Ink cartridges: How we test ink cartridges
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We examine everything that matters across all products, including performance, features and how well they work in real life – so you'll know exactly what to expect. Our unique, comparative lab tests mean you can trust our verdicts and choose with confidence.
Try Which? today for just £1 to find out which ink cartridges proved best and cheapest in our tests.
How we choose ink cartridges for testing
We asked Which? members who use third-party ink cartridges (ink cartridges that are not made by the manufacturer of their printer) to tell us where they buy their ink, what brand they buy, what printer they own and how happy they are with the print result.
Combining this information with our knowledge of the ink cartridge and printers markets we selected the most popular brands members had told us about and tested them on the best performing printers that were compatible with third-party inks and available at the time of testing.
We selected one printer from each of the four major printer brands – HP, Canon, Epson and Lexmark.
Third-party cartridges for Kodak printers are uncommon, but we included a Kodak printer in our tests so that we could compare Kodak ink running costs to those of third-party and printer branded inks on the other machines.
We also tested standard and high-capacity cartridges where both types are available to see whether there is an ink cost saving per print to using high capacity above standard capacity.
Ink running costs
The main reason to use ink cartridges that aren't made by the same brand as your printer is to save money on printing costs, but not all of these generic cartridges save you money on prints.
To sort the money savers from the ink wasters we print as many text, graphics and photo pages as we can from three sets for ink cartridges to work out the ink costs per page printed.
To make sure our ink running cost calculations take into account any variation that might occur with the quantity of ink that's been put into a refilled or compatible cartridge the test is repeated twice for each brand printing each type of document. If the number of pages printed differs by 10% or more between the two runs a third test run is undertaken.
The cartridges are weighed before and after testing to work out the amount of ink used. These figures are combined with the number of pages printed and the cost of the cartridges to work out the cost of the ink used to print each of our text, graphics and photo pages. We can then compare the ink running costs to find the cheapest models.
Our experts cast their eyes over text and graphics prints produced by the different ink cartridges as well as assessing a number of printed photos, including a sunset, street scene and portrait.
The prints are rated for sharpness and – in the case of the graphics and photo prints – colour definition.
Further technical assessments are made of colour reproduction using a colour and greyscale test chart. The printed chart produced by each brand of cartridges is then measured and rated using a calibrated photo densitometer.
The water resistance of photo prints is tested by placing drops of water onto the print and tilting the image to see if the ink runs down the page with the water droplets.
Interested to find out how this compares with Which? printer tests? Check out our How we test printers page.