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Printer ink manufacturers charge £1,300 a pint and block use of cheaper cartridges

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Written by: Emma Lunn
23/07/2021
A Which? investigation found that printer ink bought from the big inkjet printer manufacturers is one of the most expensive liquids consumers can purchase.

The study also found that some printers are programmed to reject cheaper ink bought from third-party suppliers.

Which? calculated that inkjet printer ink bought from the manufacturer could be up to 286% more expensive than third-party ink, and could lead to consumers paying hundreds of pounds more than they need to over a five-year period.

Which? surveyed more than 10,000 consumers who own inkjet printers to find out about their experiences with original-branded and third-party inks. It found many people are unaware that they are paying over the odds by buying printer ink from their printer’s manufacturer

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

Epson charges £1,369 a pint

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 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.

More than half (54%) of the printer owners Which? surveyed said they use their printer at least once a week. Replacing the cartridges three times in a year would cost £165 using the cheapest ink available but £1,612 for Epson’s branded ink. This works out at an eye-watering 877% mark-up.

A statement from Epson said it “firmly believes that customers should be offered choice when buying printer ink and offers customers a wide variety of printing options to meet their printing needs” and that “the traditional ink cartridge purchase, mentioned by Which? is just one of these.”

Alternative printing options from Epson also include EcoTank printer models that come with enough ink to print for up to three years, monthly ink subscriptions, and an ‘Unlimited Printing’ option.

Epsom also suggested that “as non-genuine inks are not designed or tested by Epson we cannot guarantee that these inks will not damage the printer.”

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

‘Dynamic security’

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? 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 researchers inserted third-party cartridges.

Which? says 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?’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.

A statement from HP said: “HP offers customers the flexibility to use Original HP cartridges or third-party cartridges that retain the original HP chip or circuitry.”

HP also offers a printing subscription service called HP Instant Ink with plans starting at 99p a month.

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.”

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