Pint of printer ink? That’ll be £1,300 please: Which? reveals the eye-watering cost of branded printer ink

A Which? investigation has found that printer ink is one of the most expensive liquids consumers can purchase when bought from the big inkjet printer manufacturers – and people could save a small fortune by opting for third-party alternatives. 

Which? research has uncovered that inkjet printer ink bought from the manufacturer could be up to 286 per cent more expensive than third-party ink and could easily lead to consumers paying hundreds more than they need to over a five-year period.

During the pandemic, printer ink has become an essential as households across the country have been forced to rely on their home printer for work and homeschooling.

However, many are unaware that they are paying over the odds by buying printer ink from their printer’s manufacturer – and the costs quickly stack up.

The consumer champion surveyed more than 10,000 consumers who own inkjet printers to find out about their experiences with original-branded and third-party inks.

Just over half (56%) of inkjet printer owners said they stick with using potentially pricey original-branded cartridges every time.

Which? assessed the cost of original-branded and third-party ink for the Epson WorkForce WF-7210DTW printer. A multipack of colour ink (cyan, magenta, yellow) costs £75.49 from Epson. This works out at an astonishing £2,410 a litre – or £1,369 for a pint.

The Epson printer also requires a separate Epson black cartridge (£31.99), bringing the total cost of a single original-branded ink refill to £107.48.

On the other hand, restocking with a full set of black and colour inks from the highest-rated third-party supplier in the consumer champion’s survey would cost just £10.99.

Over half (54%) of the printer owners Which? surveyed said they use their printer at least once a week. If the consumer champion estimates that, in an average year, an inkjet printer’s full set of cartridges would need to be replaced three times –  it would cost just £165 for five years’ worth of the cheapest third-party compatible inks compared with £1,612 for Epson’s branded equivalent.

This works out an eye-watering 877 per cent more expensive to use own-brand ink. Using the cheapest third-party ink rather than Epson’s own-brand for five years would save consumers a staggering £1,447 – more than the price of a return flight from London to Sydney.

It is not just Epson’s ink prices that are sky high, either. Brother, Canon and HP also charge huge prices for cartridges.

A multipack of ink for the Brother MFCJ5730DW cost £98.39 compared to just £29.21 from the cheapest third-party alternative – a price difference of £1,037 over five years assuming the full set of cartridges were replaced three times each year.

Similarly, a full set of original-branded, high-yield cartridges for a Canon Pixma MX475 costs £80.98 compared to just £12.95 from the cheapest third-party ink supplier- a difference of £68.13 for each purchase, or £1,021 over five years assuming the full set of cartridges were replaced three times each year.

The price difference between own-brand and one of the third-party inks Which? looked at for the HP Officejet 6950 would leave consumers £705 out of pocket over a five-year period assuming the full set of cartridges were replaced three times a year. For a single refill, own-branded inks for the HP 903XL total £91.96 for both black and colour cartridges and just £44.99 from a third-party retailer.

Some HP printers use a system called ‘dynamic security’ which recognises cartridges that use non-HP chips and stops them from working. Over the course of its testing programme, Which? has found 28 HP printers that use this technology.

Other manufacturers use similar tactics such as promoting the use of ‘approved’, ‘original’ or ‘guaranteed’ cartridges on their websites and in instruction manuals. For example, the Epson printer Which? tested flashed up a ‘non-genuine ink detected’ alert on its LCD screen whenever we inserted third-party cartridges.

It is highly concerning that manufacturers are discouraging consumers from using third-party inks – and that some HP printers are actively blocking customers from exerting their right to choose the cheapest ink.

Because of these practices, consumers are understandably confused and concerned about using non-manufacturer inks. Two in five (39%) of the people we surveyed who do not use third-party cartridges said they avoided them because they thought they would not work in their printer.

Which?’s satisfaction survey of inkjet printer owners suggests that consumers are wasting their money buying original-branded ink. Respondents gave similar print quality ratings for original and third-party inks and gave third-party alternatives much higher ratings for value for money.

No fewer than 16 third-party inks came out on top ahead of big-brand products from the likes of Brother, Canon, Epson and HP.

Brother scored the highest of the own-brand inks, while Epson, Lexmark and Dell were the lowest-rated brands in Which?’s survey.

Which? believes that consumers should be able to shop around for the cheapest and best ink for their printer.

Adam French, Which? Consumer Rights Expert, said: 

“Printer ink shouldn’t cost more than a bottle of high-end champagne or Chanel No5. We’ve found that there are lots of third-party products that are outperforming their branded counterparts at a fraction of the cost.

“Choosing third-party ink should be a personal choice and not dictated by the make of your printer. Which? will continue to make consumers aware of the staggering cost differences between own-brand and third-party inks and give people the information they need to buy the best ink for their printer.”


Notes to editors 

Which? surveyed 11,618 members of the public (10,441 Inkjet printer owners) between 15th and 26th April 2021. Fieldwork was carried out online on the Which? Connect panel and by Lightspeed.

All calculations of the five year price difference between own-brand and third-party ink are made on the assumption that the cartridges are replaced three times a year.

Rights of replies 

HP said: HP offers quality, sustainable and secure print supplies with a range of options for customers to choose from, including HP Instant Ink – a convenient printing subscription service with over 9 million users that can save UK customers up to 70% on ink costs, with ink plans starting at £0.99 per month. Instant Ink customers can get new ink or toner cartridges delivered to their door before they run out, with a prepaid postal bag included for the safe recycling of empty cartridges.

HP offers customers the flexibility to use Original HP cartridges or third-party cartridges that retain the original HP chip or circuitry.

Epson said: Epson firmly believes that customers should be offered choice when buying printer ink and offers customers a wide variety of printing options to meet their printing needs, the traditional ink cartridge purchase, mentioned by Which? is just one of these.

Printing options from Epson now also include:

  • EcoTank printer models, which have sold over 60 million units worldwide, that come with enough ink to print for up to 3 years, and when the ink is finished, replacement bottle cost as little as £7.99 for 70ml (6,000 pages), saving up to 90% on the cost of ink.

  • Monthly Ink Subscription – customers can choose a plan that fits their own printing needs starting from as little as £1.29 per month and save up to 70% of the cost of ink

  • Unlimited Printing – Customers can buy an ‘Unlimited’ card and print as much as they want for two years without paying another penny. What’s more, the printer is also covered by the Cover+ Warranty for the two years for complete peace of mind

  • Ink Cartridge – for those customers with low print requirements or simply wishing to pay-as-they-go the traditional ink cartridge purchase is still an option

Finally, as non-genuine inks are not designed or tested by Epson we cannot guarantee that these inks will not damage the printer. Whilst Epson does not prevent the use of non-Epson inks, we believe that it is reasonable, indeed responsible, that a warning is displayed as any damage caused by the use of the inks may invalidate the warranty.

A Brother UK spokesperson said: “Research from Which?, published in August last year, found that Brother inks are of a higher quality than third-party inks and we’re committed to supporting our customers with market leading supplies that last longer, deliver consistent print yields, meet the rigorous standards for security and durability and are manufactured with minimum impact on the environment. Our customers always have the choice of whether to use our inks or third party compatibles with any of our products.”

A Canon spokesperson said: “Whilst third party inks can work with Canon printers, the technology inside is designed to function correctly with our genuine inks which are formulated specifically to work with Canon technology.”

“Customers are encouraged to use genuine inks to ensure the longevity of their printer, and also to ensure that their final prints are of a standard we deem Canon quality. In addition, the use of third party inks invalidates the warranty of the printer.”

About Which?

Which? is the UK’s consumer champion, here to make life simpler, fairer and safer for everyone. Our research gets to the heart of consumer issues, our advice is impartial, and our rigorous product tests lead to expert recommendations. We’re the independent consumer voice that influences politicians and lawmakers, investigates, holds businesses to account and makes change happen. As an organisation we’re not for profit and all for making consumers more powerful.

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