Printer Ink Is So Expensive: Here’s How to Save Money

A man holds a stack of papers coming out of a printer in this photo illustration.
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Printer ink is the most frustrating purchase ever. That’s because printer ink varies in quality and price, and you never seem to know what you should and shouldn’t do (Is refurbished ink okay? Should you stick with the brand name ink? What about subscription services?).

Now that so many of us are working from home and buying our own printer ink, we thought it would be a good time to take a deep dive into the world of printer ink costs so you never run dry or at least don’t spend a fortune on ink.

The biggest consideration when it comes to saving money on printer ink is buying the right printer in the first place, says Rex Freiberger, CEO of Gadget Review, a technology and lifestyle publication.

“Many of the cheaper printers waste ink and have no option for ink conservation,” Freiberger says. “It’s worth it to invest in a more expensive printer to keep the cost-per-page down.”

Some printers that have less expensive ink costs include the Brother MFC-J995DW ($200 at Best Buy), the Epson EcoTank ($310 at Amazon) and the CanonPixma G7020 ($350 at Best Buy).

The Essentials about Buying Printer Ink

Here are our tips on how to save money when loading up your printer with ink.

Don’t Buy Ink Directly from Big Brands

They charge a significant mark-up, and you’ll save money buying third party, Freiberger says. There are companies that specialize in selling generic ink cartridges, and Ebay is the best place to find them, says Lou Gimbutis, chief homebuyer with Property Solutions in Charlotte, North Carolina. He says that the five-pack of the cartridges he needs costs more than $70 at a major retailer, but he finds the five-pack on Ebay for $9 to $14. By buying ink in larger quantities, he pays just over $1 per cartridge.

Beware though, because many manufacturers require that you use their brand new ink cartridges or else you may void the warranty, says Thomas Cirignano, an author who prints numerous copies of his manuscripts for editing purposes.

“I believe some printer brands can actually monitor your Internet-connected printer so they can see if you are not adhering to this ink policy,” he says.

Try Remanufactured Cartridges

These ink cartridges are available at a fraction of the cost, Cirignano says. A new set of three color and one black brand-name cartridges costs around $100 for Cirignano’s printer. On Amazon, he purchases a complete set or remanufactured cartridges containing three colors and two of the larger black cartridges for less than $20 with free delivery.

“The key to purchasing quality refilled cartridges is to read reviews and to check the ink company’s warranty policy,” he says.

In recent years, when many cartridges have added smart-chips embedded within them, there are companies that will offer money for empty cartridges. It’s a win-win, Cirignano says.

Consider Refill Ink Cartridges

These allow you to buy ink separately and pour the ink inside yourself. This is a messy, DIY project and it’s easy to do it wrong. But if you’re good at DIY and don’t mind making a little mess, this could save you more than 50 percent in printer ink, Freiberger says.

Still, Gimbutis says that in his experience, ink and toner refills are more trouble than they’re worth. He’s owned a home-based business that relies heavily on direct mail since 2004, so he’s tried just about every way possible to get his printing costs down. Liquid ink cartridges tend to be relatively small, so the frequency of refilling is high per 1,000 pages printed, Gimbutis says.

“It’s also a messy process: The best of intentions often leave stained fingertips, surfaces and sometimes even printers.”

Toner cartridges for laser printers are larger and require refilling less often, but the process is time consuming and not always successful. To refill toner cartridges, you must drill a hole in the cartridge, fill it with powder and then re-seal. In both cases, you will typically need a new chip  that your printer recognizes every time you do this, otherwise it will refuse to print.

Check Out Subscription Services

Most of the major printer companies now offer subscription-based ink services that are cost-effective depending on your plan. For example, HP offers a plan with a monthly fee to print a specific number of pages per month. The fee includes the ink, shipping and recycling and it rolls over front month to month. If you need to print more pages, you will be billed the same price per page as the base plan. The most popular plan is $5 per month, and it includes ink for 100 pages of printing.

There are Also New Print Bottles

Within the last few years, a few major printer brands (Epson, Canon) have released ink in bottles that may be poured into reusable tanks. These are paired with EcoTank printers, and the ink is considerably less expensive than comparable ink (it’s about 3 cents per black page). The downside is that the actual printer is relatively high so this should only be considered as a way to save money for those who truly print often.

Danielle Braff is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder. Check out her other work here.