/ 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.

Richard says:
2 March 2012

On 22 February I purchased HP 364XL Black on Amazon for £8.89, including free delivery. Very cheap, even for Amazon!

betty says:
2 March 2012

Why do 72% use the original manufacturer cartridges? Always have done? Believe they give better results? Tried compatibles but didn’t like them? Do you know the answer Katie? I’ve always bought Epson or Canon printers because of the quality of the machine and because of the wide availability and price of compatible cartridges. I always use compatibles or refill with compatible ink.

With new printers, there may be no compatible cartridges available. That does not mean they cannot be refilled.

I had bad experiences with ‘compatible’ cartridges for both an HP and Canon printer. Although some time ago (maybe 20 years ago) the compatible cartidges for the HP printer were way off colour and I could not work around the problem by calibration.

With the Canon – an S630 that I really liked – it broke forever after I inserted the first every compatible.

Never again will I trust or use compats. I now always search the Internet for the best possible deal for OEM cartridges. Canon inkjets are still my favourite and buying the cheapest deal makes for reasonable running costs.

Liam says:
2 March 2012

I use genuine cartridges (begrudgingly) because it means that I get consistent colours on my printouts (especially photographs). I used to use generics with my old printer, and swapping a cartridge could cause a significant colour shift, even when sticking with the same third-party manufacturer.

I have always used genuine cartridges because I have a b/w laser printer which I have used for most printing. I do a lot less printing now and plan to dispose of the laser printer. I am going to try a refilled black cartridge but I will probably stick to genuine cartridges for colour, for the same reason as Liam.

I have tried several printer ink suppliers from adverts in computer mags for my (aging) Canon Pixma MP600 and have found ‘Premier Ink’ of Leamington Spa (no connection) not quite the cheapest at £21.75 inc. P&P for a set of 5 compatible cartridges but with excellent quick service and satisfactory results. One faulty cartridge I had earlier this year was replaced instantly without hassle

Chris says:
2 March 2012

I use Think Ink cartridges in my EPSON Stylus SX205 colour printer/scanner – best prices at XLshop.com – Magenta – Cyan – Yellow – Black – all at £2.99 each or £10.49 incl p&p for all four cartridges. You don’t always need branded ink cartridges. Always check your printers compatibility though.

Read comment by JPF (just under Katie Waller). Very good points made. Always check ink replacement prices before buying a printer. Don’t use branded ink replacements.

richard says:
2 March 2012

Forget using manufacturer’s ink. An HP363 cartridge containing 17ml of ink is sold by Amazon for 22.37. You can buy perfectly good substitute ink in a 43ml cartridge for £4.99 on line. That’s about one twelfth of the price. I’ve been using the substitute inks for years and have had no problems.

katy byrne says:
2 March 2012

I have a DELL printer (DELL 968) and have always used their ink – I assumed that was all I could do. Has anybody out there any experience of using other makes for this printer (or other DELL printers)? Would love to find a cheaper alternative….they are SO expensive!

Chris says:
2 March 2012

CH883 or CH828 (compatible black ink) CH884 or CH829 (compatible colour ink) are your cheap alternatives for DELL 968. Price at Cartridge People.com is £13 incl p&p. Hope that helps. Next time buy a printer with individual cartridges (either 4 or five) which is cheaper than replacing the whole box each time that one segment has been used up. Standard price is over £20. Good luck.

I rarely use ‘Original’ as they are between 4-8 times more expensive. I use ‘Replacement’ cartridges obtained over the internet. Fo the Epson T301 replacement I would be charged £5.99 including excellent free delivery (that’s 27.9% of the Original cost).

DavidC says:
2 March 2012

Years ago I had an HP Officejet Pro and started using replacement cartridges. When this printer eventually died I had a couple of Brother all-in-ones, an Epson, and now we have two HP Officejet 6500Cs. For all of these we have used JR Inkjet refill inks with no obvious sign of distress to the printers but with enormous relief to our bank balance.

It has meant drilling a small hole into the cartridge in irder to inject the ink, but once drilled we have been able to refill the same cartridge over and over. The printers show ‘cartridge empty’ signs, and occasionally we get messages showing on-screen, but these are ignored. Only when a page prints blank does the cartridge have to be changed.

However, we never use these printers for photgraphs, so I cannot say what the image quality would be like. For everyday printing, and we do quite a lot, these inks are a god-send.

enbee says:
2 March 2012

Does anyone know of a MODERN all in one,or printer that has UN-CHIPPED cartridges as i have a kodakesp3250 and a Canonmp250 and both are chipped and I cannot get around that when re-filling the cartridge

You can refill your Canon MP250 cartridges yourself. There are ‘How To’ videos on YouTube showing how to refill them and how to reset them (needed to override the eventual cartridge expiry date).

There’s also similar videos for many other makes and types of cartridge too.

f2s says:
2 March 2012

There is a small device for use with some ink cartridges: “Zap-it” for instance that can put the low ink light off( by holding it onto the contact points on the ink cartridge). This also allows you to run the cartridge dry rather than the printer dictate when it wants to stop printing on low ink.

epsonman1 says:
3 March 2012

Allowing a cartridge to “run dry” is going to risk letting air into the print head rendering it useless. Also interfering with the chip is likely to negate any warranty and be possibly illegal.

Epsonman1 is correct. With many inkjet printers the users only replaces the ink tank: the heads are part of the printer. If you let the tank run completely dry and don’t replace the tank quickly, the residual ink remaining in the head will dry solid and unclogging the head can be a monumental task.

I use Canon printers and once the printer reports a cartridge needs replacing, I am yet to find any ink remaining in the tank. I am able to print for a while longer, but the ink is residual in the ink heads and is not being squeezed from the tank.

I cannot say for printer by other manufacturers’ printers, but if you have a Canon I would recommend changing the cartridge immediately it is reported as empty.

I have replaced ink and the chips on printers with success – But I have noticed that colour balance can be poor – and as a photographer this causes problems – In addition many (most?) replacement inks are not colourfast. I make numerous posters for the kennels and they fade very badly – the photos are worse. So I use one colour printer exclusively for these tasks. My HP 895cxi with original inks photos have been colourfast for around 10 years. All of my printers have drums in the cartridges..

Surely if the printer is out of warranty – it makes no difference whether you use makers or OEM cartridges?

After trying a wide range of Canon ‘compatibles’ I now buy only genuine cartridges. After having problems with one cartridge, I had to buy a genuine article. I was amazed at how long they lasted – provided you ignore ‘running low’ warnings. The cartridge last possible another 30% after is was supposed to be empty.

So the only thing I’m concerned with is getting the best price for the genuine article

How come there are three richards ?
Surely Which? could do far better?????

Well you could go for Richard I, which sounds rather regal, choose an uncommon username or have an avatar. I know that we have at least two Richards around here.

Hello Richard, you are the only registered ‘Richard’ on Which? Conversation. However, a guest commenter can type in any name they like, which can result in duplicate Richards.

You are a very big part of our regular community and we’d like you to be recognised for that – an avatar can add to your personality and make you stand out. It would be great if you could find a picture that you think represents you and uploaded it to replace our Which? Convo logo. You can find out how to do this in our FAQ under ‘Registration and your account’.

To everyone else, if you register for a Which? Convo account, you can also upload an avatar and be a part of our growing community! Thanks, Patrick

Thanks Patrick

I will add an avatar of a greyhound” (my passion!)

Paul Fisher says:
3 March 2012

Beware of price quotes as there are new rules on VAT. Always compare including delivery as VAT has to be charged on the postage as well if the price does not include postage.

Plumbuddle says:
3 March 2012

I am lucky enough to have an ink refill shop that stays open very early and very late right by my local tube station. Undercuts all the online compatibles – £9 for supersize Canon pixma black or colour. I am a heavy printer user therefore replace my machines relatively frequently. I would urge Which best buy reviews to include a category setting out whether a particular printer allows refilled cartridges to be used, does not allow it at all, or makes things difficult for customers by requiring its chips to be on the cartridges. It’s fiddly replacing these chips and sometimes they break or can’t slot in properly, leaving the replacement cartridge unusable. I only ever buy printers that can use the refills these days. People should do this as much as possible in order to break down the manufacturers’ pretensions to monopolising our ink use.

ken says:
3 March 2012

I have been paying almost £30 for a single Dell cartridge from Dell itself, which is far to costly.
I have a newish Dell V313 (300 series) and wonder if there are `compatibles` out there.
Anyone help please!!

karen eymael says:
3 March 2012

When I lived in NZ I was used to taking my Epson cartridges to Cartridge World to be refilled, but was truly shocked after being told here in the Uk that you cannot refill EPSON cartridges. The price of a set of four brand new ones here was more than twice the price of what I was used to paying, so I hunted around and have been quite happy with a company called ‘printerinks’ . I can get 12 cartridges, 3 of each colour, for just over £18,. I am an amateur photographer and I’m very happy with the colour quality and had no issues with the printer (SX425W) rejecting them. I will never pay full price for branded inks.

JamesAard1 says:
3 March 2012

I’m very surprised that there isn’t some way around the built-in obsolescence of the printer cartridge; like telling the printer to stop whingeing that the cartridges are out of date or not ‘proper’ one’s! Shut-up you silly printer. I’ll buy cheap ink if I want to thank you very much! I can ‘inject’ some considerably cheaper ink in there. Then we may see the extortionate prices coming down a few pegs. Am I the only one who talks to my printer?

If cartridges come down in price the printers will become much more expensive. Margins on printers are tiny. Add up the cost of the replacement set of cartridges and subtract that from the cost of the new printer.

Plumbuddle says:
3 March 2012

There is force in the argument that you should replace cartridges quickly to stop the print head drying out. This is so equally when you use proprietory cartridges. If you go for refilling, that is still economical because you can alternate two cartridges. Refill one the moment the other is put in the machine. Your initial outlay is two cartridges but from then on in you are only replacing one at a time, and it’s nice to have a spare ready for emergencies anyway. Refilling shops seal the filled cartridges, so they will keep. Interfering with the chip will negate warranty if disclosed on producing the printer for repair but (a) warranties only last for a short while during which the more cautious consumer can use proprietory cartridges and (b) adapting one’s own property is not illegal under either criminal or civil law.

johnnyboy says:
3 March 2012

I think we all accept that older printers seem to be more compatible ink friendly but we need WHICH (or someone here) to tell us which NEW printers work well with compatibles.
Also what compatible ink cartridge suppliers give less problems when in use.
At the moment these companies have been mentioned here to supply good compatibles }

And if your prepared to modify your machine } ciss inksystem
Working together we can beat the ridiculous prices printer manufactures charge for their ink.


I am glad to see you point out the cost implications and other factors that make it difficult for Which? to carry out tests on the large number of third party ink cartridges that are currently available. Considering that there are greater consumer issues, I believe Which? does enough testing of ink cartridges.

This Conversation shows that it is worth shopping around for manufacturers’ cartridges and that there are some much cheaper alternatives available. It the third party cartridges don’t work then it should be possible to obtain a refund or replacement and if the quality is not very good, that information can be passed on to friends, etc.

I am never sure about whether to mention companies’ names on Which? Conversation because it may be difficult for the reader to distinguish between a recommendation and concealed advertising.

j .bartlett says:
3 March 2012

I have found Premier Ink [0800-161-3638 for catalogue ] very satisfactory for quality ,value and very efficient service. Their cartridges hold 13 ml. as opposed to the original 7 ml.
Prices for my Epson R285 are : Black £3.99 and £19.99 for a full set of six .Compare with the Epson prices of £8.99 and £49.99…….

ull set of