If you’re shopping for a new printer, ink cost is just one of many factors to consider when making your choice. In fact, we don't factor such costs into the overall score in our printer Ratings, which we use to rank models, because printer usage varies widely. Instead, we rank models on such key factors as print quality, speed, and convenience.
As you may see from the Ratings, we've found little correlation between ink costs and quality, nor between quality and the amount of ink used for maintenance.
Consider ink costs
If you don't print a lot of pages, focus on the top performers and consider ink cost only as a tie-breaker among closely ranked models. If you print a lot, check the Ratings to estimate your monthly ink cost.
That figure will depend not only on the ink the printer uses for maintenance but what it actually puts on the page—and, of course, what the manufacturer charges for ink in the first place. Ink costs per ounce vary dramatically: from the $75-per-ounce figure down to about $13 per ounce.
And as with ink usage for maintenance, there's as much variation within brand, according to the cartridge used, as from one manufacturer to another. (For example, HP's 60XL cartridge, used in such models as the Envy 120, contains ½ ounce of black ink and costs $32, which works out to $64 per ounce. But its 950XL cartridge, used in such models as the Officejet Pro 251dw, contains 2.5 ounces and costs $37, which works out to less than half as much per ounce.)
The Ratings show how much it would cost in ink to continuously print a 40-page mix of black text, color graphics, and photos, a typical monthly usage. (We present that figure because we have it for all printers, new and old, while we have the intermittent-printing costs only for newer models.)
If you know you print more or less than that amount, adjust the calculations accordingly. And the more intermittently you print—with pages printed here and there through the month—the more you'll want to choose a newer model that has undergone our ink-maintenance tests. Note the scores for that attribute on newer models. We'll include that score for other new inkjet models as we test them.
You'll save by choosing a model that’s relatively frugal in the ink costs shown for continuous use and in how much ink it spends on maintenance. Fortunately, some models fill that bill and perform at least decently, including the Brother DCP-J140W, $80, along with two Epsons: the XP-800, $180, and XP-600, $100.
Adjust your habits to conserve ink
No matter which printer you own or buy, you can't directly control how often a printer maintenance cycle occurs. We've found that such cycles occur automatically based on a frequency the printer manufacturer sets. But you can reduce the number of such cycles, and ink consumption, in several ways.
First, you can leave the power on. Leaving the printer on all the time avoids triggering a maintenance cycle each time you use the printer. When we did that with some of the most ink-hogging models, it did noticeably reduce ink consumption. Canon told us that "if the printer is switched off then it may do a longer clean."
Worried about the cost and environmental impact of the extra energy consumed? Inkjets left on consume very little power when not in use, so your ink savings should considerably outweigh the energy cost.
For less-critical work, print in Draft mode, which will reduce the amount of ink used in printing (though not the ink used in maintenance). And don't print lots of large photographs, especially in high-quality mode, since they use the most ink.
Also, don't change cartridges unless you must. Whenever you exchange an ink cartridge that still has plenty of ink left for, say, a less-costly off-brand one for less critical work, you trigger an ink-consuming initialization cycle.
Consider buying a laser printer as a second printer for black-and-white, since laser printers don't use maintenance ink, and they print excellent text.