Should You Use Compatible Ink Cartridges or Genuine Ink?
Prices of branded ink have increased even further in recent years (see Appendix at bottom of page) so we examine the benefits of genuine vs compatible ink cartridges to see which is best for you.
Why Use Genuine Ink Cartridges?
- Specially formulated to consistently produce photo quality prints. [Note the emphasis on photo quality – the quality of standard text and graphics is likely to be too similar to notice any difference]
Independent tests usually find that genuine inks may produce better quality photos (on photo paper) although it can be hard for the average user to notice. It also depends which compatibles are tested – some are very good and some are quite poor.
- Guarantee the reliability of your printer and prolong its life. Poor quality compatible ink may clog print heads, leak or cause other damage to the print mechanism.
In my experience this is more likely with cartridges that are refilled (rather than replaced) and with the cheapest compatibles e.g. Fleabay specials that are priced too good to be true and have no user reviews.
- Finally, the scare tactic – if damage is caused to the print head or other parts of the machine as a result of using other brands of ink, then any repairs required may not be covered under warranty.
Inkjet warranties are typically for 12 months so this threat is only really relevant in the first year – outside the warranty period, any repairs by the manufacturer will almost certainly cost more than buying a new printer anyway. Cheap inkjet printers can be considered as disposable products if they break.
Why Use Compatible Ink Cartridges?
The benefit of compatibles is simply price. I reviewed how to save ink when printing webpages and many printers have a ‘draft quality’ option but, even so, genuine ink is still incredibly expensive.
Let’s consider an example comparison – for a UK Epson XP-352 All In One printer I recently bought for £42 (see my review).
A genuine Epson ‘29XL’ multipack is £52 for 30.5ml total capacity.
A well reviewed compatible multipack with 33ml total capacity (8% more than Epson’s XL) at Amazon is just £7 – a saving of £45, which is more than the cost of the printer…
Typically I use 3 XL multipacks per year so, for me, the comparison is:
Annual Ink Cost:
Compatibles: £21 – a saving of £135 per year (£11.25 per month).
So my ‘break-even’ point using compatibles is just 4 months – if the printer became unreliable after that, I could buy a new one and still be better off because I had saved £45 already – that makes a nonsense of the claimed lifespan and warranty benefits of using genuine ink…
Of course it would be very bad for the environment to buy a new printer every 4 months! But, in reality, printers running compatible ink typically last for years – my last 2 office inkjets (Canon and Epson) ran solely on good quality (well reviewed) compatible inks for over 6 years each before they developed any faults.
6 years is already a long life for a cheap inkjet printer – it’s quite likely they would have failed then anyway, even if I had used genuine ink all the time…
Regardless, I saved £800 ($1100) during the lifetime of each printer – money in my pocket, not the manufacturer’s.
Is It Worth The Supposed Risks?
From my experience owning a computer repair business, if money is no object and you want to be 100% sure of photo quality (and warranty cover), it may make sense to use only genuine ink cartridges. However, for most of us, they cost so much more (7x more for my printer) that it is well worth considering using compatible ink:
- Do you use at least 1 set of cartridges per year? If not, the saving may not be worth it, in the first year at least.
- Do you regularly print a lot of high quality photos, on photo paper? If yes, you will likely get the absolute best results using genuine ink, but the costs will be very high as photos use up ink at an astonishing rate.
Consider testing with a side by side comparison to see if compatible ink quality is acceptable – or just use an online service to print your photos, it will be much cheaper for large volumes…
- Do you mostly just print standard text and graphics, on standard paper? If so, you’ll likely see no real loss of quality if you switch to using cheap compatible ink cartridges.
- Are you prepared to occasionally run the print head/nozzle cleaning function of your printer (if required) and perhaps return/throw away a compatible cartridge if it doesn’t work?
If not, choose genuine ink – even well reviewed compatibles are more likely to have a faulty cartridge than genuine ones (but they cost so little it doesn’t really matter if the odd one fails…)
Can you use compatible ink cartridges? The choice is yours but personally I haven’t had any problems using them and have saved hundreds over the years without any significant loss of quality.
However it’s fair to say there’s more chance of being unlucky with compatibles – the odd one may not work and there are certainly a few cases where a bad set has ruined a printer although, as noted above, it’s likely that they’d have saved the user far more than the cost of the printer already.
So it is worth looking for good reviews (and lots of them) at Amazon etc rather than just buying solely on the lowest price, from unknown sources.
I first wrote this article back in 2012 after buying a UK Epson Stylus SX235W All In One printer for £40 – £2 less than the price of my new (slightly improved) Epson XP-352 in 2019. So the cost of the printer hasn’t really changed in 7 years, despite inflation – it’s even more of a loss leader now. But what about the ink?
In 2012 the relevant double capacity Epson multipack was £35 for 32ml total capacity. In 2019 it’s now £52 for 30.5ml – 49% increase in price for 5% less ink…
People used to say that genuine printer ink costs more than liquid gold but of course we know that’s not really true – if it was then a single copy of Vogue would cost hundreds!
What is true is that manufacturers choose to almost give away their printers but then sell their ink to us at astronomically over-inflated prices – because they make more profit that way.