Cheapest Printers for Ink Costs

Over time, you spend more on cartridges than on the machine itself. These ink-thrifty printers will save you money in the long run.

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Consumer Reports' surveys show that many people are frustrated by how frequently their printer-ink cartridges run out and how expensive they are to replace.

You can take steps to use less ink regardless of what printer you own. But when it's time for a new machine, it makes sense to buy an efficient model, one that sips ink instead of guzzling it.

Doing that means looking beyond the printer's sticker price.

Consumer Reports combines the upfront price of a printer with the cost of supplying it with ink or toner to calculate the overall cost of ownership for two to five years. To arrive at those numbers, we use the price of replacement cartridges, ink, or toner; data on how much consumers print from our member surveys; and measurements of ink consumption from our labs.

The total financial outlay can balloon quickly.

Take the HP Deskjet Plus 4158. It may seem like a bargain in the store with a price of about $80. But CR's estimated total cost of ownership for the printer when you add the price of ink is an eye-popping $695 after two years and $1,609 after five years. The $300 Canon Pixma G4210 hits your wallet hard on day one, but it has an ink reservoir instead of cartridges, and may run only $6 per year in ink costs, making the two-year cost of ownership only $312 and five-year cost $330.

Like most of the printers people buy for home use, both of those are inkjet models. Consumer Reports also tests laser printers, which use toner instead of ink and print through a different process. These printers tend to have higher prices, but in the long run you'll probably spend less money on toner than you would on ink. And laser printers tend to outperform inkjets on predicted brand reliability and owner satisfaction, ratings that are based on annual surveys of Consumer Reports members.

For more information on the replacement ink costs of specific models, along with other test and survey results, members can consult our printer ratings, which feature more than 200 models.

Below, CR members can read about several cost-efficient printers that score well in our ratings. Every one has features such as a scanner, touch-screen navigation, WiFi connectivity, and auto-duplexing (which permits you to print on both sides of paper).

Estimated cost of ownership and ink replacement:

Year 2—$236, Year 3—$314, Year 4—$393, Year 5—$471

For many people, this all-in-one inkjet is a good option. It's very good and very fast at printing text, but slightly less strong when it comes to photos and graphics.

We estimate that in typical use, the MFC-J497DW will consume about $78 worth of ink each year. Given the low upfront cost, that makes it a solid cost-effective purchase.

And it's stocked with other convenient features, such as auto-duplexing, an automatic document feeder, and WiFi networking. It will not print if a color ink cartridge is empty, though, even if you just need a black-and-white document.

Estimated cost of ownership and ink replacement:

Year 2—$333, Year 3—$434, Year 4—$536, Year 5—$637

This all-in-one inkjet printer is relatively cheap to buy and fairly cheap to run.

We estimate that in typical use, the MFC-J895DW will consume about $101 worth of ink each year. That's not a fantastic number—it's typical for an inkjet—but combined with the low upfront price and above-average performance, it helps make this printer a great bet for many people.

The model gets a Very Good rating for text and graphics, and it earns an Excellent rating for text printing speed. Its photo quality gets only a Good score, however.

The J895DW has a memory card reader, PictBridge software, an automatic document feeder, and auto-duplexing (meaning it will print on both sides of a page).

The model will not print if a color ink cartridge is empty, even if you only need to produce a black-and-white document.

Estimated cost of ownership and ink replacement:

Year 2—$312, Year 3—$318, Year 4—$324, Year 5—$330

Don’t let the high price scare you off: If you hang on to this model for a few years, it becomes one of the cheapest printers in our ratings—especially if it’s destined for heavy use, churning out recipes, book reports, tickets, schedules, graphics-heavy school projects, and the like.

As with other reservoir- or tank-style printers on the market, the Pixma G4210 does away with pricey replacement cartridges in favor of tanks that can be replenished from low-cost bottles of ink. Our estimates show the typical yearly cost to keep this printer running is just $6, a fraction of the figure for conventional inkjets.

"The G4210 is the first reservoir-based printer that really shines as a printer, not just as a money saver," says Rich Sulin, who leads CR’s printer testing program.

Unlike earlier tank-based models, the G4210 gets a Very Good rating for text, graphics, and photo quality. If you're willing to sacrifice on print quality, you may also consider the Canon MegaTank Pixma G3202, a Walmart-only model that retails for $180. We haven't tested it, but it's very similar to the $200 G3200, which provided Good text and photos and Very Good graphics in our labs. The 3200 is a solid option, too, but it's hard to find these days.

Estimated cost of ownership and toner replacement:

Year 2—$274, Year 3—$314, Year 4—$353, Year 5—$393

Not everyone needs to print in color, and those who don't may want to consider a black-and-white laser printer. This all-in-one model from Canon is a bit pricey and it's on the larger side, but its efficiency may push you to overlook those shortcomings. We estimate a typical user will spend only about $40 a year on toner.

The Canon imageCLASS MF267dw offers outstanding overall performance. It gets an Excellent rating for the quality of its text printouts, which it delivers at a blazing 27 pages per minute. It also gets Very Good scores for scanning and copying, and a Good score for graphics quality, which sets it apart from most black-and-white laser printers.

Image of Octavio Blanco, editor at CR with Money CIA

Octavio Blanco

My mission: To write stories that broaden readers' horizons and offer new solutions they can apply to their lives. Who I write for: My family, my friends, my neighbors, myself, and—most important—you. My passions: Music, art, coffee, cheese, good TV, and riding my electric bike (for now). Find me on Twitter: @octavionyc