Which? find printer ink one of most expensive liquids on planet

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printer ink

Which? research has uncovered that inkjet printer ink bought from the manufacturer could be up to 286 per cent more expensive than third-party ink and could easily lead to consumers paying hundreds more than they need to over a five-year period.

During the pandemic, printer ink has become an essential as households across the country have been forced to rely on their home printer for work and homeschooling. 

However, many are unaware that they are paying over the odds by buying printer ink from their printer’s manufacturer – and the costs quickly stack up. 

The consumer watchdog surveyed more than 10,000 consumers who own inkjet printers to find out about their experiences with original-branded and third-party inks. 

Just over half (56%) of inkjet printer owners said they stick with using potentially pricey original-branded cartridges every time. 

Which? assessed the cost of original-branded and third-party ink for the Epson WorkForce WF-7210DTW printer. A multipack of colour ink (cyan, magenta, yellow) costs £75.49 from Epson. This works out at an astonishing £2,410 a litre – or £1,369 for a pint. 

The Epson printer also requires a separate Epson black cartridge (£31.99), bringing the total cost of a single original-branded ink refill to £107.48. 

On the other hand, restocking with a full set of black and colour inks from the highest-rated third-party supplier in the consumer champion’s survey would cost just £10.99. 

Over half (54%) of the printer owners Which? surveyed said they use their printer at least once a week. If in an average year, an inkjet printer’s full set of cartridges would need to be replaced three times –  it would cost just £165 for five years’ worth of the cheapest third-party compatible inks compared with £1,612 for Epson’s branded equivalent. 

This works out an eye-watering 877 per cent more expensive to use own-brand ink. Using the cheapest third-party ink rather than Epson’s own-brand for five years would save consumers a staggering £1,447 – more than the price of a return flight from London to Sydney.

It is not just Epson’s ink prices that are sky high, either. Brother, Canon and HP also charge huge prices for cartridges. 

A multipack of ink for the Brother MFCJ5730DW cost £98.39 compared to just £29.21 from the cheapest third-party alternative – a price difference of £1,037 over five years assuming the full set of cartridges were replaced three times each year. 

Similarly, a full set of original-branded, high-yield cartridges for a Canon Pixma MX475 costs £80.98 compared to just £12.95 from the cheapest third-party ink supplier- a difference of £68.03 for each purchase, or £1,020 over five years assuming the full set of cartridges were replaced three times each year. 

The price difference between own-brand and one of the third-party inks Which? looked at for the HP Officejet 6950 would leave consumers £705 out of pocket over a five-year period assuming the full set of cartridges were replaced three times a year. For a single refill, own-branded inks for the HP 903XL total £91.96 for both black and colour cartridges and just £44.99 from a third-party retailer. 

Some HP printers use a system called ‘dynamic security’ which recognises cartridges that use non-HP chips and stops them from working. Over the course of its testing programme, Which? has found 28 HP printers that use this technology. 

Other manufacturers use similar tactics such as promoting the use of ‘approved’, ‘original’ or ‘guaranteed’ cartridges on their websites and in instruction manuals. For example, the Epson printer Which? tested flashed up a ‘non-genuine ink detected’ alert on its LCD screen whenever we inserted third-party cartridges. 

It is highly concerning that manufacturers are discouraging consumers from using third-party inks – and that some HP printers are actively blocking customers from exerting their right to choose the cheapest ink. 

Because of these practices, consumers are understandably confused and concerned about using non-manufacturer inks. Two in five (39%) of the people surveyed who do not use third-party cartridges said they avoided them because they thought they would not work in their printer. 

Which?’s satisfaction survey of inkjet printer owners suggests that consumers are wasting their money buying original-branded ink. Respondents gave similar print quality ratings for original and third-party inks and gave third-party alternatives much higher ratings for value for money.

No fewer than 16 third-party inks came out on top ahead of big-brand products from the likes of Brother, Canon, Epson and HP. 

Brother scored the highest of the own-brand inks, while Epson, Lexmark and Dell were the lowest-rated brands in Which?’s survey. 

Which? believes that consumers should be able to shop around for the cheapest and best ink for their printer. 

Adam French, Which? Consumer Rights Expert, said: 

“Printer ink shouldn’t cost more than a bottle of high-end champagne or Chanel No5. We’ve found that there are lots of third-party products that are outperforming their branded counterparts at a fraction of the cost.

“Choosing third-party ink should be a personal choice and not dictated by the make of your printer. Which? will continue to make consumers aware of the staggering cost differences between own-brand and third-party inks and give people the information they need to buy the best ink for their printer.”

Chris Price
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