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Many printers are cheap to buy, but there’s a very good chance that you’ll spend much, much more on ink or toner cartridges than you did on the device itself. So, is it worth trying to save a bit of money by buying cheaper refills or should you stick with the more expensive genuine manufacturer cartridges?
We explain these options so you can decide which is best for you.
If you’re considering replacing the printer itself, then you check out our best printers guide.
Genuine ink & toner
Whichever model of printer you buy, the company that made it will have specific ink that it recommends you use. Of course, this is also most likely made by the said company and can be seen as something of a money grab due to the fact that it’s always more expensive than third party rivals. And just expensive in general.
The truth is a little more complicated. Ink is a serious business, as we can attest having once spent hours with a HP Inkologist explaining bonding agents, flow rates and various other properties.
All ink is not equal, and over the years various tests have proven this as such.
When you opt for a manufacturer's own-brand ink you know that it has been designed to work specifically with your printer. It means you can expect the best image quality, the best fade-resistance and to get the quoted number of pages from the cartridge.
There’s also the security that it shouldn’t block up the nozzles or print heads on your device (in some cases the ink actually cleans them), plus it won’t affect your warranty on the printer.
The trade-off is that they’re more expensive than alternatives available online, but if you want the best performance, results and to potentially extend the life of your printer then this is the price you pay.
Depending on the make of your device, there will be different cartridges and toner packages available. Try searching the manufacturers’ online guides for which one to choose, such as these for Canon, HP, Epson, and Brother.
And also remember that in most cases, it's possible to buy high-capacity cartridges which work out cheaper per page printed.
If you’re looking to save some money in the short-term, then the individual cost of third-party cartridges will be hard to resist - especially if you own a colour laser printer. The reasons for these lower prices are manifold, not all of which are good.
The first is that they often use cheaper components. The ink might be water- rather than oil-based or the powders are of a lesser quality. The construction of the casings in some products are more fragile than the more expensive alternatives, which could lead to leaking or spillage. Plus, the connector fittings might not be quite up to the same standard as the manufacturers’ official products.
And if your printer has the printheads built into the cartridges, it's likely you're getting a refilled original manufacturer cartridge, or a lower-quality printhead.
All this being said, if your printer is old, or you only want to print out stuff that doesn't matters and home work sheets rather than official documents for work or distribution, then the savings could be worth the risk. And, for balance, we at Tech Advisor have successfully used third-party toner in laser printer for years and saved hundreds upon hundreds compared to buying genuine toner.
There are plenty of places online where you can pickup refills at very tempting prices. These include Amazon, Cartridge Discount UK, PrinterInk, and IJT Direct, but Googling ‘cheap printer ink’ will return a sizeable amount of other options.
If you would prefer to use genuine ink from the printer manufacturers, but don’t want to have to spend a chunk of money when the cartridges run dry, then it might be worth considering a subscription plan.
For example, HP has an initiative called Instant Ink whereby consumers can pay a low monthly amount based on the number of pages they think they’ll print each month. At the moment it’s free for 15 pages, £1.99 for 50, £3.49 for 100, and £7.99 for 300.
So long as your printer is able to connect to WiFi (most modern ones can) then whenever it’s running out of ink the device will inform HP who will then automatically send out a replacement cartridge. Everything is included in the subscription cost, and you can even roll over leftover page allowances from the previous month.
Epson offers something similar called ReadyInk, but instead of a subscription service the replacement cartridges are charged at the normal price and sent automatically whenever you’re about to run out.
Both of these are great solutions if you’re not able to easily get to a shop when your printer runs dry, or you can't afford to be without a working printer for any length of time.
Of course, if you have an Amazon Prime membership then you can always order cartridges online and have them delivered the next day (even same day in some areas), plus you can create Dash buttons that make it even simpler to replenish your stocks.
Whichever path you decide to walk, just be sure to find out which ink or toner your printer takes before ordering anything. To do this, search for the make and model online to see what’s listed as being compatible with your printer.
There are no hard or fast rules, and you could move freely between all the options listed above. Eventually you’ll find what works best for you. In the meantime, try to keep a log of how much you actually print each month, as this will allow you to make a more informed decision of your actual printer needs.