/ Technology

Can you spot a wasteful printer?

Man pulling apart printer

Some printers seem to burn through ink, costing you more in cartridges. But is it possible to spot a wasteful printer at a glance? It could come down to how different printers clean themselves…

If you’ve been following our printer tests over the past few years, you’ll know that many printers don’t just seem to waste ink, they do waste ink.

Inkjet printers have to clean their ink nozzles to keep printing at their best. This uses ink. Our testing has shown that some printers clean themselves much more frequently than others, which could mean that only a third of the ink in the cartridge ends up on your prints.

Printer claims and automatic cleaning

In a store, the only indicator you have about printing costs are the manufacturer’s claims on the packaging stating the number prints you can expect from a set of cartridges. It’s based on printing pages in quick succession until the cartridges are empty. But that’s not how you print at home, and it doesn’t take into account the ink printers use to clean themselves.

We run an ‘occasional printing’ tests, printing only a few pages at a time and leaving time between prints, switching the printer off between uses. This allows for printers to undertake their automatic cleaning cycles, just as they would at home.

Interestingly, we’ve found there are similarities in the cost of printing with certain brands of printers and, more specifically, with printers that use the same ink set.

There are brands that are consistently cheap to print with, which suggests that it should be possible for all manufacturers to produce printers that don’t use excessive amounts of ink on cleaning without print quality being affected.

And the difference between a cheap-to-run printer and a wasteful one is huge. Picking the priciest will cost you up to around £7 more in ink for 30 prints, more than quintupling your ink costs.

So how wasteful is your printer? Have you stuck to a certain brand because you’ve found you get through more prints for your money?


Looking at the Which? Best Buy standard printers (rather than all-in-ones), there are nine monochrome printers and only one colour inkjet printer.

Perhaps it would be best to have a Best Buy list for both types of printer.

I haven’t looked at the list, but I’m guessing the monochrome ones are all lasers?
I got fed up with inkjets and the associated costs, so switched to a cheap mono laser as it worked out far cheaper to use. I now have a cheap Samsung colour laser which probably won’t work out so cheaply.
Slightly off-topic but something I’d be interested to see Which cover : my £99 colour laser comes with a starter set of cartridges claiming to give around 1200 pages of b&w or 700 pages of colour. When they run out, do I buy the full-strength replacement cartridges at around £240 a set and claimed around 3,000 pages or do I junk the printer and buy another one? (Yes, I can do the maths, what I’m more keen to know is how accurate the claimed cartridge lives actually are).

My first monochrome laser cost over £650. I know because I found the receipt recently. It served me well for ten years, as has its replacement, which cost a fraction of that amount. Monochrome lasers are reliable and there is no problem with waste, as there is with inkjet printers.

A big problem with colour laser printers is that are more complicated and if they break down, the expensive toner cartridges in the printer and any spares are wasted. They make more sense in an office environment where surplus toner can be used up in other printers of the same type after one is scrapped.

£99 seems incredibly cheap for a colour laser printer. I have been disappointed with more expensive colour lasers – a Lexmark printer that produced good prints but failed early and an HP that proved reliable but gave disappointing prints.

What I want from my printer is high quality – particularly for colour prints and photos. I’ve a Canon and see from the reviews that with its own ink it scores 5 stars for all printing results – text, colour docs and photos. So if it costs more to run then with 3rd party (what about 2nd party?) inks its the results that are more important to me (the last lot of OEM cartridges I bought were £5 each which I was happy with). The nearest 3rd party was not rated quite as well, although I might look at Moreinks. If you don’t do much printing, ink cost is not going to be huge for many printers and if you do a lot then the cleaning cycle becomes less of an issue. I’d stick with quality.

I don’t understand the popularity of printers. If you need to print a photo, for example to frame it, then have it printed on a high quality commercial printer. Photos look much better on a high resolution screen (for example my laptop is 3200×1800 pixels) than on an A4 page printed by an amateur home printer.

Similarly I don’t see the need to print documents, as you can take everything with you on a smartphone.

I’m sure that a minority of people like wavechange have a genuine need to print newsletters etc for people who don’t have computers, but most people print stuff unnecessarily, wasting expensive ink and paper and harming the environment.

NFH, I don’t have a smartphone. Secondly I am quite happy with the photo quality I get on my Canon, and I can play around with pictures to get the result I want. I also print 14 family calendars each year – 200 photos and 200 double-sided date sheets. I print sports club fixture cards and team sheets. I would not do this without a printer – it simply makes things possible and convenient that previously were not and, as it happens, I enjoy doing it. I print out documents – I prefer reading paper documents when I want to rather than on a screen; plus they also are a safe record in case my aging computer misbehaves. Oh, and I use a CAD programme for designing furniture and then printing off drawings to take into the workshop. Instruction manuals where the originals have been lost….on it goes. So perhaps I’m the exception but a printer has been an absolute boon to what I enjoy doing. 😀

NFH – I bought my first laptop in the 90s and since then have printed few photos. Most of my printing is to take to meetings, not just the agenda and minutes of the previous meetings, but often various relevant documents. It’s quick and convenient to annotate these so that I don’t leave the meeting and then remember some important point I forgot to mention. Sometimes I bring printed copies of information I have circulated by email because I know that some will have not brought a copy or read what I circulated.

I have newsletters, posters, leaflets, etc printed professionally, but always print a draft before uploading the files to the printer’s server. Though I am happy to read text on a screen, I find it easier to proof read a printed copy before uploading the files to the printer’s server. The next job is to design a commemorative brass plaque and I will print a few copies for approval.

I print copies of training certificates, safety documentation, insurance details and a variety of other documents that can be inspected by the public at any time.

I have a monochrome laser printer which must be at least twelve years old and a newer wireless multifunction colour printer.

We are all different and it’s not surprising that you and Malcolm have different requirements. You have frequently told us that you fly frequently, NFH. I suspect the environmental impact of that is far greater than heavy use of home printers and associated consumables.

I have a Brother HL-5150D which is just over a decade old. It has printed over 25,000 sides of paper and has been a very solid duplex performer. The capital cost is about 1p per sheet now and printing costs 2p per sheet.

We have the Brother and also an inkjet all in one as there are some print jobs where colour adds so much which is useful when conveying information to groups.

Any printer that is only used occasionally is probably going to waste ink. I no longer print photographs as it is cheaper, for the few I want printed, to pay for them in store or online.

It would be interesting to see how printers fare when only used say once a month, say two A4 sized text and one 8×10 photo?

I use an HP officejet pro 8610 for printing, mainly text and photo. The set up cartridges lasted three months or more and the new set of XL originals show hardly any use after another 3 months. Could it be because I only turn the printer off when I’m going away for a few days, and the machine doesn’t go into cleaning mode too often?

The amount of extra ink used varies with printer but it’s well known that switching them off results in higher consumption. Like other printer manufacturers, HP often supplies small cartridges with printers and the XL versions are larger. With my printer I think the XL versions are three times the size.

Which? Weekly Scoop recommends two best buy printers. An Epson with separate cartridges, and a Canon with combined colour cartridges. It seems to me the latter simply wastes ink – having to buy a whole 3 colour cartridge when just a single colour has run out. Should printers with combined cartridges perhaps be excluded from Best Buys?

In my view, the main reason for choosing a printer with separate cartridges is that these can contain more ink than combined cartridges.

It’s worth checking the ink capacity of cartridges before purchase and whether compatible cartridges are available, or you may be stuck with using expensive manufacturer’s cartridges until alternatives are on sale.

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My newer HP printer ‘wastes’ a lot of ink if turned off and on again according to the Which? review, so I leave it on. The older HP printer is better and since it is not used very often I turn it off after use.

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It was Which? that said it wastes a lot of ink, so I assume that the problem exists from the start. I buy cheaper ink and it works fine. Back in the 90s I was put off using compatible inks because the quality was poor, but that’s not the case now.

Jim McLaughlin says:
26 December 2017

Please post more. I think the printer manufacturers are getting away with murder.

most manufacturers would try to get away with murder and many try in various ways