/ Technology

Is branded printer ink too pricey?

Printer ink

A hundred quid will buy you a decent printer, but when the ink runs dry you could splash out another fifty on new cartridges. A steep sum for four little pots of liquid, so is it worth it?

As a reader recently reminded us by getting in touch, branded printer ink is expensive, there’s no doubt about it.

If you switched to cheaper, non-branded refills you could save up to 70% on the price of the branded stuff.

But making the switch to third party ink is a bit of a gamble. Will the cartridges work? Will they damage the printer? Will the prints look any good?

It’s not just the high price of branded cartridges that’s so alarming. I’ve been tracking the price of these cartridges for the past six months and the price differences between retailers are astounding. I’ve seen some retailers charge twice as much as others for the same cartridge. How can that be? Who’s buying it at that price?

Not only that, but prices change month to month. So the cheapest retailer today may not be the cheapest tomorrow.

The thing is, who (apart from me) is going to spend time checking the price of their particular brand of cartridges on a regular basis? It’s not like shoes – there’s little pleasure to be had from ‘window shopping’ for ink.

And you’re unlikely to buy cartridges every week – thankfully, or you’d probably be bankrupt by now – so what are the chances of the average consumer knowing what a realistic price is for the cartridges their printer uses?

Maybe retailers are playing on this lack of knowledge. Maybe they’re hoping you’ll come running into the shop with an ink emergency and just pay the price.

Or maybe there’s a valid reason printer manufacturers charge so much for their ink and some retailers price it so much higher than their competitors – though I’m struggling to see it.

All I know is, if I need to print out my boarding pass, I’ll be doing it at work.

pickle says:
8 August 2010

I agree – well, WHY is printer ink so expensive. Seems a good subject for a Which report.


It certainly does, so you may be pleased to hear it’s something we’re looking in to and we’ll be reporting our findings in the near future.


My H.P. printer decides for itself when it thinks the cartridges need replacing. There’s a chip inside that counts pages (or some kind of tally). On a few occasions, I have installed a new cartridge and then replaced the old one which is now, miraculously, half full and prints page after page. However, putting the new one in for a second time causes the printer to tell me it’s empty. They get you every way. Last December I could buy a batch of ink for my printer for just under £30. In January it increased to £40 and Tesco, last week were asking £49 for the same product. Is there some kind of precious ingredient in there that has suddenly become scarce or are we being ripped off? Trouble is, if you need to print then you need to print and they damn well know it. Who ,can do what, to alter this? I would really like to know.

P.S. I spent half an hour last night typing a speed camera reply. I forgot to tick the accept box and it all disappeared into the ether. My words of "wisdom" will never be read. What went wrong, Which?


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I have found that although getting HP’s own cartridges is more expensive, they last much longer and the prints are of a higher quality (if only slightly). Most importantly though – I’ve found that using a refill kit results in prints that fade over a few months.


I use cheap generic inks, I have tried different makes. The prints look just as good and the printer runs fine. I have also tried a refill kit though this was less successful.

louise read says:
10 August 2010

I’m ignorant. What are “generic inks”? Thanks Louise Read


Generic inks are basically cheaper non-branded ink cartridges.


I use HP cartridges in preference to OEMs because they last longer and I’m able to get them on Ebay at up to a quarter of the price if they are close to sell by date. I use a lot. You do have to be careful as some are the low capacity ones normally supplied with the printer. So far for many years the ebay ones have worked properly. That said – I have used OEM and refilled myself with success for HP type cartridges.

However I have bought Canon OEM cartridges that were useless as colour rendition was appalling – the proper Canon ones were fine.

Because I print a lot I found the capacity of ink jet printers insufficient anyway – I use lasers instead which seems cheaper per page.

The other snag with ink jet is the sensitivity to UV causing the print to fade rapidly in sunlight and as I print a large number of posters I now reserve ink jets to print glossy photos.


Some manufactures sell cheap printers because they know they will make more on selling the refills for it afterwards so take care to check out the overall cost (including ink cost) before buying ,costs have risen recently this is due the cost of raw materials and a weaker pound.I prefer to buy original cartridges but I shop around for them to get the best price.