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Is your printer wasting your precious pricey printer ink?

Printer leaking colour ink

If it seems like your printer is guzzling ink when you rarely use it, maybe that’s because it is. Our latest tests show that downtime between prints can massively increase the print cost per page.

The cost of printer ink has many of you riled, but the outright cost of the cartridges is just the start.

Over the last year we’ve been running a number of tests on printers to look more closely at ink use. We’ve tested to see how much ink is wasted by head-cleaning cycles when you only print occasionally, and if this problem gets worse when you leave the printer off or in standby.

One print for the price of six

When we compared occasional printing (one page seven times a week for eight weeks) to continuous printing (50 pages in one day) we were shocked by the difference in ink use.

The most wasteful printer on test, the HP Officejet Pro 8500A Plus eAIO, used 525% more ink printing colour pages over the longer period. It’ll cost you £2.50 to print 50 pages in quick succession, but this jumps to £17.48 if you only occasionally print and switch it off in between. If you keep the printer on standby between occasional printing, the cost drops to £5.92.

That’s not to say all printers behave like that. With the Canon Pixma MX885, continuous printing would cost £7 per 50 pages, £14.13 for occasional printing (switching the printer off), and a whopping £19.11 for occasional printing (leaving the printer on). You can see how both perform against the more modest Epson Stylus SX620FW in this picture:

Printer ink waste cost tested and compared

So, if you only use your printer now and then, you could be paying for ink that will never even make it on to the page.

Of course, the idea of saving up all your prints and running them all off in one go to get the lowest costs per page is lunacy. When you need to print, you need to print.

Ink costs are a minefield. There are a number of variables that may determine when your inkjet printer cleans its print head, and how much ink gets wasted along the way. At present, when you walk into a shop, there’s no way of knowing how much your prints are going to cost. We think that needs to change.

Printer manufacturers need to explain ink waste

What we need is some clarity from manufacturers around how ink is wasted by printers, and why some waste more than others.

We’re going to continue our printer ink tests use to find the biggest wasters and factor this into our printer reviews. In the meantime we’ll be speaking to manufacturers to get more clarity about the true costs of ink. So if your printer seems to get through ink really quickly, we want to hear your experiences so we can share them with manufacturers. Is your printer wasting ink?

Do you think your printer wastes too much ink?

Yes (79%, 823 Votes)

I don't know (18%, 183 Votes)

No (4%, 38 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,045

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I have bought a HP Photosmart 6520 (very similar to 6510 best buy). Does anyone know the most efficient way to save ink? Is it best to: a) turn off at mains after use b) keep on but put on standby c) leave on? I am using genuine HP inks. Thanks!

Baz says:
19 April 2014

I have a Photosmart all I One B110, and have had for almost 3 years. It is never turned off. Other than to replace the original cartridges ( demo spec) I always use non HP ink, with no Chips, and it seems not to do the printer any harm. My copy count is at present around 9900. Maybe this is unusual, but I don’t know. I am considering resetting the counter, to forestall any problems with waste tank showing full, but the jury is out on that one.

I have just had to reset the waste ink counter on my Epson Stylus Photo 1400 because it deemed the waste ink pads were full. I followed this by installing a waste ink tank which is quite easy to do on this printer. On restarting the printer I decided to do a head clean in order to see (a) that the tube to the tank was clear and (b) to measure the ink used for the cleaning. Approximately just over 3 mls of ink were used for the cleaning. This is not an insignificant amount as I think the cartridges only contain a total of between 60 and 80mls of ink. I am now even more convinced that once the ink supplied initially with the printer had been used the gamble to invalidate the 1 year warrantee by using refillable cartridges and a reputable ink was worth it.

It is worth it.

You could also try my favourite trick which is to buy your next printer WITH a Continuous Ink Ssystem and waste tank and use them from the first unboxing. Don’t use the official ink that comes with the printer, sell it on ebay. I sold the six Epson originals that came with my Stylus Photo R360 and they more than paid for the CIS and waste tank.

Paul says:
20 January 2013

I have an HP Photosmart Premium C309g printer, which turns out very good b/w and colour prints (with the standard HP inks), but suffers the common problem of frantic and prolonged activity every time it is turned on. To save ink, I left the printer on continuously, but suffered a power pack failure soon after. I noted several comments re power pack problems on a website I visited looking for a reasonably priced replacement. Any other similar experiencesout there – I am wondering whether to stay with the always-on regime, or whether to turn on/offevery time, and Which does’nt have enough evidence yet to give a positive recommendation.

Which? has demonstrated that how we use a printer can greatly affect running cost but working out what is best for individuals because usage patterns differ so much. You can easily measure the power consumption of leaving your printer on continuously using an inexpensive meter. Mine cost £10 from Maplin and has helped me find out the cost of keeping printers, etc. on standby.

I was disappointed to learn how much my HP inkjet printer was costing to keep on standby but the convenience of wireless printing, forgetting to turn it off, and the thought that it could be saving ink have jointly caused me to leave it on.

I have always thought that the older models of Epson ink Jet printers waste a lot of ink and tend to perform a cleaning check far too often. If a head becomes blocked it could often take 3 or 4 attempts to clear the problem and one could see from the print manager that this was wasting a lot of ink. I have also found in the past that actually replacing the cartridge has been the only way of resolving a blocked head despite the fact that the head is separate to the cartridge.
I now own a Epson Stylus Photo PX730WD which is left on standby due to it being wireless and used by all of the family who have their own PC’s or laptops and this rarely goes into cleaning mode and when it does is for a very short period of time. The ink seems to last longer, despite using a similar size cartridge to my old photo R300 so perhaps Epson is finaly realising that unless they improve, people will switch to other brands of ink or even printer. It can cost as much to refil a budget priced printer with ink as it cost to buy the printer. I do think that at the moment ink is too expensive but I will always stick with the manufacturers ink as I know that Epson follows strict quality process controls within its ink manufacturing process.

Ken Lillig says:
28 January 2013

Hi. Once again Which bang on the dot! My Cannon MP210-home use only- ink use came to a head last month. I’d been using Tesco ink at £36.47 (always keep a pack spare) Changed to Inkredible 13th Sept. at £34.72,then 6th Nov. 2 x pack special at £64.51. Always showed ink low!! RAN OUT!!! So staggered I rang Inkredible and voiced my despair with product. They said “count the printed sheets”!! Told them going back to tesco!! Your article Feb. issue perfect, on order now from Currys an
HP Deskjet 2510 at £29.99 inc. cartridges! Cost with a connection lead and spare cartridges (less 10%) £55.46!! On Amazon HP cartridges are £16.38 a pair. Being a non technoweenie and pensioner I feel cartridges are a rip off!! Please keep up the good work!!

HP cartridges often come in two different sizes, so take care when comparing prices. The larger ones can be better value for money

Ken Lillig says:
28 January 2013

Hi wavechange
Many thanks for info on HP cartridge sizes, will watch out! Any thoughts re leaving HP2510 printer on all time; can it be set for “drafts” etc etc to save ink? Ken

Most inkjet printers can be used in draft mode, I believe. Just explore the options you are offered when you are preparing to print a document.

I am not sure whether it is best to switch off my own printer (a different HP model to yours) off when not in use. All I have done is to measure the power consumption in standby mode, and it was 13 W or 8 VA according to my meter. I had guessed it would be less. I’m still leaving it on standby unless I know the printer is unlikely to be used for a couple of days, mainly for convenience.

It seems that most (all?) of the comments refer to piezo inkjets. My experience of inkjet printers suggests that a thermal printer might be better for light users.

I have a Canon iP4850 that drains all of its 5 ink tanks in a couple of months even though I rarely print colour. I have printed less than 200 pages (nearly all black) and bought 3 sets of cartridges before getting some refillable ones, which I have refilled a couple of times. Printing is therefore still pretty expensive. I’m wondering when the waste ink absorber is going to be full (time to throw the printer away). The printer stays connected to the mains except when I go away. If I ever disconnect it, it churns away for several minutes when it is reconnected – in fact it does it periodically anyway.

My first printer was a Dell all-in-one thermal printer that cost about £15. It didn’t do nozzle cleaning unless I wanted it. My first cartridges lasted a couple of years of occasional printing and I never had a clogged nozzle. It was fast, and photo printing was, to the naked eye, as good as the Canon. Text printing was better than the Canon and the Epson that I had in between, and the ink cartridges could be refilled quite easily. If a nozzle had packed up (which never happened) I would onl have needed to buy a new ink cartridge. I would still have my first printer if Dell hadn’t persuaded me (via Microsoft Update) to load a new driver that sabotaged the printer ( to stop me from refillling the cartridges) and could only be removed by wiping the hard disc.

As far as I know, piezoelectric print heads are used only in Epson and some Brother printers, of the type likely to be used in the home. The others use heat to drive tiny ink droplets out of the print heads. What we normally regard as a thermal printer is typically a small device, such as those used to print receipts. I guess that you are referring to a dye sublimation printer, Ric. These are most commonly small printers used to print photos, but bigger ones are available.

Oldcodger says:
14 February 2013

Hi. My Cannon MP 210 cost me a fortune in cartridges. I thought it was because Inkredible were poor quality, costing me £102.50 in some two months (i’m only a light home user) So after complaining and being told to count pages I’ve taken action.01/02/13 Bought an HP 2510 (which good buy!!) with extra cartridges from Currys at about £30!! So far still on original cartridges and works very well! I’m no technoweenie and don’t understand all this technical “stuff”; but being a pensioner I understand a financial rip off with cartridges!! Looking forward to seeing where all this goes!


I’ve already been checking up and realise that I typed quite a lot of rubbish. Somebody who I thought was an expert told me that Canon and HP used piezo heads. I therefore assumed that the use of automatic cleaning cycles was confined mainly to piezo printers because most of the posts referred to Epson, Canon and HP. Obviously that is not the case. Oddly, Canon don’t say anything in their literature about which printhead technology they use.

I wasn’t referring a dye sublimation printer or a “real” thermal printer, though I can see why you might have thought that I was.

The fact remains, though, that I had a low-cost, A4 thermal inkjet printer that didn’t waste any ink. The nozzles were built into the cartridges, so didn’t limit the life of the printer. The printer’s specification stated a life of 17,000 printed pages. The print quality for text and drawings was noticeably superior to my newer, more expensive Canon and Epson printers, and it was quicker. Photo quality looked about the same unless you used a magnifying glass, but I think that my old printer was slower. It might still be possible to get a printer like that. I believe that mine was a badged Lexmark. I haven’t heard of them lately.

Oh, and I’ve just remembered something else. When I used my Canon to print about 60 pages in one go, it stopped printing and went through a nozzle-cleaning cycle after every few sheets, so it will be expensive even if you ae a heavy user.

At one time, Canon branded their printers ‘Bubblejet’ because heat in the print head produced a bubble of solvent vapour and this propelled tiny droplets of ink onto the paper. That’s little different from what printheads on HP and other non-piezo printers do. All of them will ‘waste’ ink to keep the printheads operating correctly.

I would be interested to know how your old inkjet printer functioned without head cleaning, Ric. I presume that normal operation was sufficient to keep the head working correctly. It that’s the case, using this sort of printer could save us a lot of money.

Philip Hodges says:
26 February 2013

We’ve had a Photosmart B210a printer for two years for home use. It has cost us around £2,000 in printer cartridges and now the printhead is failing. Buying a printhead is 50% of buying a new printer. Worse still, the online and phone support is rubbish. It’s a con. Directed my complaint to HP (CEO) – they didn’t have an answer.

Jean says:
2 March 2013

I have an HP Deskjet F4400 that absolutely gobbles ink! I just installed a black cartridge a month ago and it is nearly empty already after printing out only 200 copies in “ink-saving” mode. This is outrageous!

David Bates says:
2 March 2013

Just had a warning light on my Richo 100SP to say my toner cartridge was running out – usually turns off when red light comes on permanently. A new toner cartridge is now £59 from E-Buyer and a new printer is £36 presumable with a short run toner cartridge. How mad is that? This cartridge has a chip with four metal contacts which counts the copies and turns it off even if the cartridge has toner in. I have just connected a 9 volt battery across the contacts at random and it’s working again – albeit I have to press the form feed button sometimes to kick it into life. I have just ordered a new cartridge for my old HP 1100 at £15. What is Which doing about this other than just reading these emails?

Aine says:
5 March 2013

I replaced my black ink cartridge in my kodak colour printer. It then printed out a page, half of which was saturated in black ink where a photo shoould have been It then said my black ink cartridge needed replaced.

ric says:
11 March 2013


Re head cleaning on my old Dell (Lexmark?) printer.

It didn’t clean the heads automatically. There were functions in the software for nozzle-checking, nozzle cleaning and head alignment. They had to be run buy the user.

At first I used the nozzle-checking function every few weeks to keep the nozzles clear, but after a while I stopped doing it. I never had a blockage, even after leaving the printer idle for a couple of months, so I never needed to do a nozzle-clean. For high-quality photo printing, the black cartridge had to be temporarily replaced by by a photo one (pale magenta, pale cyan and photo black). There was a special container for the removed cartridge. I only used the photo cartridge a few of times because the results with the ordinary cartridges were good enough for most purposes, so that one went for ages without being used.

Paper was used during nozzle-checking (obviously) and nozzle cleaning, so there was no ink absorber pad to become saturated.

As I said in my original post, Dell sabotaged the printer with a new driver that slowed the computer to a the speed of a very slow snail when it decided that I had used enough ink. It could not be uninstalled. If Microsoft System Reset was used, the driver re-installed itself from some unknown location. The damn thing even notified me that it was happening. I gave the printer and driver disc to a friend and told her never to update the driver. I presume that, if this type of printer is still available, it will come with the nasty driver. Any old printers will have to have a new driver if a new version of windows (later than XP) is installed.

That’s very interesting, Ric. Perhaps the manufacturer could argue that it needed to do this to prevent complaints from those who did not use their printer frequently or would understand how to cope with problems. Even if this is the case by default, it would be good if experienced users could choose how to use their own property.

I certainly take your point that it is better for ink used in cleaning to go onto paper than risk having a full absorbent pad for waste ink. I have never had a problem but was amazed about the amount of ink collected when I dismantled a faulty Canon monochrome printer, many years ago.

This discussion is making me increasingly suspicious of printer manufacturers and I’m now keeping my HP printer on all the time, even though I’m wasting electricity.

ric says:
13 March 2013


I’m not sure what you are referring to in your last post. Is it the “sabotage” driver. If it is, let me explain myself.

I’m pretty sure that the updated driver that makes the computer unuseable is intended to stop anyone from refilling the cartridges. Each cartridge has a serial number that the driver reads. The driver remembers the number for ever, even if the driver is re-installed. That is the only information that passes from the cartridge to the driver. The driver tots up the ink demands that it sends, and decides when the cartridge is empty. It gives a warning but allows a bit more printing. Then the warning changes and, if it is ignored, the computer stalls. The computer can only be recovered by a hard switch -off and restart. This happens even if the empty cartridge will not be used in the printing operation. In fact, my printer was an all-in-one and I couldn’t even use it for scanning. The problem disappears when a new cartridge is installed. From the manufacturer’s point of view it is a brilliantly simple and versatile system and very hard to circumvent, and that’s probably the reason why I have never seen a proprietary refillable cartridge for Dell printers.

I only installed the damn driver update because it was on the Microsoft Update site, with the recommendation that I should install it because “your printer does not appear to be working properly”. Before that I could refill the cartridges without any trouble.

Ric – I can’t really relate to this because I use Macs rather than PCs and mainly laser printers rather than inkjets. In fact, my current HP multi-function printer is the only one that has been capable of recognising refilled or non-HP cartridges.

Laser printers record page counts and sometimes number of jams, pages mis-picked, etc. Some will stop printing before the output shows and evidence of a problem, presumably after a certain number of pages and before the toner is exhausted. It’s not unreasonable to expect a modern inkjet printer to be capable of doing the same.

I am not impressed that Dell (or whoever makes the control software) should allow it to freeze a computer. I wonder if that is intended or just something has been corrupted. It’s not good to have to save open files before risking printing a document. You cannot be the only one to have spotted this problem and you might find some interesting information about the effect of the Microsoft update on Dell printers by searching online discussion forums.

If it is becoming a common practise for own-brand cartridge manufacturers to use serial numbers in some way to enable them to sell more cartridges this may be a very good reason to buy ‘compatibles’. It can’t be beyond the ingenuity and is certainly in the interests of compatible manufacturers to design chips that can over-ride any ‘dirty tricks’ that printer manufacturers can dream up. It should surely be possible for ‘others’ to write drivers that enable printer users to get the results they deserve. As an aside, my first laser printer (an Epson costing £1100) came with a hefty manual with all a programmer needed to know to write his own drivers for any computer or operating system so how about the nice guys who produce Linux and other freebee software taking on the challenge?

ric says:
15 March 2013


When my Dell driver problem arose, I looked at a couple of forum web sites. Somebody had indeed reported the problem. He contacted Dell. They did not say that the problem was accidental. They told him that he could remove the driver by using Dell System Restore, which resets the hard disc to the state in which it was originally delivered. This means that all files saved and all software installed by the user are lost. I decided not to take that route. It would have been a real pain. However, with hindsight I think I should have done it.

As with my two subsequent printers (Epson and Canon) and, I suspect, all inkjets, the Dell gave a two-stage warning: first that ink was running out, then that it had run out. The second warning normally stops the printer but can usually be overridden and, with some printers, can be switched off altogether (cancelling the guarantee). The change to the Dell driver stopped the PC from working. I think it was the only change. As the Dell’s print heads are in the ink cartridges, it doesn’t matter if they get overheated and fail (as long as you don’t intend to refill them.

ric says:
15 March 2013

Dead Eye Dicky

The serial-number method of ink cartridge control is not new, and as far as I know it was only ever used by Dell and, by inference, Lexmark. I haven’t heard about it becoming common.

Writing a printer driver takes a lot of specialist man-hours. An ex-colleague was interested in free operating systems and tried Ubuntu, which I think is the most popular Linux didtribution. Apparently, there are plenty of good programmes around that it can run. The big problem that he had was finding drivers for any peripherals, particularly printers.

tenire says:
15 March 2013

Really Wavchange!? It most certainly does not mean that all files are lost. It only restores system files, which I have found very useful when a memory chip corrupted the system. All other files are unchanged, and it works well. It would pay you to look at this, if you ever have a corrupted system it’s the only way to help yourself.

ric says:
20 March 2013

Dear tenire,

I think your last comment (re: Dell System Restore) might have been directed at me, not Wavechange (‘coz I put his name at the top of my post).

First, I must say that I seem to have got the name of the tool wrong, leading you to assume that I meant Microsoft System Restore, which failed to remove the offending driver. I think I should have called it Dell PC Restore.

I have checked out Dell PC Restore as far as I can without actually running it. There are various versions, depending on the age and model of the PC and the version of Windows. For my Dimension 5000 running Windows XP, It seems to do what I said. That is, it restores the hard drive to the state that it was in at delivery. Everything else is wiped, including hundreds of Windows updates. I could back up all the data files, but not programmes other than Office because the nasty driver will be hidden somewhere in there and will re-instal itself automatically just as it does now.

Ben says:
5 April 2014

Using Linux (Mint) based on Debian linux – I actually found it better to put more RAM in my machine and dedicate a few GB of that to running Windows in a Virtualbox.

The beauty of doing this is that you can take snapshots – when you got it right, you can delete unwanted snapshots…. Now it takes me 15s to load Windows if I need it (mostly to run iTunes and sync/backup stuff)… It also encourages me NOT to keep any personal files in the system drive (which is actually a vdi image…) making the whole installation easily copiable, movable, and similarly disposable.

Lighthouse says:
8 September 2013

I have a Kodak 3250 bought purely because the ink is much cheaper than other printers. However my last black cartridge lasted just six weeks a d didn’t even manage one hundred sheets, no photos, just standard letters

Mike Evans says:
17 October 2013

I’ve found that it’s much cheaper to get a printer that has separate ink tanks to the print head.
My canon pixma mp780 lasted 12 long hard years before it wore out but never gave me any trouble.

I used either used a generic refill set or bought aftermarket inks, so wasn’t not bothered by the amount of ink. The cost was very low.

When I had a big print run on, I would frequently top up the cartridges while they were still in the machine – as I had access to the little rubber bung.

I’ve just bought an a3 brother printer to replace my canon, and I can get a bulk ink deeded for it for the same price as a set of brother inks – that’s what I’ll be doing…

I think that many cheaper machines are only suitable for occasional use, because the print head is integral with the ink tanks, and are very expensive – often costing as much as the printer.

Also, if you don’t need colour prints, consider a laser. They are very quick, and pretty cheap now.

I have an Epson PX800FW which seemed incredibly expensive in ink for all the reasons you suggest (with occasional use, it spent ages making chuntering noises before it would start printing). Then I got the message that the ink pads needed replacing – go to an agent. I did so and was quite annoyed to find out that all the chuntering had been “cleaning the heads” by pouring my expensive ink into the pads which now had to be thrown away. However, the engineer showed me how to turn off cleaning. Now it starts printing straight away, much better ink consumption. That was a couple of years ago and I’ve noticed no down-side to abolishing the cleaning. (Maybe it does it when I change a cartridge.)

Tina says:
8 June 2014

Although your report was two years ago, it is spot on regarding the Canon usage of ink.
I very rarely print in colour and never photos. I have a Canon Pixma MG8150 and have to replace cartridges every two months. I couldn’t understand how this could be the case until I just read your article. The first printer I owned in the eighties was a cheap HP that was part of the computer package. I seemed to be able to print forever on it and rarely had to replace the three-in-one cartridge. The colours were excellent and photos I printed at the time are still like new.
Which is why, about five years ago I bought a rather expensive HP ($850nz) which included slide film scanner. But sadly it just kept breaking down continuously and the retail store covered the warrant by replacing it with this Canon. I have to admit it has been totally problem free except for the ink usage. I just can’t afford to have to spend so much on cartridges. Why can’t we get
the type of printers that were about in the eighties that used hardly any ink?

Hi Tina, If you hardly ever use colour why not try a black-only laser printer. I have a Kyocera laser and it has given me perfect service for more than 10 years. It wasn’t cheap but the running cost on toner is probably about a penny a sheet. While it is probably past its official life now I have never changed the drum (that comes as a separate item). I also have a Canon ink-jet that I use almost exclusively for printing photos. I use cheap non-branded ink cartridges and for most prints use Polaroid glossy paper that I get from the £1 shop.

27 July 2014

I have a Kodak all in one printer. I buy proper Kodak XL cartridges but they never last. I decided to note down every time I printed anything and I was shocked to learn that the last three new cartridges I have installed have never given me more than 40 copies. Surely this can’t be right. I only use the printer about once a month so I know I will get a lower number of copies but 40 or less from the XL cartridge is just daylight robbery

Ron says:
28 July 2014

I also believe printer owners are being ripped off in every way:

Price of ink ASTRONOMICAL for such a tiny quantity in tiny cartridges.

Frequent, unnecessary automatic cleaning.

If one print head requires cleaning then all the others are also cleaned – WHY?

Ink still left in cartridge when printer stops and calls for a new cartridge.

BUT I don’t experience frequent cleaning problems. I have an A3 Epson Stylus Office B1100 (excellent) and an Epson Stylus Photo PX720WD printer/scanner/copier which I have owned for years. I leave both printers ON all the time. I use at least one of them daily and a tad more than the average domestic user I would estimate eg quizzes (24xA4 sheets x 8 categories with a lot of colour pictures), Dozens of copies of 2 page A3 Newsletters in colour, each quarter, etc. It is rare indeed for either machine to ‘clean’ itself. I use Epson ink cartridges for true colour and reliability.

I doubt I shall be so lucky when I purchase new printers, so it is Laser printing for me in the future.