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Slash your printing costs!

Anna Powell
by Lovemoney Staff Anna Powell on 20 November 2009  |  Comments 23 comments

What costs seven times more than champagne? Printer ink! Follow our top tips to find out how you can beat the manufacturers at their own game...

Why are printers like razors? Because printers and razors are both sold for less than they cost to make.

But, as we all know, the manufacturers don't give them away out of the goodness of their hearts - instead, they make up their profits by charging you extra elsewhere.

That's why it costs £10 for four Gillette blades to go in the razor, and £15 for a tiny ink cartridge for your printer.

A report by Which? Magazine actually found that printer ink is seven times more expensive by volume than vintage champagne! 

Back in 2002, an Office of Fair Trading report strongly criticised the printer industry, accusing it of a lack of transparency - but it doesn't appear that much has changed since then.

Compatible cartridges

However, there's a way to beat the printer manufacturers at their own game. Many people have worked out how to save with generic versions of printer cartridges. 

I do this at home and it works really well. Here's how.

My printer is a Canon Pixma MX850. It takes a grand total of five ink cartridges: the usual black, cyan, yellow and magenta, and then another special kind of black.

Canon sells official print cartridges to match this printer. However, generic manufacturers like InkRite makes non-branded copies that (although Canon would violently disagree) are essentially identical.

Each of the official Canon colour cartridges currently costs a whopping £14.72 at CartridgeSave, but the generic compatible version is only £5.43.  

That means that refilling the printer with four official cartridges would cost just under £60 - but using generic versions costs only £22. For me, the cartridges tend to need replacing every couple of months, so it quickly adds up.

The generic cartridges are just as easy to use and fit - I've used them for several years with no problems.  Both the generic and the official cartridges are exactly the same volume, around 13ml of ink, and promise 420 pages' worth of printing.

And the quality seems to be more or less the same. Canon might claim that the generic ink is cava compared to champagne - but personally I find it hard to spot any difference at all!

Over the lifetime of a printer, the savings become substantial. Which? magazine calculated that someone who prints several photos and text pages each week would spend £252 over three years with official Epson cartridges, but only £78 over three years with generic Print-Rite cartridges. 

Things to check

Using generic cartridges hasn't caused me any problems - though the printer manufacturers love to issue dire warnings of clogged print-heads, lower print quality and so on. But they would say that, wouldn't they?

However, if you've had problems with generic cartridges, let us know in the comments boxes below.

It's worth noting that using generic cartridges can invalidate your printer's warranty. So, if you've just bought a brand new and expensive machine, proceed with caution.

The most important thing is to make sure that your generic cartridges are compatible with your printer. Cartridge sales websites, like CartridgeSave or CartridgePeople, should be able to show you compatible cartridges.

Check whether the generic cartridge manufacturer operates to ISO 9001 manufacturing standards. Which? found that good manufacturers for print quality were Print-Rite and InkAgain - but Jet-Tec got the thumbs down.

And when buying compatible cartridges online, check the sales website offers money-back guarantees and warranties on the generic cartridges.


You can also buy refill kits and fill up your own original cartridges - usually two or three times in total. This is seriously cheap, but messy. It can only be recommended if you've got a steady hand and a knack for DIY.

Know your options

Even with generic cartridges, printing is expensive.

So another way to save money is to know your print options. There's no need to print shopping lists in colour - particularly when a colour page costs roughly 12 times as much as printing in black and white.

For ordinary printing, use 'draft' print quality, and grayscale rather than colour options. To save paper, print on both sides.

You may object that it's fiddly choosing these options every time - who has time to click and choose the right checkboxes each time they print?

But in fact, it's easy to set up these options as default. In Windows, open the Control Panel, choose Printers and Faxes, and right-click your printer. Now choose the options you need (grayscale, duplex, draft quality) and save them as the default. See this video guide from PC World.

Even more niftily, you can set up virtual copies of the same printer - then it's really easy just to choose 'cheap' or 'top-quality' each time you print. 

If you've got multiple paper trays in your printer, you can also control the quality of the paper that you use. Put the expensive glossy stuff in one tray, and the cheap or recycled stuff in another, and add the paper trays to your default settings.

Booklet printing saves even more space than duplex, and makes long documents much more readable.

Printing web pages can use up lots of paper - we've all watched in horror as the printer spews forth 10 sheets of nearly-blank paper. So before printing from the web, check File > Print Preview to make sure that the page looks okay in print mode. If it doesn't, use the free website to select the bits of the page that you need.

So, that's how to beat the printer manufacturers. Now, all we need to do is find a generic Gillette razor blade...

Get free help from

If you're looking for more financial tips about computers and printers, we can help.

First, adopt this goal: Kit out a PC for free

Next, why not have a wander over to Q&A and ask other members for hints and tips about what worked best for them?

More: Get free stuff from the internet | How your PC can entertain you for less

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Comments (23)

  • thanet04
    Love rating 13
    thanet04 said

    watch out for printing in draft mode, many printers, including mine, mix the colours to make black, so you are using all your inks, rather than just one & black is the cheapest to buy for me. I've used Jet-tec and ink-rite for years with no problems, buying whichever is on offer. I've tried using the syringes before and it can be messy - additionally newer print cartridges have a chip monitoring useage and unless you buy a device to reset the cartridge, your printer won't use it even if it is full.

    Report on 20 November 2009  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • rbgos
    Love rating 84
    rbgos said

    Many of the "generic" cartridges are actually empty cases of genuine cartridges that have been re-filled - so the mechanism is clearly OEM quality. Also, this is recycling, it won't save the planet on its own but still, it's good. Send your used cartridges back in the envelope provided, for more recycling, and the ink manufacturer will usually donate (an undisclosed pittance) to (an undisclosed) charity for your effort.

    Report on 20 November 2009  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • vivretired
    Love rating 6
    vivretired said

    I have so far always bought original manufacturers cartridges, but off E Bay, so they are a lot cheaper. Then when I have amassed a dozen or so empty cartridges, I put them up for auction on E Bay and gnerally get around £10 back. It all helps!

    Report on 20 November 2009  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Georgepom
    Love rating 0
    Georgepom said

    Have used generic tanks for several years without any problems, my Epson photo printer uses six tanks at £13:95 each! or I can buy a set from for £4:99 - you do the maths.

    Report on 20 November 2009  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • semplemac
    Love rating 3
    semplemac said

    I also have an Epson printer, but rarely would I consider buying original cartridges. I have used compatibles for many years and canot fault them. And I cannot even begin to imagine how much money I have saved by using them. Even if I have to replace my printer more frequently than normal I reckon I wam still quids in. Currently I am using Cartridge People and they have been great. Cartridges in my hand within 48 hours of ordering and usually cheapest (also get me cahback via Greasy Palm so that is a wee bonus!). Only today I got 6 black cartridges and 2 each of 3 colours for less that £35. It would have been well over £80 to use originals. And one of the worst ever was Lexmark. When I needed ink for it, I was cheaper throwing the printer away and buying a new one rather than replacing the cartridges. Needless to say, we parted company very quickly!

    Report on 20 November 2009  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • andy-macaulay-brook
    Love rating 0
    andy-macaulay-brook said

    Or don't print stuff! By using email, even emailing PDF invoices, I've cut my printing to almost nothing.

    Report on 20 November 2009  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • xs750dohc
    Love rating 0
    xs750dohc said

    This is also another alternative. Although the initial outlay can be a little expensive. You can also buy for the majority of printers, a system called a continous ink feed. This consists of a set of tanks, approx 100ml each, these are connected to your printer by a set of very thin tubes, which in turn feed into purpose designed cartridges. The main advantage of this system is that your heads, & nozzles will never dry out again. Because as the name suggests, the ink is being constantly fed to the head. If you start to run a little low in the tanks, you just top them up. You should never need to change the head again. Buying ink in bulk is by far the most economical solution.

    Report on 20 November 2009  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Grayham
    Love rating 9
    Grayham said

    The other option is to buy a laser printer rather than an inkjet printer, as although the cartages are more they tend to do a few thousand pages rather than a few hundred for an inkjet. They also do not suffer from drying out - as toner is dry - so I find it very useful where I may not do any printing for some time. If you go for a colour laser you do have to check what consumables you need, as often there are so many different things to get it can work out a lot more expensive.

    Report on 20 November 2009  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
    Love rating 0
    NEUROTEE said

    I have an Epson Stylus Photo R800, which uses 8 inks, all very expensive. The only truly compatible generic cartridge is made by JET TEC, since the Epson original cartridge is unusual in that it is pigment based rather than dye based. I have used the JET TEC cartridges for years, and cannot see any difference compared with the Epson cartridges. They are a third of the price, and contain 10% more ink.

    Report on 20 November 2009  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • knebworth
    Love rating 1
    knebworth said

    If you are printing off a web page - a quick way to print only what you need is to highlight the text, go to file > print (to open up the print dialogue box) click "selection" in the page range dialogue box, and then click "apply" and finally print. Works 99% of the time, even with graphics.

    Report on 20 November 2009  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • valentine
    Love rating 2
    valentine said

    I think I was unlucky! I tried doing the refilling thing about 4 years ago, but it clogged the print head within a couple of months and I had to get a new printer. They were really messy as said, too! Like another commenter, I also now stick to genuine cartridges for my old canon i865, buying them cheap (as it is an older model) off ebay. Didnt think about selling the used one - i send them off for charity though, in those little bags you can get. 

    Unfortunately, Im going to one day have to get another printer, and then I will most likely have to try another tactic as the cartridges will no longer be out of date! Gonna spin the old one out as far as poss though.

    Report on 20 November 2009  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • michaeljane40
    Love rating 0
    michaeljane40 said

    I have a hp printer.Tried compatible ink and found the printer would not recognise them.

    Report on 20 November 2009  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Tibsie
    Love rating 1
    Tibsie said

    This is why I bought myself a colour laser printer recently.

    It cost about £140, not much off what a decent inkjet would cost, connects to my home network and comes with a full set of toners.

    Each toner cartridge costs about £35, not a lot more than ink cartridges and they will do about 10x as many pages, about 1500 to 2000. Don't forget the speed either, mine will do 4ppm full colour and about 15ppm black.


    Report on 20 November 2009  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • alexoswald1
    Love rating 0
    alexoswald1 said

    lexmark made printers locally so when I needed 1 I bought it through a friend who worked there and was rewarded with a batch of free cartridges. 3 years on I am on my last ones and thought, why not use refill inks ? Not as messy as some would assert, however my printer keeps telling me that I am ''low black ink'', same for colour. has anyone got reset codes for a Lexmark 7300 or do I just suffer it and monitor manually ?

    Report on 20 November 2009  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • quinie
    Love rating 1
    quinie said

    I have a Canon Pixma IP4000. It, too, takes 5 cartridges and I buy from Abacus 24-7 online. I get the 5 cartridges for £9.99 + £2 P&P (flat rate). I usually order 10, and that just costs me £15.99. Never had a problem with the ink and delivery is always quick. Would recommend.

    Report on 20 November 2009  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Xemik
    Love rating 4
    Xemik said

    I wouldn't buy a Lexmark Colour Laser again. They are very expensive to run if you print mostly in black. The paper runs through all the cartidges so use colour toner for every page. You can make it print B&W only, but that defeats the point of a colour printer! I was lucky yo get 500 pages per cartridge instead of the quoted 3000.

    I use a Xerox Phaser 8560 solid ink printer these days & it's the cheapest printer per page I've ever used.

    Manufacturers make a lot of money from selling expensive cartridges on the cheap printers. Which is why IME spending a bit more up front on a printer works out much cheaper in the long run.

    Report on 20 November 2009  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Smartie
    Love rating 0
    Smartie said

    I have an Epson Aculaser C900 and up until very recently I have always brought originals. I purchased an unbranded photoconductor which was 70% cheaper than an original but my printer doesn't recognise it and still as a meassage saying it needs to be replaced! This printer is great though and we do get thousands of pages in colour and black and white.

    Report on 21 November 2009  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • leah AKA global leah
    Love rating 17
    leah AKA global leah said

    I've got an epson X4400, now I am lucky in some way, as I work in an office supplies companies, so our place has a staff sale every so often, and that's when I do stock up the cartridges, for a mere £2.50 per epson cartridge, it's definately a bargain.

    Although I will say that I've always gone to Ebay to get the generic cartridges, and that has never given me any problem, if anything, my printer died before I'd used up the cartridges, and by selling the unused ones, I got some money out of it and rid of them.

    Report on 21 November 2009  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • LastChip
    Love rating 92
    LastChip said

    I'd like to share this with you all.

    Some while ago, I bought and still use an Epson R200, which is ridiculously expensive for cartridges.

    However, I came across a method for successfully refilling these.

    While I accept not everyone would be prepared to "fiddle" with this, it has saved me a small fortune over time.

    It involves attaching a small tube to the empty cartridge and then using it to refill, over and over again. I've uploaded an image of one that went wrong (it's not always successful), but perseverance paid off. I now have a full set that work time and time again.

    While this is not really the place to go into technically how it is done, roughly speaking, you either drill (or burn - my preferred method, as you don't get drill filings) a hole into the top of the cartridge and glue in the tube. (I used a small bore car washer tube). Glue into place with Areldite and let it fully set. The objective is to get an airtight seal. Caution, there is a membrane running down one side of the cartridge and if you pierce this while making the hole, the cartridge will be useless. The wire you can see in the image, is just for holding the tube out of the way, when it's in the printer.

    Next you need a chip re-setter and some ink, (both available on ebay), along with a syringe for each colour. (It's almost impossible to clean the syringe sufficiently to use with multi-colours, so use a separate one for each).

    Use the chip re-setter to reset the chip (instructions come with it, but it's dead easy) and then half fill a syringe with the colour you are dealing with. Attach the syringe plastic end (no needle!) to your tube and withdraw the syringe plunger fully. This should draw out air from the cartridge. Tilt the syringe so the ink is ready to flow into the cartridge and let it go, and the ink should be sucked into the cartridge. Repeat until full. Place a suitable plug in the end of the tube and that's it: job done!

    This is essentially what a continuous ink system is. The tubes are longer and protrude straight into the ink reservoirs.

    Lastly, while experimenting with this method, I discovered when the Epson software tells you the cartridge is out of ink, it probably isn't. The image you can see in my link, partly went wrong because I assumed it was out of ink and when I made the hole in the top, ink leaked out, making it difficult to get an airtight seal. In subsequent attempts, I reset the cartridge and ran it until it was properly exhausted and this resulted in about a 50% increase in sheet output. So not only are Epson ripping us off on cartridge prices, but not even allowing us to use what's there!

    Report on 21 November 2009  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Gamekid
    Love rating 0
    Gamekid said

    I have an Epson Stylus and use cartridges from Prink Inks and have found them very good at a reasonable price

    Report on 22 November 2009  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • matthewlondon
    Love rating 1
    matthewlondon said

    I recently used which charges just £3.95 flat for all shipping. Useful if you are buying in bulk.

    Report on 07 December 2009  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Derges
    Love rating 0
    Derges said

    At the moment is doing pretty well for pricing.

    They offer a money back guarantee as well as free shipping so it's well worth it.

    Report on 15 September 2011  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • CSummerson
    Love rating 0
    CSummerson said

    Or if you prefer to keep the business in the UK call 0191 2674981 or email !! I can 9/10 beat prices on cartridge monkey and cartridge save also; and most of the other websites!! i don't know about you but i would rather speak to someone personally about my order rather than just clicking on the internet and crossing my fingers. Also if the worst came to the worst try returning something from the internet its a nightmare plus im probably cheaper than the internet anyway.

    Report on 27 February 2013  |  Love thisLove  0 loves

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