Printer ink continues to rank as one of the most expensive liquids around with a litre of the home office essential costing the same as a very high-end bottle of bubbly or an oak-aged Cognac.
Consumer advocate Which? has found that ink bought from printer manufactures can be up to 286 per cent more expensive than third-party alternatives.
Dipping its nib in one inkwell before delicately wiping off the excess on some blotting paper, Which? found that a multipack of colour ink (cyan, magenta, yellow) for the WorkForce WF-7210DTW printer costs £75.49 from Epson.
"This works out at an astonishing £2,410 a litre – or £1,369 for a pint," said Which?.
The consumer outfit also reported that since the Epson printer also requires a separate Epson black cartridge for £31.99, it takes the combined cost of replacement inks for the Workforce printer to a wallet-busting £107.98.
On the other hand, if people ditched the brand and opted for a full set of black and colour inks from a reputable third-party supplier, it would cost just £10.99 – less than a tenth of the price.
Printing has become essential for plenty of workers holed up at home during the pandemic. The survey by Which? of 10,000 consumers found 54 per cent use their printer at least once a week. Which? said it estimates an inkjet cartridge would need to be replaced three times a year.
The report discovered tactics used by the big vendors to promote the use of "approved", "original", and "guaranteed" ink supplies.
It found Epson devices, for example, flagging up a "non-genuine ink detected" message on its LCD screen when using a non-Epson cartridge, and HP printers are actively blocking customers from using non-HP supplies.
Adam French, a consumer rights champion at Which?, reckons this situation is simply unacceptable.
"Printer ink shouldn't cost more than a bottle of high-end Champagne or Chanel No. 5," said French. "We've found that there are lots of third-party products that are outperforming their branded counterparts at a fraction of the cost."
In a rallying call to consumers he said that third-party ink should be a personal choice and not "dictated by the make of your printer."
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"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," he said.
Which is exactly what the Consumers Association said almost 20 years ago when it reported that printer ink cost around £1,700 a litre. Then – as now – the Consumer Association advised consumers to steer clear of brand-name printer cartridges and pick cheaper alternatives instead.
The survey by Which? found that 16 third party brands beat the big brands in terms of ink prices.
Epson wasn't the only printer biz to be singled out for sky-high ink prices. Canon, and HP were fingered too.
For its part, Epson said customers "should be offered choice… to meet their printing needs" and listed a number of options including its EcoTank systems and a monthly Ink Subscription service.
And in a nod to anyone looking to save money by using a third party, Epson said: "Finally, as non-genuine inks are not designed or tested by Epson we cannot guarantee that these inks will not damage the printer. Whilst Epson does not prevent the use of non-Epson inks, we believe that it is reasonable, indeed responsible, that a warning is displayed as any damage caused by the use of the inks may invalidate the warranty."
As part of its investigation, Which? found that some HP printers use a system called "dynamic security" which recognises cartridges that use non-HP chips and stops them from working.
HP has tried to battle against third party ink makers trying to capture supplies sales by overhauling the model of its printer business: by shifting to ink tanks printers that come pre-loaded with supplies for an estimated timeframe; or by selling the printer hardware for more upfront and allowing biz customers or consumers to buy the supplies they want.
In response to Which?, HP said it "offers quality, sustainable and secure print supplies with a range of options for customers to choose from, including HP Instant Ink – a convenient printing subscription service with over 9 million users that can save UK customers up to 70 per cent on ink costs, with ink plans starting at £0.99 per month."
Over at Canon, a spokesperson said third-party ink products can work with its printers, but the "technology inside is designed to function correctly with our genuine inks which are formulated specifically to work with Canon technology."
"Customers are encouraged to use genuine inks to ensure the longevity of their printer, and also to ensure that their final prints are of a standard we deem Canon quality. In addition, the use of third party inks invalidates the warranty of the printer."
With almost four in ten (39 per cent) people saying that they do not use third-party cartridges because of fears that they might not work with their printer, it might go some way to explain why more than half (56 per cent) of the consumers quizzed said they persist with using potentially pricey original-branded cartridges despite cheaper alternatives being available. ®