Which printer should you buy?
HP Instant Ink vs other types of printer ink
By Andrew Laughlin
Article 2 of 6
HP Instant Ink enables you to pay for your printing via a subscription. See how it compares to other options for buying printer ink.
Printer ink can get expensive and having to buy new cartridges can feel like a chore - that's why HP is offering an alternative solution with Instant Ink. But can it really save you money?
In our guide to Instant Ink, below, we'll explain:
- 1. What is HP Instant Ink?
- 2. How much does HP Instant Ink cost?
- 3. Does HP Instant Ink work out cheaper?
- 4. HP Instant Ink: should I choose it?
- 5. HP Instant Ink vs other types of printer ink
Available on a selected range of HP wi-fi printers (you can browse all supported models in our HP Instant Ink printer reviews), HP Instant Ink is a different way to pay for your ink and prints at home.
You don't actually pay for the ink or the printer ink cartridges - instead you pay a monthly subscription to print a set number of pages on your home printer. HP sends you ink cartridges whenever you need topping up, and you only pay the monthly fee - unless you run over your pages allowance.
With an Instant Ink subscription, you can print whatever you want - text, images or photos - to a monthly set limit of pages. HP automatically sends out a new ink cartridge when you need one (with delivery costs included). You do still have to buy the printer paper, though.
To get started, you need an HP printer that’s compatible with the Instant Ink service and an enrolment card, available from shops such as Currys PC World or John Lewis. You register the code on the enrolment card online to start the Instant Ink service.
Some HP printers offer a free trial to Instant Ink for up to three months, but you still have to sign up to a subscription afterwards. The options are:
- free for up to 15 pages per month
- £1.99 a month for 50 pages
- £3.49 a month for 100 pages
- £7.99 a month for 300 pages.
Pages printed over your limit are charged at £1 for each 15 pages (or £1 for each 10 with the free deal), or you can increase your subscription level.
Unused pages roll over, but only to the maximum of your monthly limit - so, if you were on the 50 pages-a-month plan, you could never roll over more than 50 pages in total.
If an ink cartridge is running low, the printer automatically alerts HP via the network connection and a new cartridge is posted to you.
Of course, the killer question is whether or not a monthly subscription to Instant Ink works out as better value than simply buying your own ink cartridges as and when you need them. The answer to this really depends on how much printing you do.
Text pages are generally cheap to print, so if you only print black text, shopping around for cheap printer ink cartridges can be cheaper than using an Instant Ink plan.
The average Best Buy inkjet printer using original ink will cost £57.60 over three years to print 50 pages of black text documents a month. With an Instant Ink-running printer that would cost £71.64.
If you regularly print colour pages or photos, Instant Ink is likely to work in your favour, though. Taken over the same three-year period, printing 30 pages of black text, 15 pages of office graphics and five photos 10 x 8 inches in size a month would cost the same £71.64 on an Instant Ink printer. But, this same amount of printing would skyrocket to £198.36 on a Best Buy inkjet using branded ink.
(Note: we only test using branded original ink, so this cost could come down if you shopped around for good-value third-party ink cartridges).
If you want to print a mixture of text documents, photos and images, and are happy with signing up to a subscription service, then HP Instant Ink could be right for you. It favours regular users who do a wide range of printing. If you only print the occasional text document, then it's not for you.
However, just as with a phone contract, if you do make the switch to Instant Ink you may need to become more conscious of what you are printing.
Even the smallest dot of ink on a page will be counted as a printed page as part of your monthly allowance. So, if you accidentally trigger a big print job and exceed your monthly limit, you could end up with a nasty big bill at the end of it.
Most people buy printer ink cartridges, but a poor printer will go through ink like it’s water, when it can actually cost more than vintage bubbly.
Plus, there could be a better printer ink solution for your needs - there are also refillable ink tank printers from the likes of Canon and Epson.
If you’re unsure which ink option is right for you, use our interactive tool below to help you choose.
Best cheap ink cartridge brands
If you do go with traditional printer ink cartridges, make sure you get the best cheap ink for your printer.
We've got you covered. Based on a survey of more than 7,000 real printer-ink customers, we’ve unearthed the best ink brands delivering high-quality ink at great-value prices.
Also, we’ve rated the best places to buy printer ink online based on customer service and value. If you prefer bricks-and-mortar shops, use our expert guide to find the best places to buy ink on the high street, too.