Inkonceivably expensive – Printer ink pricier than 32-year-old Scotch Whisky

Despite being more expensive than 32-year-old Scotch whisky, Chanel No 5 and high-end champagne, most people buy branded ink for their printer rather than cheaper third-party alternatives even though they are just as good, according to new Which? research.

The consumer champion found that just one set of replacement cartridges for the Epson Expression Premium XP-900 costs £96. This means that a customer replacing their ink five times can expect to pay £480, yet a third-party alternative deemed of similar quality was found to cost a mere £70 for five replacement sets – a saving of up to £410.

At £2.04 a millilitre, the Epson printer ink was one of several branded versions found to be more expensive than 32-year-old Scotch whisky (£1.71), Chanel No 5. (£1.13) and premium champagne (30p).

Despite the extortionate cost of original ink cartridges, the majority of people told Which? that they regularly buy branded cartridges (58%) over cheaper third-party alternatives – and some have never tried non-branded at all (41%). 

The survey of almost 9,000 printer owners revealed that many people are concerned that third-party ink may be incompatible with their printer (43%), print quality would be compromised (30%) or that the third-party ink might damage their printer (30%).

However, in reality, the survey revealed that only one in 10 (11%) of those who use third-party ink regularly experienced cartridges not working, just four per cent experienced leakage and only three per cent found print quality lower than expected.

Many third-party brands also offer guarantees if the cartridge doesn’t work, while some will even repair or replace the printer for free. 

What’s more, those surveyed thought some third-party brands were easier to use than original cartridges from HP and Epson ink. And the same goes for toner: Which? found that people with laser printers were much happier with third-party brands than original branded toner.

However, incompatibly isn’t a completely unfounded worry. Some  HP printers are designed to prevent customers from using third-party ink by employing something it calls ‘Dynamic Security’, which recognises third-party cartridges and stops them working.

Although HP says this protects its customers, the thousands of people who took part in Which?’s survey found that third-party cartridges offer much better value and even, a better customer experience.

Which? has heard from many consumers who are unhappy that they can no longer use their favourite brands, with some even buying a new printer to avoid the ongoing high cost of replacement HP cartridges. 

Which? believes that this is completely wrong and choosing to use third-party cartridges should be down to an individual’s choice, not HP’s.

In the US, a lawsuit resulted in some customers being reimbursed by HP for the costs of replacement cartridges, printers and repairs following a class action settlement.

Under the out-of-court settlement, HP agreed that Dynamic Security wouldn’t be reactivated in the affected inkjet printers. HP denies that it did anything wrong. 

This hasn’t yet happened for UK consumers, so customers will need to carefully consider how much they could end up paying over the lifespan of their printer as it could be more than they bargained for.


Harry Rose, Which? Magazine Editor, said:

“Printer ink shouldn’t cost the earth and we’ve found that there are lots of unbranded products that are just as good as their branded counterparts and only a fraction of the cost – so you can keep your hard-earned cash for actual luxuries rather than spending it on printing.

“Choosing third-party cartridges should be a personal choice and not dictated by the make of your printer. If you are in the market for a new printer, it might be best to avoid HP if you don’t want to fork out for expensive HP ink cartridges.”



Notes to editors:

Survey – 

Which? surveyed 8,788 members of its online panel between 8th and 27th April 2020. Ink cartridge sample size 7,460. Toner cartridge sample size 1,278. Ink online retailers sample size 5,664. Toner online retailers sample size 1,209.

Competition law – 

  • Under competition law, one EU case resulting out of a complaint made to the European Commission by the European Federation of Ink & Ink Cartridge Manufacturers (EFIM) against HP, Epson, Lexmark and Canon alleging abuse of dominance which was appealed twice but was ultimately unsuccessful on the specific facts of that case. 
  • In the EFIM case, one issue considered was the view that consumers should be sufficiently informed of the lifecycle pricing of products (including their related consumables) when deciding which printer to buy. 
  • This should put consumers in the position of being able to make an informed decision when deciding which printer to buy. At the time of the decision, the view was that competition for inkjet printers was robust enough to ensure effective competition for ink supplies.


Right of reply – 

HP says: “Dynamic security is a process that authenticates supplies to prevent the use of supplies without an Original HP chip or with modified or non-HP circuitry. HP includes dynamic security to protect the quality of our customer experience, protect HP’s intellectual property, and reduce counterfeiting of HP supplies and warranty fraud.  Refilled or remanufactured supplies that use an Original HP Chip or have original, unmodified HP circuitry are unaffected by dynamic security and will continue to function normally. Other cartridges (e.g., cartridges using cloned chips or modified or non-HP circuitry) may not work today and/or may not work in the future.  Consumers have been notified of this on the hardware packaging and online as a product specification for all Dynamic Security enabled printers manufactured since December 2016.”

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