Branded printer ink is one of the most expensive liquids that consumers can buy, a new investigation has found.
According to Which? research, ink from the big printer manufacturers costs more than £1,300 ($1,789) a pint, more than the cost of a bottle of high-end champagne, or the equivalent of Chanel No5 perfume.
The organisation, which surveyed more than 10,000 consumers who own inkjet printers, revealed that people could save hundreds of pounds by opting for third-party alternatives as branded ink can be up to 286% more expensive.
During the pandemic last year, printer ink became more of a household essential as people across the country were forced to rely on their home printing for work and homeschooling.
However, Which? warned that many consumers are “unaware that they are paying over the odds” by buying printer ink from their printer’s manufacturer.
The consumer champion assessed the cost of original-branded and third-party ink for the Epson (SEKEY) WorkForce WF-7210DTW printer. It discovered that a multipack of colour ink (cyan, magenta, yellow) costs £75.49 from Epson, coming out at £2,410 a litre, or £1,369 for a pint.
The Epson printer also requires a separate Epson black cartridge, costing £31.99, bringing the total cost of a single original-branded ink refill to £107.48.
By contrast, restocking with a full set of black and colour inks from the highest-rated third-party supplier in the survey would cost just £10.99.
Which? said that just over half (56%) of respondents admitted that they stick with using potentially pricey original-branded cartridges every time, and 54% said they use their printer at least once a week.
Which? estimated that in an average year, an inkjet printer’s full set of cartridges would need to be replaced three times, costing £1,612 for Epson’s brand and just £165 for five years’ worth of the cheapest third-party compatible inks.
Using the cheapest third-party ink rather than Epson’s own brand for five years would save consumers £1,447 – more than the price of a return flight from London to Sydney, the research said.
Watch: Why printer ink is so expensive
Other brands such as Brother, Canon and HP (HPQ) were also found to charge high prices for cartridges.
A multipack of ink for the Brother MFCJ5730DW cost £98.39 compared with 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 with just £12.95 from the cheapest third-party ink supplier. This is a difference of £68.03 for each purchase, or £1,020 over five years under the same settings.
The HP Officejet 6950 would leave consumers £705 out of pocket over a five-year period. Which? added that 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.
“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,” Which? said.
Two in five (39%) of those surveyed who do not use third-party cartridges said they avoided them because they thought they would not work in their printer.
“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,” Adam French, Which? consumer rights expert, said.
“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.”
Watch: How to save money on a low income?