Buying cheap printer ink Are cheap ink cartridges any good?

Sunset prints compared

Cheap ink print quality can be great or disappointing as this split image shows. 

If, like 38% of people we surveyed, you only use printer-branded ink because you don’t think the quality with cheap ink won't be good enough, you may want to reconsider. 

More than 85% of people who use third-party ink in their printer told us that the text print quality is good or excellent. 

And more than 60% are equally pleased with colour print quality.

While it’s true that some cheap ink brands don’t produce great prints, our tests have found that some produce quality comparable to printer-branded ink, while saving up to 80% in ink costs.

Log in or sign up to a Which? trial for £1 to find out which third-party inks were the best in our tests.

Are cheap inks any good?
 10 pages of printing text5 pages colour graphics
Printer branded inkBest cheap ink brand alternativePrice for a set of cheap inksText print qualityGraphics print qualityInk cost% cheaper than printer branded inkInk cost% cheaper than printer branded ink
Brother LC1280XL inksSubscriber only content£209p18%5p76%
HP 364XL inksSubscriber only content£3920p40%25p38%
Canon PG-540XL and CL-541 XL inksSubscriber only content£2721p34%20p33%
Canon PGI-525PGBK & CLI-526 inksSubscriber only content£2417p41%20p43%
Epson T1301-T1304 (Stag)Subscriber only content£174p80%8p73%
Epson T0791-T0796 (Owl)Subscriber only content£209p71%10p72%

Pros and cons of cheap ink brands

Third-party ink can save you money – that’s the biggest benefit of all – and some are proven to produce good-quality prints. But there are other points to consider before going third party with your ink, because for some people not every experience is a good one.

  • Blocked print heads – Third-party ink is likely to be a different formulation to printer-branded ink, if the printer manufacturer has patents on its ink formulations. This may make a third-party ink more likely to block the printer nozzles. If print quality deteriorates with a third-party ink, or a print head blocks, you can sometimes clear the problem by running a ‘head clean’ cycle on the printer. You don’t want to run these often, as they use ink, increasing printing costs. If you find you have to manually clean the heads regularly with every set of third-party inks, it may be worth trying a different brand.
  • Fading – If you’re printing photos to put on display, ink fading may be an issue. We tested for fading by placing glossy prints in a window for a year. The printer-branded inks held their colour well, but only one of the seven third-party brands had the same staying power.
  • Impact on printer warranty – Many printers come with a one-year warranty, but a problem caused by using third-party ink may not be covered – check the wording. That said, if a third-party cartridge that claims to be compatible with your printer causes damage, you may be able to claim the cost of repair from the cartridge retailer.
  • Cartridge failure – Sometimes third-party cartridges fail. 30% of the people we surveyed who have used third-party ink experienced at least one failure in the past. In our 2013 ink test, only one of the 11 third-party inks we tested experienced failures. A failure may be as simple as the printer not recognising the third-party cartridge and refusing to print with it. This is inconvenient, but shouldn’t leave you out of pocket. If a cartridge claiming to be able to work with your printer fails, you may be able to claim a refund or replacement from the retailer.

See our printer rights page for more information about what to do if a third-party cartridge that claims compatibility with your printer fails to work or damages your printer.

More on this

  • Where to buy cheap ink – sticking with buying printer-branded ink? Find out where to buy it cheapest
  • Top five cheapest printers to run – find out which inkjet printers proved the cheapest to print in our tests
  • Do cheap ink cartridges work?More information on why some cartridges fail to work

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