my Canon Pixma MP800 cost from £12.99 to £17.99 each depending on colour/size and the printer requires five in total.’

We’ve been regularly price checking ten popular high street and online retailers and of those, Amazon.co.uk sold the cheapest printer branded ink. This assumes that you spend £15 to qualify for free delivery, which is fairly easy to do buying one or two cartridges.

Overall, Amazon.co.uk cartridges cost 17% less than the average price across all ten retailers, closely followed by 7dayshop.co.uk where delivery is free.

Can you better our cheapest finds?

The biggest price difference we found for an inkjet cartridge was HP’s 901 colour cartridge. It cost £12.49 from Play.com and £26.99 from PC World – a mark up of more than 100%. So you can see that where you shop will have a big impact on your printer running costs.

We want to find out just how low the price of a branded cartridge can go. Below we’ve listed the price differences of a few of the black cartridges we’ve used most frequently in our printer tests.

Ink cartridge Cheapest Priciest
HP 364XL Black £12.39 £19.97
Epson T1301 £14.99 £22.27
Canon PGI-525BK £8.73 £13.99
Lexmark 100XL black £16.59 £25.10

Can you find these cartridges for less? If so, tell us where and help us to find the cheapest places to buy ink.

HMAH says:
3 March 2012

I have a Canon Pixma MP150 and pay a fortune for ink when i buy from Staples. Where can i buy them cheaper?

Mike says:
3 March 2012

“72% of Which members use printer manufacturer’s ink cartridges”. That says a lot about Which members -money to burn and reluctant to try alternatives. I use compatible inks which like the manufacturer’s are all made in PRC. They are 80% cheaper than HP and the quality difference is negligible even for photo prints.

Fair enough but if you plan to print your own framed photos as I do then you you don’t want cheap compatible alternatives. First off you will have to play around and waste ink resetting the colour management etc and secondly what guarantee do you get on colour fastness ? I think with my Canon inks I’m getting 75 years. Say no more.

Elaine says:
3 March 2012

I have twice used spurious ink cartidges to my cost. When a fault developed on both printers the manufacturers refused to repair them because I had not used their brand of cartridge saying it made the guarantee invalid. I dont know if this was the cause of the faults but that is the excuse they were using. I now of course use branded cartridges.

This has long been a concern and my recollection is that the consumer now has protection if the fault is not related to the print cartridge.

We should also remember that the retailer and manufacturer deserve some protection. Consider a user who used inappropriate ink and blocked the printhead, which is part of the printer in some models. In this case it would be unfair to blame the manufacturer but you would have a case against the supplier of the ink or compatible cartridge.

If the print head is part of the cartridge then a fault is not likely to cause a failure of the printer.

HayTay says:
4 March 2012

I have an Epson Stylus printer/copier/scanner. Initially I used the substitute inks supplied by the company who sold me the printer. I had quite a few cartridge failures and so, after a battle to recover the cost of the failures (I had to threaten court action), I have since used Epson cartridges without problems – but, of course, at greater expense.

Mike says:
4 March 2012

To expand my earlier comment, I use manufactured compatibles (not refills). These are commonly available from reputable on-line suppliers and are made to the same spec as manufacturer’s cartridges (all are made in the PRC). Re-fills are very prone to causing problems and are better avoided.

I have an HP all-in-one and have saved a considerable amount over the past three years. I have not experienced any printer problems and have already saved more than the cost of a replacement printer. If you look at printer prices, they have dropped considerably over the years whereas cartridge prices have hardly changed. It is not hard to work out where printer manufacturers make their money.

One final point, a common cause of blocked print heads is lack of regular use -which is why most printers have a ‘print-head clean’ option in their menu. However, if a printer is inactive for too long this procedure will not work and the print-head will require replacing. If you did not purchase a warranty this is likely to cost you at least 50% of the purchase price.

I have always hunted around for ink cartridges and as Which says the prices vary enormously. I am at present using a refil black cartdridge that did what I wanted it to do but ran out quickly, more quickly than the HP original for a similar amount of printing.
However, that is not my question.
My question is:
I bought an HP Deskjet F2480 All-in-one a couple of years ago from Morrisons at a ridculously low price, and since I don’t do as much photo printing as I used to, my only couple of attempts on the HP at printing photos was not a success, probably needs setting up or something, and since the HP my Epsom Photoprint has not been used, trouble is I had a stack of cartridges for it that have not been used, in fact I’m not sure where they are but they must be out of date useless by now. I always used to buy ‘Think’ replica cartridges from Choice Stationary, as they were the cheapest for my Epsom and always did good deals on multibuys, alas not competitive for my HP!
How and where is the best place to dispose of them as If I remember correctly the dustbin men don’t like them?

Plumbuddle says:
4 March 2012

Many charities collect cartridges in whatever condition so you could send these defective ones to them. Childline will send you their freepost bags so you can send batches, I’m sure other charities do the same.

As far as I know, only cartridges that include printheads are worth collecting. Many are just worthless plastic ink containers and the printheads are in the printer. Laser printer toner cartridges can usually be recycled and are well worth donating.

KEM says:
4 March 2012

I have just purchased an HP364XL Black cartridge from FMS (Find My Supplies) for £12.02.

john says:
5 March 2012

i buy compatible cartridges on eBay at £1.25 ( one pound twenty five – not twelve pounds fifty ) each. I use an Epson S21. They are ecomomical and I have never had any problems. I am not that worried in case there was a problem even in the worst case the printer is only about £20 to replace now and over one year I save much more than thn using compatibles rather than Epson cartridges.

On the subject of Printer Manufacturers telling consumers which ink cartridges we can use and then charging exorbitant prices for them. How would people respond if car manufacturers insisted that owners must use a particular brand of petrol or make of tyres or their warranty would be invalidated? Imagine the furore.

Brian Cox says:
6 March 2012

HP301 cartridges at my local Wilkinsons store are £15.95 for colour and £14.95 for black. I get a genuine HP301 combo pack for £13.45, (inc. postage) from Cartridge King, (based in Jersey)
Online wins every time!

Martin J says:
6 March 2012

It’s always worth checking out 7dayshop,com for ink cartridges as there are two main cost benefits from this. Firstly, there is usually no VAT on goods shipped out on a single package with a value of £18 or less as they are based in Guernsey and secondly all prices quoted include delivery. (This is where the suppliers usually make their money) Check them out.

Somerstboy says:
8 March 2012

I have always used cheap generic cartridges on my Epson R300 printer – in fact I bought it (second hand) because I knew generics were readily available for this model. Five years of use and still going strong!

SylviaP says:
22 August 2012

I have recently rejoined Which and have just caught up on the correspondence about compatible inkjet printer inks. May I suggest that unless you know the quantity of ink expended, you cannot assess either the life of that cartridge or its ‘cost per copy’ performance? I could not find that information in the Which test of ?February this year.

Having been into computers and printers since 1980, I have had a fair few of them in my time: starting with Apricot’s portable and (also portable) text-only heat-transfer printer, way back then.

Because I have photos etc to print at A4 I now use Canon printers and have done so for a good number of years, though I am not too dogmatic about buying a printer any more than I am about buying ink to use in it. Once the starter set of OEM cartridges have run dry I use compatibles or OEM, whatever.

However, having recently found inks running out more quickly, I weighed empty and full ‘like-for-like’ cartridges against each other to find how much the ‘full’ ones contained. That showed too many (from suppliers I now no longer use) as having been filled short – by up to a third of their capacity in at least one instance.

The only firm I have so far found who clearly tell you, on the boxes and on the invoice, how much ink their cartridges contain is PRINK (prink.co.uk). As to value for money, I have just bought 8 compatible CLI-525 cartridges and a 526 from them for £20.90. The boxes say there is 13.5 ml of ink in each of the 526s and that the ink has been formulated in America. Their delivery service is really good, also.

My most recent Cartridge World buy was an emergency CW ‘own-brand’ PGI-525 (the ‘fat black’ that goes with the 526’s): 16ml of ink bought locally for £7.99.

I hope this is useful

Recently I have found cartridges running out much more quickly so I weigh the like-for-like

I’ve refilled Canon Pixma IP5000 cartridges for years until my printer started to get problems feeding pages. This was diagnosed to clogged up “head-cleaning” sponge on the far right and possible page pick-up thingies – so not a problem with the ink

I am now using an inherited Epson Stylus DX3800 with compatible ink from Badger ink advertised has having 18 ml ink – no problems; very quick delivery and reasonably priced in combo-packs with extra black on the side.

Michael says:
2 September 2013

Very good website. The information I’m looking for, I can’t seem to find. I want to know which would be the cheapest printer to run in terms of ink. I don’t print much and would be happy without colour, if that exists! If anyone could help i’d be very grateful.

David Harvey says:
12 August 2014

Chill out rich ppl with your lawsuits over printers. If your not a company and cost is an issue buy cheap printers with any ink that fit and with care your printer will last. If not buy another 30 quid printer and carry on. What’s the big problem

Cheap printers are generally poor and use small ink cartridges, adding to running cost.

We cannot go on wasting energy and natural resources producing products that don’t last.

Kayleigh Vincent says:
26 January 2015

Please can you tell me where I can get my ink cartridges be refilled for a cheap price – this is for a Commercial Company.

I bought my Hewlett Packard Deskjet 840C in November 2000 and I have always used ink cartridges from IJT, with complete satisfaction. They are cheap, and sometimes I am telephoned with offers that are below their web page prices. After 16 years the HP printer was also a very good trouble free purchase. No trouble ever with cartridges being “Not recognized”.

I doubt that your printer uses cartridges with chips, so you are unlikely to have a problem as long as cartridges remain available. I know of two people who use even older HP printers regularly.