Printer ink is so expensive that it sometimes costs more per ounce than fine Champagne or imported caviar. For students, small business owners, and anyone else who needs to frequently print documents and stick to a budget, the price of ink or toner can be a real burden. Fortunately, consumers looking for savings have several places to turn.
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The type of printer you use can significantly affect the cost of ink. For example, some color printers use a multi-color cartridge that needs to be replaced once one color runs out. Buying a printer that uses separate color cartridges could be one way to save money. Consumers who primarily print black-and-white documents may realize a lower cost per page with a laser printer, although inkjets are catching up.
One of the simplest ways to save money is to avoid the brand-name cartridges, also known as OEM cartridges because they're produced by the original equipment manufacturer -- the same company that made the printer. Alternatively, e-commerce sites sell cheaper remanufactured cartridges, which are recycled brand-name cartridges, and compatible cartridges, which are made by third parties. Consumers can also find ink-refilling kits and reuse the cartridges they already have. While buying off-brand cartridges or refill kits could lead to significant savings, it's not risk-free, as the quality could be lower than OEM products. In a controversial move, HP recently blocked some of its printers from accepting recycled and third-party cartridges -- although it later reversed its decision.
Buying the wrong printer ink online could be a costly mistake if returns aren't free, and it's a hassle at the very least. Shop with the printer model or an empty cartridge at hand to help avoid mistakes.
Ink cartridges can drastically vary in price, particularly from online retailers selling off-brand products. Comparing prices is important, but so is comparing sellers, by reading reviews from past customers on sites such as ResellerRatings. While most companies don't have a perfect record, reviews can warn shoppers about websites that sell low-quality ink, send cartridges that don't work or have already expired, and have poor customer service.
Along with products like flowers and contact lenses, printer ink sees frequent discounts and coupon codes. Before buying online, search for coupon codes from the manufacturer and several retailers where the ink is available. The site with the lowest list price might not be the cheapest source after discounts are taken into account.
Cash-back portals such as Ebates and Mr. Rebates are middlemen that collect commissions for referring shoppers to e-commerce sites. In turn, they offer members a portion of the purchase amount as cash back; the percentage varies based on the portal and the retailer. Ink websites often have great cash-back offers, sometimes over 20 percent, which shoppers may be able to stack on top of other discounts or sales.
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It may not seem like a font would make a big difference, but Times New Roman could use up to 27 percent less ink than Arial. Consider the impact in the long run -- every cartridge you'd have to replace if printing with Arial would still have about a quarter-tank left. Other fonts, such as Century Gothic, use even less ink. There's even a font designed to use as little ink as possible, EcoFont, but it costs $20 for a lifetime license and may be a worthwhile investment only for heavy users.
Unless the printed material is part of a formal assignment or presentation, consider choosing draft mode in the print dialog box that comes up on the screen. Printing in draft mode is often quicker and uses less ink than normal mode, but the quality drops as a result.
Some printers warn users that a cartridge is out of ink or toner before that's actually the case. Refilled or remanufactured cartridges may set off false low-ink errors. Check for brand-specific tips online, as the problem and solution can vary from one printer to the next. In some cases, shaking the cartridge may be enough to get the warning to disappear. Other times the cartridge's sensor can be blocked with a piece of tape.
Several stores offer rewards for used ink cartridges. Staples Rewards members who spend at least $30 on ink or toner can turn in up to 10 used cartridges a month (20 for Plus and Premier members) for the following 180 days. Members receive $2 in rewards for each recycled cartridge. Office Depot gives rewards members 200 points per recycled cartridge (up to 10 a month) if they spend at least $10 during the month. Members who accrue 1,000 points can redeem them for a $10 certificate. Best Buy offers $2 coupons for each recycled cartridge, which shoppers can use toward an ink or toner purchase of $40 or more.