Which? is calling on regulators to take action over printer giants discouraging and even blocking consumers from using competitively-priced third-party ink, as research from the consumer champion finds branded ink can cost up to seven times more than Dom Perignon Champagne.
Despite significant price differences, almost half (49%) of the people surveyed by Which? continue to use branded printer ink instead of cheaper alternatives that still offer good print quality.
Which? found a replacement set of cartridges for the Epson Workforce Pro WF3820DWF from Epson.co.uk priced at £111.99. This means that a customer replacing their ink three times a year can expect to pay over £330, yet a third-party alternative which still offers good quality printing was found to cost less than £140 for three replacement sets – a saving of over £180.
Printer ink is one the most expensive liquids on Earth and at £1.78 per ml, the Epson printer ink in the example above was found to be over seven times more expensive per ml than a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne (£180 a bottle, 24p per ml).
A common concern among consumers is that their printer might not be compatible with third-party ink cartridges – a notion printer manufacturers are keen to push in order to sell their original brand ink.
However in Which?’s survey, only four per cent of inkjet owners found a third-party cartridge wouldn’t work in their printer. Many third-party brands also offer guarantees if their cartridges don’t work and some will even replace the printer in the unlikely event that their cartridge causes irreparable damage.
Incompatibility is not 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 cartridges with a non-HP chip and stops them working.
HP maintains that this protects customers and gives them the best printing experience, but Which?’s research regularly shows that some third-party inks offer great-value printing and are highly recommended by the consumer champion’s members.
Other manufacturers promote the use of ‘approved’, ‘original’ or ‘guaranteed’ cartridges on their websites and in instruction manuals.
HP has recently settled a dispute brought of behalf of European consumers upset that a covert firmware update introducing the dynamic security feature prevented them from using supplies made by third parties with a range of HP printers.
In the US, the company is facing a similar class action on the matter. However there has been no equivalent action taken in the UK.
While it is possible to remove the ‘dynamic security’ feature from some HP printers, the process is convoluted and can not be applied to all models.
Which? believes choosing to use third-party cartridges, especially in a cost of living crisis, should not be dictated by a printer manufacturer and instead be down to an individual’s choice.
The consumer champion is now calling on the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to investigate whether branded printer ink costs and particularly ‘dynamic security’ are fair to consumers.
Lisa Barber, Which? Computing Editor, said:
“Our research shows third-party inks can offer good value and produce good quality prints for a fraction of the cost of their premium counterparts, so it’s highly concerning that printer manufacturers are discouraging consumers from using them.
“We are calling on the competition regulator to investigate branded printer ink pricing, with a special focus on the manufacturers actively blocking customers from exerting their right to choose the cheapest ink and therefore get a better deal.”
Notes to editors:
Online survey, 23 March to 4 April 2022, 9,522 Which? Connect panel members – ink cartridge sample size 7,524 (of which 2,983 were asked about their use of third-party ink), toner brand sample size 1,361.
PR based on an earlier article in Which? Magazine which included a lower price for the mentioned Epson ink however the price has since gone up. Prices in PR are correct as of 6th September 2022.
Links to details of class actions:
- A spokesperson for HP said: “Dynamic security is a process that authenticates print supplies to prevent the use of cartridges 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, as well as reduce illegal counterfeiting of HP cartridges and warranty fraud.”
While HP’s ‘dynamic security’ technology is well known, Which? contacted three other big printer manufacturers – Brother, Canon and Epson – to find out if any of their models also actively block third-party inks.
- Canon acknowledged that some companies make ink that are compatible with its printers, but wouldn’t go further than that.
- Epson warned against using third-party inks but said that ‘Epson does not prevent the use of third-party ink cartridges neither at the purchase of the hardware nor through firmware updates.’
- Brother recommends using its own inks, but confirmed all its printers accept third-party inks.
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