Among the great nuisances of modern life, few things irritate consumers more than the high price of printer ink. If you want to see black clouds roll in, just tell someone it’s time to drive to the store, open the wallet, and purchase a new round of color cartridges.

In a 2015 Consumer Reports survey, almost half of printer owners said they were paying too much for printer cartridges. And among the 36,000 subscribers surveyed, more than a quarter said they found themselves buying new cartridges too often.

More on Printers

So it’s no surprise that products and services have sprung up in recent years to help people address those concerns. In July, for example, Brother unveiled a new line of INKvestment Tank inkjet printers. Much like the reservoir models manufactured by Epson and Canon, they forgo traditional ink cartridges in favor of large tanks that can be refilled with ink sold in bottles or boxes.

With this approach, Brother promises printing “for less than $0.01 per page in black and less than $0.05 per page in color.” (We’ll put those claims to the test when we get the models into our labs.)

In the meantime, here’s some more info on reservoir printers and things you can do—from changing fonts to using third-party cartridges—to save money on ink.

Invest in a Reservoir Printer

Canon and Epson say the bottles of ink included with their reservoir printers will last about two years. Once the bottles are empty, you can buy replacements for $13 apiece—or $52 for a set of all four colors: cyan, yellow, magenta, and black.

That’s beneficial in the long run, but these printers tend to cost more up front, with the least expensive models going for around $200. That’s a hard sell when some inkjets cost as little as $60. But Rich Sulin, who leads CR’s printer testing program, says it’s important to consider the follow-up costs when comparing models.

For example, the CR-recommended Canon Pixma G4210 sells for $300 and, thanks to those $13 bottles of ink, becomes less expensive to own than some other printers in our ratings after about one year of use. And after two-and-a-half years, it’s one of the cheapest models in our ratings.

While Brother’s new reservoir printers start at $200, they may cost more than the Pixma G4210 in the long run. Brother’s proprietary ink-in-a-box replacement system will add an extra $110 per year ($35 for black ink and $25 each for cyan, magenta, and yellow), according to the manufacturer’s estimates. That puts the printer on a par with typical inkjets, Sulin says, but it’s four times the replacement ink estimates for the Canon and Epson reservoir printers when you factor in the two-year life span of the bottles. 

“Consumers shouldn’t compare the manufacturers’ claims directly,” Sulin says. “Each company estimates yield differently, depending on underlying assumptions about the typical consumer’s printing habits. That’s why we’ll have to test the new Brother printers to see just how they stack up against the competition.”

One other thing to keep in mind, Sulin says: Unlike those $13 bottles of ink, Brother’s proprietary “box” may restrict you from trying third-party ink options.

Keep Your Printer Turned On

By leaving an inkjet printer on, you avoid triggering a maintenance cycle each time you use it. According to our test results, that can trim up to $100 per year from your ink costs because more than half the printers we evaluated used as much ink to clean the print heads as they did for actual printing.

When we kept the printer on, we saw a noticeable reduction in ink consumption even on some of the most ink-hogging models.

Worried about the cost and environmental impact from the extra energy? Inkjets consume very little power when not in use, so your ink savings should considerably outweigh those concerns.

Subscribe to an Ink Delivery Service

If you own a compatible HP printer, you can sign up for HP Instant Ink, a subscription service that automatically provides ink refills when you need them.

The monthly fee is based on the number of pages you print, not how much ink you use. So whether you print one word or cover the sheet with dense illustrations, the cost is the same.

The printer monitors your monthly page count and contacts HP to order ink refills when you run low. So, yes, it does mean the printer is keeping tabs on you. 

Instant Ink offers a 15-page-per-month plan free of charge, but depending on your habits, you may need to upgrade to the paid tiers. The plans start at $3 per month for printing 50 pages and go up to $10 for 300 pages. If you go over the limit, you’re charged $1 more for each additional 15 pages. The company provides prepaid envelopes to return used ink cartridges for recycling.

According to HP, consumers could save 50 percent on ink costs by using the plan. Sulin says it’s a good deal if you print roughly the same number of pages each month. “I’d caution that people may overestimate how much they actually print and ‘oversubscribe’ for fear of that overage charge,” he says.

One nice benefit: The plan absolves you of paying for the ink used on printer head maintenance, which can drain a cartridge faster than you’d think.  

Some HP printers come with a three-month trial offer. You can sign up online with HP or through retailers such as Best Buy and Staples.

Canon, Epson, Best Buy, and Amazon Dash offer subscription services, as well. Like HP, they employ printers that monitor ink usage and communicate with the supplier via a WiFi connection. Not all the plans are based on printed pages, though. Some simply order replacement cartridges when your ink supplies run low.

That may save you a trip to the store, but it’s less flexible than the Instant Ink service and won’t solve the problem of ink wasted on maintenance.

Shop for Third-Party Ink

For some people, aftermarket inks provide a welcome alternative to the high-priced replacement cartridges made by printer manufacturers. Typically sold by third parties in cartridges that have been recycled and refilled, they offer significant savings.

Instead of paying $36 for an HP 28 tricolor cartridge on HP’s website, for example, you can purchase a compatible aftermarket cartridge from a company called Cartridge World for $22.

Third-party inks have their downsides, though. They don’t always work well, according to Consumer Reports’ testers. At times they may even clog the printer heads, leaving visible streaks or bands in your printouts. 

Consumer Reports doesn’t rate third-party inks because the marketplace is so fractured—with a rapidly changing lineup of products and providers—that it makes comparisons difficult.

If you decide to shop for an aftermarket ink cartridge, make sure it comes with a good satisfaction guarantee, Sulin says. Then try it out quickly, so you have time to return it if you have a problem.

Print Smarter

If you’re like me, you rarely use your printer for anything other than Amazon return labels. As long as the device spits out a legible page, you’re happy. When the end result doesn’t have to be high-quality, use the draft mode in your printer settings. 

You may have to search a bit in the printer preferences tab or the print dialog box to find it, but it’s worth it. This mode not only uses less ink but also allows you to print faster.

Depending on the printer type, model, and manufacturer, it could be called Toner Save, EconoMode, or Draft Quality.

On a laser printer, I found the Toner Save option under the Printer Features pulldown menu in the Print dialog box. On an inkjet, I found it under the Print Quality dropdown menu, changing it from Best, the default setting, to Draft.

Be sure to strip needless ads and logos from a document before printing it, too.

Many websites let you select printer-friendly versions of stories, which automatically remove color ads and images, leaving you with nothing but text. If the site you’re reading doesn’t offer that option, a service such as Instapaper or Print Friendly can help you reformat the story yourself. 

And, finally, consider using a different font. When Consumer Reports tested that idea several years ago, we got 27 percent more mileage from ink when using Times New Roman rather than Arial, a default font in many browsers. Calibri and Century Gothic both outperformed Arial, as well.  

Of course, you can also skip the printing process altogether and save the article for future reading on a laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to remove a reference to printer warranties being voided if a third-party ink is used. Only damage caused by the third-party ink may not be covered.