/ Technology

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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Ron says:
28 July 2014

I should perhaps have mentioned that I have a Mac computer – if that makes any difference.

Hewlett Packard 8500A sucks! Wastes too much of ink and takes over 15 min to do a cleaning cycle EVERY TIME I turn the printer on or whenever electricity switches off and on. Hewlett Packard must develop a software which saves ink and prevents the auto cleaning cycle every time it starts up. I and planning to sell my printer and will never buy hp again! Will also advise my friends on this also. Thanks for not keeping to your Ink saving stickers on the printer! Hewlett Packard printers suck!

When I first got my Epson PX800FW (printing on an infrequent basis), it used huge amounts of ink and spent ages cleaning its heads. The waste ink goes into absorbing pads and when they are full of your expensive wasted ink, you have to take the printer to an engineer to get them changed. If you speak to him (or her) nicely, he will show you how to turn off head cleaning from the toolbox on your computer, and the problems disappear. Since then, I’ve never knowingly cleaned my heads and the prints are great.
Please persevere with your efforts, Which, there must be a better and more transparent way for the manufacturers to handle this!

mattdegu says:
15 January 2015

A few days ago I invested around £150 in a 6-tank Canon Pixma MG7550, for which I understood you could buy ‘cost-effective’ XL black inks purely for text. I’m a 24/7 family carer and I bought this on credit to fight a tough local campaign to try and save our much-used (by many people) area library, which is requiring a lot of document printing, all in black and white. I thought I might later use the printer for some good-quality colour prints at a later date, and wanted to buy a well-made printer that would stand up to it all.

The first and so-far the ONLY day I have used the printer I kept it on for a number of hours, and completely ran-out one of its three-in-total black tanks, while printing a lot of Welsh Assembly and local government pdf-style documents (to give a fair idea of what I’m printing), all in DRAFT mode to save money, and in b&w-ONLY too.


When the black text-ink tank finally (and unsurprisingly) ran out, I found that all 3 colour tanks were down to less than 1/3 OF THEIR FULL CAPACITY, and the dedicated grey tank was depleted too – though a good deal less than all the colours perversely. The total ink-use ratio was 3 inks for 1. Which means that across the set of 6 inks, three whole tanks-worth of ink was used in the use-of and depletion just one single black text-ink tank! And I stress – I did not opt to use colour once, only black and white in draft mode onto the selected cheap paper.

I did not switch the printer ‘on and off’ a lot, which according to Canon apparently uses colour ink every single time you do it. But I only did that a few times in total: Why would I? this was all in one session. Canon also say that colour ink is sometimes used for occasional general head cleaning. OK – fine. But how much cleaning is needed in just one session? A small bit of colour should have been released in my opinion – not almost 3/4 of each and every colour ink tank.

Today I’ve just bought a new Canon-branded black ink to finish what I need to print (they are upwards of £15 if made by Canon), but it looks like it could be the case that I won’t be able to complete these text documents before I have to buy a whole new set of colour inks somewhere tomorrow – which just isn’t technically easy for me at all with my job as a carer. This print job actually needs to be done too.


I’m sorry to say this, but it is my belief that Canon deliberately depletes all the ink tanks at a steady rate to make more money. I think they use the excuse of ‘necessary head cleaning’ etc as an excuse to steadily auto-deplete the whole set. I personally have never understood why printer manufacturers couldn’t make room for a dedicated ‘cleaner fluid’ tank anyway, even if just for some of the cleaning slack. People would repeat-buy those no problem. But how can Canon say to me that my colour inks needed to self-clean their nozzles when I haven’t even opted to use them once, and – crucially – the photo-dedicated black remains completely full. That full photo-black tank proves that unused ink tanks should not have to repeatedly self-clean their own nozzles at all.

WHY HAVE I GOT SO LITTLE COLOUR LEFT! I’m not a wealthy person, far from it, and am so angry about this.

I couldn’t find the time to ring Canon today in the end, but I just read that their response to someone else has been this: “If you want to print lots of black and white text, then buy a laser printer!” If they also say that to me I will go straight to the CAB, various buyer rights, the Trade Description people and maybe the relevant ombudsman too: whatever is best. I encourage others to follow the same routes.

How on Earth can Canon get away with ‘suggesting’ this printer is not really designed for text printing when Black and white covers half of its tanks! Out of its 6 ink tanks, this printer houses THREE whole black inks. One dedicated photo black for fancy pages, one dedicated grey ink, and one PGI black dedicated for black and white text. And Canon even produce an extra-large XL black PGI ink – just for simple text printing.

It’s all just so wrong. I’m really not prepared to sit back and take this abuse, and am far too conscientious to sell the printer on. I’ve just been stuck with a mis-sold money pit. And it seemed to get good reviews across varous places as well.

Baz 1948 says:
16 January 2015

I has similar problems with a Canon. so I changed to a HP Photosmart B110, with 4 separate inks, no Photo black, and was astounded how much ink cost. Being a new printer, I wanted to use genuine ink. What a waste of money!. I bought 1 complete set of inks, and when depleted, bought a set of copy inks without chips (they were the cheapest at that time,) well under £1 each, removed the chips from the genuine set, and fitted the copy cartridges as and when required. Ink usage decreased, or cartridges lasted longer, not sure which, but I have never looked back. I now buy copy inks with fitted chips. The only thing it wont do is show how much ink is left, but the cartridges are see through, so just looking is enough. It seems to me that all manufacturers are the same, even though some advertise better yield than others. Just so you know, when I bought this B110, I did not know, but it was a superseded model, and was very cheap. Around £40 I think, and to this day, has printed, without a hiccup over 11300 copies in 3 years, and is used almost every day. I hope that my experience can help, and I do not work for or have any connection with HP

Maxwell Reader says:
16 February 2015

I cannot get my B110 to print at all. New HP Black Cartridge. Colour low. Any clues, please

Hi Maxwell, that’s strange to hear your printer won’t print at all – However, in your position, I would definitely call HP’s technical support for further assistance:


baz1948 says:
24 May 2015

just a follow up to my previous post. My copy count is now well over 13000, and still on copy inks, although the price of each is now just over the £. A little time ago I had error messages about printing that I could not understand, but with nothing to loose, I decided to investigate, although I know nothing of the internal workings of a printer. I removed all carts and put to one side, then removed the cart holder. Just a simple lever against heavy spring affair. I then found the source of the problem. The terminals that were then exposed had ink spots all over them. I cleaned them with solvent, also the terminals on the cart holder, and when dry, refitted them all. The only problem I had was ink all over my hands, so now I use gloves. The problems were then solved. I now clean around every 3 months. And, happy days, no reoccurence, I hope that this will help others.

Ms Gwyneth Napier says:
21 May 2015

I have HP Deskjet 3050A printer which is used for occasional printing. HP black and colour cartridges are used. However every time I need to print in black there is no ink left and it has been hardly used. The colour one is not so bad. I am really sick of this as it is very inconvenient. If anyone knows of any printer which is more reliable with ink please let me know. Thanks, Gwyn

I use a Canon with 5 cartridges but leave it switched on all the time. It doesn’t seem to clean too often and my ink lasts well even though I usually do little printing. Good photos but I do use Canon ink.
May Which? magazine has a report covering ink wastage Brother comes out best but there is for all brands a big difference from model to model so the Which? average is pretty meaningless.

Ms Gwyneth Napier says:
21 May 2015

Sorry missed your reply. Thanks for your advice .Will look into that one, Gwyn

Ms Gwyneth Napier says:
21 May 2015

I have an HPDeskjet 3050A. The black ink always runs out when hardly used therefore whenever I go to use it there is no ink! The colour seems better. Obviously this is not only infuriating but a waste of money. Can anyone suggest a printer which is more reliable

Andy B says:
28 May 2015

I have a HP C310 (bought before Which? started highlighting the problem of wasted ink). To say I’m a light user is an understatement. Anyway, my printer had colour and black and white cartridges installed but rarely used, almost full. I needed to print something but the page came out completely blank. Tried a few cleaning cycles on the printer with no success. Tried an intense clean initiated via the pc, and it worked. However, this was at the expense of the ink – the cartridges are all now practically empty. Complete waste of a set of cartridges. Really pleased with the printer otherwise but it’s got to go, it’s just far too wasteful.

I have a Canon Pixma 4850 printer. The cheapest way to buy inks is to get generic ones in packs with all the inks. I’ve ended up with an awful lot of small black cartridges, even though I print photos as well as text. This is very wasteful as, at this rate, I’ll never use them. Can I force the printer to use the small black cartridge instead of the large one for text?

I left my Pixma iP on standby as I thought it was said to be best. I put all new inks in about 5 weeks ago 3 letters and the yellow has run out. I have switched it off now to see the difference.

It would be worth checking in case the print head has blocked, Susan.

I leave my Canon MP600 on all the time without any problem. It rarely goes through a self-clean that way. If your yellow is empty then you need to replace it, but I suspect you mean it has simply stopped printing yellow. Do a head clean first – a normal one then a print check. If that doesn’t work then do a deep clean. That should cure the problem. If not, and if you have used inks from other than Canon, I’d replace the yellow with a genuine Canon cartridge.

It would be useful if all cartridge manufacturers used transparent cartridges, so that you can see how much ink remains. I buy non-HP cartridges that are transparent, whereas the manufacturer’s cartridges are black. The computer may show how much ink remains in cartridges but in my experience this can be very inaccurate.

My Canon comes up with “Ink may have run out” messages well before there is no ink left. I ignore them, override the instruction and continue printing until the cartridge actually stops printing – lots of pages later. No damage has resulted. You just have to be vigilant on longer print runs to watch for the time the colour is missing.

I have occasionally missed this and a few copies have been made with missing bits. I have run those deficient pages through again and been amazed at just how accurately they are overprinted. Generally perfectly usable, just with the original print bolder than before.

You are right, Malcolm. Inkjet and laser printers can be remarkably accurate as long as the guides in the paper trays are set correctly. I don’t know why the manufacturers have not done as well with their ink level indicators.

Thankfully, it’s a long time since I had to clean the print heads because most printers clean all heads even if only one is blocked. 🙁

I have a Brother printer and when the ink gives out I have to get all the colors and it is costly.

norman campbell says:
23 May 2017

I have recently purchased a canon pixma ip7250 and can confirm that it takes an age to go through the cleaning cycle.Like others have said it appears to be a way of getting money out of customers having to replace carts. frequently.It even does a clean whilst in the middle of a print as well.I would call it a rip-off by the manufacturers.

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alan grove says:
19 November 2017

I have used Canon printers over the years and it seems that if you go for the lower priced units then it will use much more ink by switching to cleaning mode every time you use it! My printer is the MG5750.
Something should be done to stop manufacturers ripping people of !!

It might be because the cheaper printers come with smaller cartridges, Alan.

I’ve an MG5750 alan that does not appear to do that. I bought it because it was cheapish, had good reviews, used 5 ink cartridges, and although it automatically turns off, it does not seem to go through a prolonged cleaning cycle when switched on. I may be deluding myself of course!

There may be a difference between letting the printer turn itself off and switching it off after use. In the Which? review of this printer, we are warned that the ink consumption can be much greater when printing occasionally, turning the printer off between uses, compared with printing the same number of pages in one go. I recently reported that a friend’s small Canon printer used up most of the colour inks in trying to make it work, and we only printed a single sheet. As the Which? reviews show, it’s not just confined to Canon printers.

To avoid printheads from blocking it is necessary to ‘waste’ ink but it would be possible to design printers that don’t clean their heads more than necessary. Until they do so, I will be sticking to compatible inks. I have just bought 10 XL ink cartridges for £46.74. HPs business model is to sell their printers cheaply and sell expensive ink. My business model is to take advantage of the inexpensive printer and buy ink from an inexpensive source.

I did read the Which? review before choosing it. As my printing needs are reduced on my new PC I decided the advantages listed outweighed the disadvantages and took a chance in ink usage. I have always used OEM ink simply because it gave good photo results, it hadn’t cost me a fortune, so why change? But, I had in mind changing to 3rd party inks if consumption proved too costly. So far I have only replaced the original black cartridge after a fair bit of use so I’m not unhappy.

I don’t turn the printer off – I let it do that itself. Maybe this does affect the way it cleans. Anyone know? If so, perhaps this should be added to Which?’s test regime.

Michael says:
21 February 2018

I often wake up to my printer running head cleaning cycles in the night. I’ve started just leaving the cartridge panel open or even removing a cartridge at night so it doesn’t use most of my ink as a matter of maintenance. I have seen no ill effect from doing either practice. But, before you could could set your calendar by how often I ran out of ink regardless of actual use.

I wonder if this could be caused by a momentary power cut, Michael. I have known printers do a cleaning cycle before printing and even mid-way through printing a batch of pages but not when standing idle.

It’s not a good idea to remove a print cartridge because that can result in the print head drying and possibly becoming unusable. There may be a warning in the instructions.

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If I turn my printer off and on again it will do a head cleaning cycle, even if it had done one five minutes before. Why, when keeps a record of plenty of other information that can be seen by printing a status report? Every cleaning cycle uses and that means more profit if the owner uses OEM inks.

I accept that it is necessary for inkjet printers to use ink to prevent printheads becoming blocked, but mine does does a cleaning cycle when switched on and sometimes pauses to do a cycle when it is printing perfectly, which makes me suspicious. As Duncan says, each cleaning uses a lot of ink.

My current Canon automatically turns off after being out of use for a time. My practice with Canon printers in the past was to leave them running as it seemed to avoid the unnecessary(?) cleaning at switch-on. However this one does not automatically clean when I turn it back on, and seems to, so far, not indulge in this operation overmuch.

I was helping a friend set up a small Canon printer and that goes into Sleep Mode, even though it appears to be off. This means that it will print as soon as data is sent. My HP is the same but has a small blue LED to show that it is in sleep mode. With both printers, pressing the off switch turns them off and they do a cleaning cycle when turned back on.

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Yes, laser printers don’t waste toner because they don’t have printheads to clean. I used b/w laser printers at home for years, but colour printing is needed for many purposes these days. Colour laser printers aimed at home use are great for coloured text but not for photos. Maybe we have moved on but the colour lasers I had at work were bulky and the toner cartridges were expensive.

The colour laser printers are getting rather good; I’ve just bought a new Samsung colour laser and it does very nice photos.

Is that a small domestic one, Ian? I know the large office laser printers are much improved.

It’s not that small, Wave, but it is a domestic model. Have to say we’re impressed.

That’s good news. Hopefully it will print until it runs out of toner rather than after a predetermined number of prints, which is what the small Lexmark printer in my office did. The HP that replaced it gave a warning that a toner was low but continued to print.

I hope Which will test it soon and agree with you. This is the first hint from anyone that it might be worthwhile replacing a defunct inkjet with a laser. Do you use glossy/matt photographic paper as used by inkjets or is there an alternative for lasers? A breakthrough in this technology might make inkjet cartridge producers reconsider their pricing and restrictive practices.

I’m probably out of date, Vynor, but the laser printers I used were affected much less by paper quality than inkjet printers. A clear advantage of lasers is the straight paper path, making it possible to print on thin card. With an inkjet printer it is common for the paper to pass round a roller and that does not work well with thin card. Some inkjet printers have a rear feed, either as an option or as standard, to allow printing on card.

The Samsung has quite a raft of settings for different types of paper. I tried plain and two types of glossy and I was able to change the settings for both.

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In an advice guide, Which? says: “While they can knock out good graphs and charts, colour laser printers aren’t much good at printing photos. Stick to an inkjet if you’re likely to print off your holiday snaps.

Read more: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/printers-and-ink/article/which-printer-to-choose/how-to-buy-the-best-printer – Which?”

I’m encouraged by what Ian has said above.

I presume that the Lexmark toner cartridges that I mentioned were chipped because removing and replacing a used cartridge would not allow it to be used until it was empty.

As Jim Hacker once said: “I know exactly who reads the papers. The Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country; The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country; The Times is read by the people who actually do run the country; the Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country; the Financial Times is read by people who own the country; the Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country, and the Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is.”

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I wonder how you’d classify those who read Private Eye?

Malcolm – We are the people who can’t believe what the other papers say; we don’t want to run the country but have plenty of ideas on how it should be done.

I have bought every issue of Private Eye since the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962. I have never had a subscription to cancel.

I have never bought The Guardian but once read a friend’s copy when it was called The Manchester Guardian.

I now read the Eastern Daily Press which gives the price of turnips in the Saturday edition.

It has a good critique of issues of the day, as well as entertaining and amusing sections. Far more informative than the paper I used to take and using far less paper.

ronald seliger says:
5 May 2018

My Hp 6600 is wasting so much ink why and why does the government not go after this company for fraud.

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I’ve a Canon printer that appears not to waste ink nor overly keep cleaning.

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Simply remarking that all my Canon printers seem to have been OK. Maybe they are not one of the connivers? My printer automatically turns itself off (I would normally have left printers on all the time) but it does not go through a cleaning cycle each time I switch it in.

Which? could, perhaps, investigate whether printers deliberately waste ink to cheat the customer, rather than just going through appropriate maintenance cycles. They might get together with their European consumer associations and do a proper investigation, aided by the EU perhaps if it is felt we are all being conned. It would seem a topic well worth looking AT.

Perhaps some enterprising British company might develop a printer that uses cheaper ink economically. It would no doubt spark a price war between the major manufacturers but with sufficient backing might give us another “Buy British” product to export?

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I’m not aware of any British inkjet printers, Duncan. When I was a young child I had a John Bull printing outfit that was probably made here.

As I said when we discussed before, your printer will not be turning itself off but putting itself into sleep mode, and will wake up when a print job is sent via a wireless connection – whether or not you use wireless printing. I have acquired a Canon printer that proved unsuitable for use with a friend’s computer and the manual explains what happens.

If you turn it off at the socket it will use ink cleaning the heads. Turn it off and on again five minutes later and it will do the same. This is I believe standard with inkjet printers, which is why many leave them on. It would be easy for manufacturers to prevent head cleaning from happening if it had been done recently but they choose not to, to help us waste ink.

The introduction to this Convo gives an example of how a Canon printer uses excessive ink.

I have to switch my printer on – using the power button – after a long rest. A print command does not do this. The particular model Canon in the intro was better if switched off.

The Convo is now over 5 years old. It concluded
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.

After 5+ years, I wonder what Which? have learned? What have other consumers’ associations worldwide done about this?

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I am considering the wastage of ink, rather than the supplier.

In her introduction, Katie wrote: “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.”

Did Which? ever get any responses from the manufacturers?

As the graphic in the introduction shows, ink use can very much depend on model.

Any chance of an update please Alex?

Hi Wavechange 🙂 I’ve spoken to Andy, who deals with printers (unfortunately Katie doesn’t work here anymore). He’s advised that we do have an ongoing dialogue with printer companies about ink usage. Sometimes getting a straight answer out of them can be a bit of a challenge. So, we take a two-pronged approach – we test all printers for ink use, and we also run the annual printer ink survey that goes into the August issue of Which?. This deals with various issues, including the very high price of original ink. We do have a larger update coming in July and Andy has suggested we have a Convo re: the update. I think a full Convo on this will be beneficial 🙂

Thanks Alex. I look forward to learning more. In this case I think a new Conversation is probably justified because the technology is changing and printers referred to in the introduction will probably have been replaced with new models. I can imagine that some manufacturers are not very forthcoming about how their printers waste ink but perhaps where useful information has been provided by some, perhaps this could usefully have been added to the Conversation.

I think it’s important that everyone understands that inkjet printers need to ‘waste’ some ink to prevent printheads blocking and prime new cartridges, but Which? tests confirmed by many people’s experience show that some printers are very wasteful.

One of our contributors, Banjo, who is no longer a frequent visitor used point out the advantage of continuous ink delivery from reservoirs – a more economical system for heavy users.

Several people have commented that printers give a warning that print cartridges need replaced, yet they can often print more pages before running dry. The purpose of this is simply to alert the user that they need to have a spare cartridge to hand so that they are not inconvenienced. If a long print run is planned the printer will have to be watched so that it can be stopped immediately the ink runs out.

vikram kumar says:
10 August 2019

There are many reasons why the Hp pritner not printing clearly any things we will discuss these reasons in the detail manner and there are the reasons and the solutions related to it.
1.The first reasons is that the Paper jams
2. So that there should be Some printing on the page has faded:-
3. Ghosting
4. Driver issue
5. The printer is Not Printing from the paper tray
6. The Printer is showing A 79 Error

Vikram says:
27 August 2019

I have been searching about for canon printer not printing then finally, when I read this Article I get to know the correct information about it and I found this information is relevant. You have an ample amount of knowledge and that describes it very clearly and I thank you for giving me this type of knowledge and it helps me a lot.