If you opt for ‘original’ ink from Brother, Canon, HP or Epson – just as 4,710 of the 8,481 Which? members we surveyed do – buying printer ink can be incredibly expensive.
In fact, it can cost you up to £78 more when you come to restock your printer compared with going for cheaper, third-party alternatives.
We asked real customers to rate the best printer ink brands – and the top five, based on customer score, were all compatible ink suppliers. So there’s no need to pay over the odds when buying printer ink.
Best cheap printers to run – see the most efficient inkjet and laser printers to buy and run
The real ‘black gold’
They call oil ‘black gold’, but the phrase could perhaps be better applied to original-branded printer ink.
While Brent crude oil sells for $0.40 (32p) a litre (price correct at 18 July 2019), the same quantity of original printer ink could set you back as much as £1,890.
For that cost, you could buy more than 5,906 litres of oil, enough to make roughly 750 gallons of petrol. That’s sufficient fuel to travel 30,000 miles, three quarter of the way around the world, at 40 miles to the gallon.
Original ink is also more expensive per millilitre than vintage Dom Perignon Champagne and Chanel No 5 perfume.
* Based on black and colour inks for a Best Buy or high-scoring printer bought direct from the manufacturer website.
** Based on compatible inks for the same printer from a highly rated third-party supplier
Read more on why you’re still paying too much for printer ink in the August issue of Which? magazine
Original ink vs compatible cartridges
The big printer manufacturers are keen for you to only use their original ink, rather than choosing a cheaper, third-party supplier. They’ll often give scary-sounding warnings about quality or compatibility to try and scaremonger, but our research of has found that compatibility issues of a serious nature are extremely rare. In fact, just 1% of Which? members we surveyed reported having to replace the printer.
As you can see in the graphic above, the cost difference compared with third-party or ‘compatible’ ink alternatives can be huge. And yet the quality is barely any better in most instances.
Why choose third-party ink?
There’s a massive saving to be made. Compatible ink from a top-scoring ink brand for a Best Buy printer costs only £15.99, compared with more than £90 for the original ink – and you get two full sets of black and colour ink included. You can buy a set of inks for another printer for £48.49 from the manufacturer website, or spend just £26.97 from a higher-rated supplier.
The difference in print quality between original ink and compatible third-party alternatives isn’t as wide as the price disparity would suggest. In our survey, all the top-rated third-party ink suppliers had print quality on a par with, or close to, the original ink brands.
Not a single customer of our highest-scoring ink brand that we surveyed reported that the cartridge leaked or didn’t work in their printer. If you do have a problem with supposedly compatible ink, you can contact the retailer that sold you it for a refund, replacement or other redress. See which.co.uk/consumerrights for more information.
Buy the best cheap printer ink online
Most people buy their printer ink online, as it’s generally where you can find the cheapest printer ink, including compatible cartridges.
Head to our in-depth guide to the see the best places to buy your ink online. If you prefer going to a bricks-and-mortar store, we have also rounded up the best places to buy ink on the high street.
While Amazon is the most popular online choice for buying ink, and Tesco the most-used high street shop, neither was the highest rated according to our survey of more than 7,000 Which? members.