Ways to Save Money on Printer Ink

Mary Gormandy White
printer ink expense

Printer ink can be a significant cost for both business and home computer users. According to Consumer Reports, the cost of printer ink ranges from about $13 per ounce for the cheapest products to $75 per ounce for the most expensive options. While printing is often a necessity, there are things you can do to reduce the amount of money you spend on ink.

Use an Ink Subscription

While purchasing off-the-shelf original equipment manufacturer (OEM) cartridges is generally the most expensive way to buy replacement ink, Hewlett Packard (HP) has introduced Instant Ink, a subscription option that is designed to help people save time and money on printer ink. As editor of LoveToKnow's Technology channels, HP provided me with an opportunity to enroll in the innovative program, and I have to say that I am pleasantly surprised with its convenience and potential for savings.

HP Instant Ink Erollment
HP Instant Ink enrollment kit

To participate in the program, you have to have Internet access and a compatible HP all-in-one printer including:

  • Envy 4500, which retails for around $100
  • Envy 5530, which retails for around $130
  • OfficeJet 4630, which retails for around $100

I have the Envy 5530 and am impressed with its ease of use and print quality. When you obtain one of these printers, you can enroll in an automatic ink replacement service based on your expected usage level. Costs, which include color and black replacement, are:

  • $2.99 per month (approx. $36 per year) - covers 50 pages per month
  • $4.99 per month (approx. $60 per year) - covers 100 pages per month
  • $9.99 per month (approx. $120 per year)- covers 300 pages per month

Considerable Savings

Considering that the retail price for each HP cartridge set (black and white and color) runs $35 if bought independently, the savings can be up to 70 to 80 percent below retail. This means that you can end up with OEM ink for the same cost (or even less) than many compatible or recycled replacement options. DigitalInk.com points out that the subscription service can be a particularly good value for those who print a lot of photos due to the amount of ink required, a statement that is consistent with my own experience with the program.

Automatic Shipments

You also don't have to think about buying ink with this service, which is a great added feature. The printer communicates with HP via the Internet, so new cartridges are automatically shipped to you when you need them. Shipping costs are included in the monthly subscription fee, so there really is nothing to think about once you sign up.

Unless you don't print at least 50 pages per month, this option is a great way to save money on printer ink while making it difficult for you to run out without having a replacement handy. If you need a new printer and ink affordability is an important consideration for you, I don't think you can go wrong with this option.

Buy Compatible Cartridges

Original equipment manufacturer (OEM) ink is not the only new cartridge purchase option. Compatible cartridges are available for most printer models from e-commerce retailers like 123InkJets.com, a retailer described by TechSupportAlert.com as "a really good service oriented company with good prices and low shipping costs".

The store's website promises savings of up to 75%, a one-year guarantee and free shipping on orders exceeding $55. This retailer receives high marks from TopTenReviews.com, as do 4inkjets, ABCink, InkSell and a few others that offer similar pricing and guarantees.

Give Recycled Cartridges a Try

Bill Swanson, CEO of Cartridge World North America
Bill Swanson, CEO, Cartridge World NA

Purchasing recycled cartridges can be significantly less expensive than buying new, brand name or store brand ones, while producing the same results. Bill Swanson, CEO of Cartridge World North America, explains the price difference between recycled and new cartridges, saying "In the simplest terms, it's because many components of printer cartridge can be used again without sacrificing the quality of the cartridge." Swanson states that his company's ink cartridges can "save customers as much as 30 percent over competitors," an assertion backed up by reviews on Yelp.

Recycled Cartridge Quality

It's important to realize, though, that not all recycled cartridges are the same. As TopTenReviews.com points out, "the printing quality afforded by remanufactured cartridges may not be consistent among manufacturers," which is why it is important to find out what kind of guarantee is offered before you buy.

Swanson states, "As in any industry, there are a handful of companies selling inferior products. Cartridge World is the largest specialty retailer of replacement cartridges in the world for good reason," citing the company's proprietary remanufacturing process and 100 percent satisfaction guarantee.

If you are interested in purchasing from Cartridge World, see the company's website to find a location near you. Other options for recycled cartridges include store brands from Staples, the Elite Image brand, and the stores listed above as resources for new compatible cartridges. I have personally used all three of these recycled cartridge options and have been pleased with each.

Purchase Refill Kits

It is also possible to refill printer cartridges yourself, though it's important to consider what is really involved with this money-saving approach. The Simple Dollar blog investigated refill kits and found that while they did result in a financial savings of $7.50 per cartridge for the specific printer tested, the savings was not worse the mess, risk of stains and reduction in print quality.

PC World conducted a test of refill kits and "found that the bigger the hassle involved, the better the savings--but output quality varies". Swanson explains, "Refill kits seem like a great deal because of the massive savings the kit manufacturers tout. What they don't tell you is that the kits are difficult to use, messy, and don't work correctly on the majority of cartridges produced today. Even if you do manage to refill a cartridge, the time spent messing with the kit, combined with the inferior print quality and quantity, will not be up to par with a company remanufactured product."

If you want to try this do-it-yourself-approach, PC World describes InkTec kits as "a good buy".

Make the Most of In-Store Refills

If you like the idea of refilling ink cartridges but you'd rather not deal with the mess, there a few in-store programs you may find to be helpful. For example, Fry's refills cartridges in the store for most major printer brands. Refill start as low as $6.99 and the store's claims that the service can result in up to a 65% savings on ink. The company has stores in ten states; visit the store locator page to discover if there is a location near you. Office Max also has refilling stations in many of its stores.

Use a Cartridge Return Program

Even if you don't want to refill your cartridges, you can leverage the ones that you use to defray the cost of replacement ink in an environmentally responsible way. Many stores offer opportunities for customers to earn rewards points or cash for trading in empty ink containers that can be recycled, currency that can be used to off-set the purchase of new ink. Examples of these recycling programs include:

  • Office Max - Sign up for the OfficeMax Ink & Toner Recycling Program and begin earning your choice of rewards or cash, with payouts occurring after your balance reaches $50.
  • Office Depot - Receive 200 Office Depot Rewards points for each recyclable cartridge that you turn in, up to a maximum of ten per month. You'll get a $10 reward certificate to spend at the store for each 1,000 points earned.
  • Staples - When you recycle your cartridges with Staples, you'll receive $2 in Staples Rewards per item, with a monthly limit of ten. Rewards can be used to purchase any items you need from the store.
  • Quill - You can earn $2 in Quill Cash for up to ten recyclable cartridges per month, with the value applicable to purchases from the online retailer.

Ten Additional Ink Savings Tips

While finding good deals on replacement ink is critical for getting the most out of your printing budget, it is not the only way you can save money. There are a number of additional tips that can help you cut back on printer ink expenditures.

  • Printer selection: Swanson recommends "buying efficient printer models" as a way of controlling ink expenditures. Popular Mechanics suggests dividing the expected yield for a particular printer and in cartridge by the price of replacement ink to identify the most efficient hardware.
  • Software solutions: Swanson also suggests using "free software programs such as PrintEco to reduce the number of pages printed," reducing ink and paper usage.
  • Font size: Instead of using larger fonts, WiseBread.com suggests using 10 point type for most documents, something that can save both ink and paper.
  • Font selection: When choosing a font, consider how much ink it uses, opting for those with thin lines rather than heavy ones. Oprah.com points out that Century Gothic uses about 30 percent less ink than Arial.
  • Use Ecofont: You can take your font selection a bit further by adding Ecofont to your computer. According to the DigitalCrave blog on Yahoo! Shopping, Ecofont is a collection of perforated fonts with "little punch holes in the letters, numbers and symbols" to reduce ink consumption. A lifetime single user-license costs around $25 and a savings calculator is provided on the company's website.
  • Quality settings: MakeUseOf.com recommends adjusting your default printer quality setting to low so that you use the least amount of ink possible for day-to-day printing. Manually adjust for high quality printing when needed.
  • Print specific sections: A CBS News.com article points out that limiting printing to specific sections of documents or web pages that you need to print can reduce ink usage.
  • Regular printing: According to the Small Business blogn on Chron.com, ink cartridges that sit for too long can dry out and become unusable. To keep this from happening, those who print only rarely should make it a point to "print something at least once a week."
  • Shake the cartridge: When you notice the print quality start to diminish, don't immediately run out and buy a new one. Instead, do as The OfficeZilla Blog suggests and give it a little shake. Removing the ink cartridge and shaking it well before replacing it can re-distribute the ink, extending its useful life a bit longer.
  • Rely on mobile devices: HowToGeek.com points out that it's wasteful for smartphone users to print maps and directions. If you have a phone with a GPS, it can find directions for you. Or, if you prefer to use MapQuest, simply text the directions to your phone rather than printing.

Make the Most of Your Ink Dollars

No matter which of these options you choose, it's easy to see that there are plenty of ways you can get more for your money when it comes to replacement ink. Try a few tips at a time to see what options are best for you.

Ways to Save Money on Printer Ink