A man loading a new ink cartridge into a printer for article on printer reliability.

About a year ago, Arlin Huseman, a retired mechanic from Vancouver, Wash., bought an Epson XP-830 all-in-one inkjet printer to use at home. The print quality was fine, he says, “but after 40 or 50 pages, it ran out of ink.” That was far short of the 400 to 500 pages he expected after going to the Epson website.

“The refills cost pretty close to $30, plus tax,” Huseman says. “For 40 or 50 pages, that seems awful expensive to me.”

Huseman’s printer was one of 113,959 we heard about from Consumer Reports members who responded to a recent survey. And he wasn’t alone in expressing frustration with printers from Epson, HP, and other major brands. 

Data from the new survey are leading Consumer Reports to remove our “recommended” designation from 14 printers already in our ratings. These include Epson regular and all-in-one inkjets (which, in addition to printing documents and photos, can perform tasks such as scanning and making photocopies), HP’s regular inkjets, and Samsung’s regular and all-in-one color laser printers.

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“There’s an opportunity for manufacturers to step up here,” says Maria Rerecich, Consumer Reports' senior director for product testing. “Some of the printers that are losing recommendations score highly in our performance testing. If manufacturers can improve the reliability of these products, their models should do quite well in our ratings.”

This is the first time that brand reliability and owner satisfaction are being factored into CR’s Overall Scores for printers, along with data collected during our extensive lab testing, which covers print quality, speed, ink usage, ease of use, and more.

The change is helping to elevate some printers in our ratings while moving others downward. No brand that earns a Poor or Fair score for predicted reliability is eligible for a CR recommendation.

When Consumer Reports reached out to Epson, the company affirmed the reliability of its printers.

“Epson does not believe that Consumer Reports’ findings accurately capture the performance and reliability of Epson printers and genuine ink,” said a spokesperson, Merritt Woodward. “In fact, we believe that our sales growth reflects user satisfaction. Epson has always been committed to responding to and meeting the needs of consumers.”

Consumer Reports is currently recommending 19 all-in-one inkjet printers. In our survey, this type of printer accounted for 80 percent of the models members purchased in 2017 and 2018. No regular inkjets in our ratings earn a CR recommendation, but that style of printer is much less popular. These single-function printers account for only 2 percent of the models bought by survey respondents during the same time period.

In addition to printers, Consumer Reports uses member surveys to calculate predicted brand reliability and owner satisfaction across many other categories of products, including carsmajor appliances, and electronics.

A subpar reliability score doesn’t indicate that you’ll have a problem with a brand’s products or that a model delivers bad performance. However, the score is a useful factor to consider in making your next purchase, to boost your odds of having a hassle-free experience.

Currently, there are more than 200 printers in our ratings. As with everything Consumer Reports tests, these models were bought at retail.

Ink Costs High on List of Complaints

Respondents to CR’s printer survey were asked about the two newest printers in their homes, as long as the printers were bought new between 2011 and 2018. To derive our reliability scores, CR uses a statistical model that estimates how likely a particular brand and type of printer is to experience problems by the end of the fourth year of ownership. That’s about halfway through the life span that consumers say they expect from their printers.

Consumers reported a number of problems. The most common complaint was the high cost and hassle of replacing ink cartridges—and that affected every inkjet brand in our survey. Twenty-eight percent of all inkjet printers need ink replacements too often, according to respondents. The figures ranged from a low of 21 percent for Brother all-in-one inkjets all the way up to 42 percent for Kodak all-in-one inkjets, with HP regular inkjet printers and Epson all-in-ones falling near the middle of the range, at 31 percent.

Some CR members also said their printers dropped their network connections or produced poor print quality. And a small percentage reported that their printer suddenly stopped working with third-party ink or toner.

Additionally, paper jams or misfeeds affected around 10 percent of all printers.

Zack Rubin, an engineer who lives in Ann Arbor, Mich., says he experienced this problem with his HP regular inkjet printer right out of the box.

“Half the time the paper wouldn't feed correctly,” he says, and sometimes paper would get jammed. Online, he discovered that the problem was an issue for lots of owners. Rubin got a “paper feed cleaning kit” from the manufacturer that was very helpful, but he says the problem still crops up.

"I bought it because it was an HP printer, which I thought was a good brand," Rubin says, "but this printer was clearly not well designed."

HP, which recently purchased Samsung‘s printer business, declined to comment on CR survey results regarding either brand.

What Consumers Can Do

No inkjet printer brand earns high ratings for reliability from consumers, but some are more trustworthy than others. And many regular and all-in-one laser printers fare well for reliability, with some earning Excellent scores.

Black-and-white laser models from Brother, Canon, and HP earn top marks for reliability, as do regular color lasers from Canon and HP.

And, in the long run, some laser printers can save you money. That may seem counterintuitive, because laser printers tend to be more expensive than inkjets, and toner can be pricey. But toner cartridges last much longer than ink cartridges.

Consumer Reports estimates the cost of ownership over two years for every printer in our ratings, combining the up-front price with what you might pay for ink or toner. When you consider the total cost associated with each model, laser printers may match or even beat many inkjets.

“If you can afford to spend more up front, a laser printer is the best choice for many people,” says Rich Sulin, who leads the printer testing program at Consumer Reports. “That’s especially true when you factor in the reliability problems we’ve uncovered with inkjets.”

Laser printers still don’t match the best inkjets for photo quality, however. For consumers focused on printing photos, Sulin suggests an all-in-one inkjet printer that scores well in our ratings.