Which? is calling on regulators to take action against printer giants discouraging and even blocking consumers from using competitively-priced third-party ink as its research shows that branded ink can cost up to seven times more than Dom Perignon Champagne.
Yet significant price differences, almost half (49%) of the people surveyed by Which? continue to use branded printer ink instead of cheaper alternatives that still offer good print quality.
Which? found a replacement set of cartridges for the Epson Workforce Pro WF3820DWF from Epson.co.uk were priced at £111.99. This means that a customer replacing their ink three times a year can expect to pay over £330, yet a third-party alternative which still offers good quality printing was found to cost less than £140 for three replacement sets – a saving of over £180.
Printer ink is one the most expensive liquids on Earth and at £1.78 per ml, the Epson printer ink in the example above was found to be over seven times more expensive per ml than a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne (£180 a bottle, 24p per ml).
A common concern among consumers is that their printer might not be compatible with third-party ink cartridges – a notion printer manufacturers are keen to push in order to sell their original brand ink.
However in Which?’s survey, only four per cent of inkjet owners found a third-party cartridge wouldn’t work in their printer. Many third-party brands also offer guarantees if their cartridges don’t work and some will even replace the printer in the unlikely event that their cartridge causes irreparable damage.
Incompatibility is not a completely unfounded worry. Some HP printers are designed to prevent customers from using third-party ink by employing something it calls ‘dynamic security’, which recognises cartridges with a non-HP chip and stops them working.
HP maintains that this protects customers and gives them the best printing experience, but Which?’s research regularly shows that some third-party inks offer great-value printing and are highly recommended by its members. Other manufacturers promote the use of ‘approved’, ‘original’ or ‘guaranteed’ cartridges on their websites and in instruction manuals.
HP has recently settled a dispute brought on behalf of European consumers upset that a covert firmware update introducing the dynamic security feature prevented them from using supplies made by third parties with a range of HP printers.
And while it is now possible to remove the ‘dynamic security’ feature from some HP printers, the process is convoluted and can not be applied to all models.
Says Lisa Barber, Which? Computing Editor:
“Our research shows third-party inks can offer good value and produce good quality prints for a fraction of the cost of their premium counterparts, so it’s highly concerning that printer manufacturers are discouraging consumers from using them.
“We are calling on the competition regulator to investigate branded printer ink pricing, with a special focus on the manufacturers actively blocking customers from exerting their right to choose the cheapest ink and therefore get a better deal.”