Cheap Printer Ink Buying Guide

Replacing printer ink cartridges can cost a small fortune, but it doesn't have to if you buy remanufactured or compatible cartridges. We consulted hundreds of expert and consumer reviews to find the best sources for cheap printer ink, including online sellers like 4inkjets and mainstream retailers like Office Depot.

What We Considered

There are no serious reviews of cheap printer ink online that evaluate its quality compared with name-brand ink. Top Ten Reviews is the only reputable site that "tests" online replacement ink services, and its recommendations are based largely on price, inventory, and customer service. Consumer Reports and PC World both have excellent buyers guides but focus mostly on ways to save ink. To assess how consumers feel about replacement printer ink ordered online, we consulted reviews on sites like Reseller Ratings and Bizrate Surveys, two e-commerce marketing and analytics firms. To get a sense of product quality, we also examined customer reviews of ink for a selection of popular inkjet printers on the retailers' websites.

We Looked At

In general, most consumers seem relatively satisfied with the quality of the replacement printer ink they buy, but users make the same complaints no matter which retailer they choose. The most common gripes include colors that aren't consistent or saturated (especially yellow and magenta), inks that clog printer heads, and cartridges that either can't be read by the printer or trigger an "out of ink" warning when still full.

Selection was not an issue in general, although a few of the sample cartridges we searched for were not sold at Staples or Office Depot. Online-only vendors offered more multipacks, which tend to be cheaper than buying cartridges individually. They also offered more high-yield or "XL" cartridges, which typically print about twice as many pages as standard cartridges and generally are a good deal for heavy-duty printing needs. For occasional print jobs, though, users are better off with standard-size cartridges, because ink can dry out if the printer isn't used regularly.

Our Top Pick

4inkjets

4inkjets Review

Purchase printer ink from 4inkjets

Our Picks
4inkjets

4inkjets Review

Purchase printer ink from 4inkjets

No online printer ink vendor earns more positive reviews than 4inkjets. We found far fewer complaints about cartridges that malfunction or leak than for other retailers, although negative reviews do exist. We also found a handful of complaints about shipments that didn't show up, were incomplete, or took a long time to arrive. To their credit, customer service representatives have responded to most negative reviews we saw. Prices aren't always the cheapest, but 4inkjets is usually within a couple dollars of the lowest-priced competitor, and most consumers seem perfectly happy to pay a little more for ink they say they can rely on. Customer service is available seven days a week by phone or online chat. Note: Inkcartridges.com is owned by the same parent company, and both sites sell the same replacement ink cartridges. Prices are similar (slightly higher at Inkcartridges.com, although shipping is free), so we give the nod to 4inkjets for better customer service, based on reviews.

  • 2-year return/exchange guarantee.

  • Responsive customer service, reviewers say.

  • Large selection of ink, toner, paper, and 3D-printing supplies.

  • PayPal and Amazon Pay accepted.

  • Orders accepted from U.S. and Canadian addresses.

  • No overnight shipping; UPS 2-day is the fastest option.

  • Free shipping only for orders over $50.

123inkjets

123inkjets Review

Purchase printer ink from 123inkjets

123inkjetsgets generally positive reviews from consumers, but buyers are not as enthusiastic about this replacement ink vendor as they are about 4inkjets. Reviewers are more apt to complain about receiving defective cartridges, and we found more incidents of poor customer service, as well. Prices vary by printer and brand, but the fact that 123inkjets tends to be a few dollars more expensive than competitors doesn't seem to be an issue with reviewers. It also has the highest free-shipping threshold among the sites we researched. Still, most of its replacement ink cartridges get very high ratings from owners.

  • 2-year return/exchange policy on all products.

  • UPS overnight and 2-day shipping options available.

  • Ships to the United States and Canada.

  • PayPal and Amazon Pay accepted.

  • Very good selection of ink and toner, plus paper and 3D-printing supplies.

  • Scattered reports of unsatisfactory customer service.

  • Prices tend to be slightly higher than competitors'.

  • $55 minimum for free shipping.

Carrot Ink

Carrot Ink Review

Purchase printer ink from Carrot Ink

Like 4inkjets and 123inkjets, Carrot Ink has been around since the late 1990s, and in the past it has been a reviewer favorite. But recent online reviews of Carrot Ink are harder to find. The reviews it does get from consumers are largely positive, and prices are lower than other retailers' for the sample inks we compared. An added bonus: Carrot Ink pays for return shipping, something not all retailers do. The company offers customer support by email and by phone Monday through Friday.

  • Prices tend to be lower than competitors'.

  • UPS overnight and 2-day shipping options available.

  • 1-year "no questions" warranty on all products.

  • Free return shipping.

  • No ratings for individual ink cartridges.

  • No paper or 3-D printing supplies available.

  • $40 minimum for free shipping.

  • Ships only to U.S. addresses.

Other Products We Reviewed

lg 112113inkgrabber 250

Inkgrabber Review

Inkgrabber is a bit of a crapshoot, according to reviews. On the one hand, experts at review sites dedicated to printer ink praise the low prices and the good quality. On the other hand, we found a variety of user complaints embedded in Inkgrabber reviews. Consumers who posted at Epinions, for example, assert that the cartridges don't work with their printers and that the wrong cartridges arrived at their doorstep. Inkgrabber reviews at Reseller Ratings are more discouraging; they report mishaps such as ink leaking inside the printer during installation, jammed gears, and muddled color printout. Many Inkgrabber reviews also grieve about poor customer service, claiming company representatives are rude, refunds hard to collect, orders hard to cancel, and the like. And yet, some users report positive experiences with the company and the products.

Inkgrabber sells remanufactured, compatible, and OEM ink cartridges. The company offers a one-year warranty on, and will replace, products that arrive damaged, leaking, or defective; however, customers have only a 90-day window for refunds. Inkgrabber foregoes shipping charges for orders greater than $75, which is a bit higher than most other printer cartridge vendors; orders less than $75 are shipped for a flat $4.95 fee. Inkgrabber maintains customer service hours Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm PST; consumers can call toll free or initiate an online chat.

Based on the reviews we found, Inkgrabber offers OK ink at competitive prices. But the number of user complaints is a concern, and the return policy stricter than that followed by other printer cartridge retailers. Customer service hours also are more restrictive.

lg 112113clickinks 250

Clickinks Review

Based on the reviews we read, Clickinks impresses only some purchasers. Several users gripe at Reseller Ratings about a range of problems, from poor products (e.g., cartridges leak, don't fit, or clog the printer, and some arrive half full) to poor customer service (e.g., shipments don't show up, representatives don't respond). Others report the opposite, citing positive experiences with both the product and customer service. Reviews skew negative at Site Jabber, as well; one customer says he was told to reconfigure the printer after calling the company because none of the six cartridges he ordered were recognized by the printer and other Clickinks reviews advise consumers to generally steer clear. Cheap prices are certainly an attraction, but not sufficient to overcome the spate of disappointing comments.

Clickinks sells remanufactured and compatible cartridges in addition to OEM products. Its free shipping pledge on orders greater than $30 is more liberal than that of its competitors; smaller orders are charged the industry standard of $4.95. The company will issue refunds within 180 days provided that the cartridge has not been opened; open packages must be returned within 90 days and at least 70 percent full.

Despite the generous shipping terms and some users' assertions of product reliability, the product and service problems reported by many others suggest a wiser course would be to search elsewhere for replacement ink cartridges.

lg 112113inksmile 250

InkSmile Review

InkSmile puts a smile on some customer's faces, according to user reviews, but leaves a frown on others. The handful of InkSmile reviews at Reseller Ratings say nice things about customer service and product quality, and elsewhere a purchaser gloats about finding a cartridge for an ancient printer. But other InkSmile reviews complain about snafus such as cartridges that aren't recognized by the printer or fail to print certain colors, and express frustration with customer service over issues like returns and discount codes. Review sites devoted to printer ink commentary are more enthusiastic about this off-brand, asserting that the InkSmile site is easy to navigate and lauding the free shipping on all orders. We determined that InkSmile's website seems rudimentary compared with the sites of the category leaders.

Indeed, the biggest point in InkSmile's favor is free shipping regardless of the bottom-line total. This is a really good deal for users who only need to order a couple of discount cartridges. Inksmile sells remanufactured, compatible, and OEM ink cartridges, the first two products backed by its one-year guarantee. Damaged or defective cartridges that are returned must have at least 70 percent of the ink remaining to qualify for a refund, credit, or exchange. Customer service hours are limited to Monday through Friday, 8am to 5pm PST.

It's hard to ignore the company's free shipping policy, which turns out to be a big money saver for users placing small orders. But the combination of mixed appraisals and few recent reviews suggest InkSmile may be more of a gamble than many users would be willing to make.

lg 112113 123 refills 250

123 Refills Review

Most users have positive things to say in reviews about ink cartridges from 123 Refills. More than 300 users posted 123 Refills reviews at Bizrate, where the company earns an overall satisfaction score of 8.6 (out of 10). They generally praise the quality of the cartridges and speedy delivery along with the budget prices. A handful quibble about the website, saying it can seem overwhelming given the huge inventory and the field for coupon codes hard to find, and a few report cartridges were defective or leaked. A reviewer at one of the review sites that only discusses printer ink also comments on the wide selection of replacement cartridges and asserts that the 123 Refills website is easy to use.

123 Refills carries remanufactured, compatible, and name-brand printer ink cartridges as well as ink refill kits. Shipping is free on orders greater than $60, otherwise a flat rate of $4.95 applies. The company's customer service hours are Monday through Friday, 8am to 5pm PST. Full refunds are available within 30 days on unopened or defective merchandise and exchanges can be requested within six months; any cartridge that is returned must be at least three-quarters full. 123 Refills also accepts empty cartridges.

More customers than not seem pleased with the products and service of 123 Refills, but the company's refund and return policy seem pretty restrictive.

Office Depot

Office Depot sells store-brand ink for home delivery, free in-store pickup, or purchase at its bricks-and-mortar locations. A red banner on its website promises "FREE delivery on ALL ink and toner. No minimum purchase required." Yet we saw delivery charges of $5.95 and $9.95 for orders below the $35 site-wide threshold for free shipping, and a customer service representative couldn't explain why (she offered to place an order over the phone with free delivery). Still, Office Depot seems to have a slight advantage in terms of selection and shipping over its biggest rival, Staples, although both retailers are pricier than online sellers like Carrot Ink or 4inkjets. Unlike some printer-ink sites, Office Depot sells only remanufactured ink cartridges under its brand name, which tend to be more reliable than replacement cartridges. As with all third-party inks, we found scattered complaints about Office Depot ink cartridges that malfunctioned or leaked, but most buyers say they're satisfied with the quality.

  • Loyalty club members can receive rewards dollars for recycling cartridges in-store.

  • 20 percent discount for subscription delivery.

  • 24/7 customer service by phone or chat.

  • Price-match guarantee, online or in store, with Staples, Target, Walmart, and Best Buy.

  • Smaller selection of ink and toner than online-only retailers.

  • Pricier than dedicated printer ink sites.

  • Conflicting information on delivery fees.

Staples

Staples Review

Purchase printer ink from Staples

Overall, Stapleshad the smallest selection and highest prices among the printer ink retailers we looked at. But its Rewards program offers a more generous discount than Office Depot (5 percent vs. 2 percent) and its price-matching policy is much more comprehensive. Staples offers customer service online and by phone, but the phone support isn't available 24 hours a day. Most buyers say they're satisfied with the quality of the brand's ink — and like Office Depot, Staples relies on remanufactured cartridges, not third-party ink — but we found scattered complaints about cartridges that malfunctioned or leaked.

  • Rewards club members earn rewards dollars for recycling empty ink cartridges.

  • Price-match guarantee includes 10 percent discount and covers major retail/online competitors in addition to Amazon (direct only).

  • Free-shipping minimum of $50.

  • Smaller inventory and higher prices than online-only retailers.

Buying Guide

Choosing Cheap Printer Ink

Replacing the ink in your printer is easy to do, but few things are as expensive as ink cartridges from the original equipment manufacturer, whether it be Canon, HP, Epson, or another printer brand. So-called OEM printer ink can cost $20 to $30 for a single color or black cartridge. If you print a lot of photos or own a particularly thirsty printer, you'll need to replace the ink cartridges fairly often. To save money, some consumers opt for remanufactured or compatible printer ink from an established online retailer or office supply store. Remanufactured cartridges are OEM components that have been cleaned, refilled, and tested. Compatible printer ink cartridges, on the other hand, are manufactured and marketed by third-party brands and not endorsed by the printer manufacturer. Either way, the prices are lower than OEM printer ink, but there are tradeoffs, consumers say.

Pricey vs. Cheap Printer Ink Cartridges

Prices vary by brand and printer model, but generally speaking, you'll save about 25 percent to 40 percent on cheap replacement printer ink compared with the brand-name version. You can find cheap, no-name printer ink on eBay and Amazon for just a few dollars per cartridge. But reviewers say you often get what you pay for with this cheap ink and recommend going with an established retailer instead.

Online printer ink companies have been around since the late 1990s, but some consumers still worry that using third-party replacement ink will void their printer warranty. Federal law and a 2017 U.S. Supreme Court ruling bar manufacturers from forcing consumers to use OEM ink and other components, but they can still refuse to honor a warranty if they can prove a malfunction was directly caused by a non-OEM cartridge.

Printer Ink Refills

An alternative to buying replacement printer ink is to refill empty cartridges. You can find do-it-yourself kits online, but consumers who have tried them warn that they're very messy and not worth the hassle. The better option, reviewers say, is to take cartridges to a store like Fry's or Cartridge World; Costco also offers an inkjet-refill service to its members. Refill prices vary by printer but start around $7. That's about the same price as the online retailers we looked at, or slightly more, but still cheaper than buying OEM printer ink. The drawback: You have to go to the store to refill the cartridges, although the process itself doesn't take long and can be done while you wait.

Prices and Shipping

Canon Pixma MX922 (CLI-251, PGI-250)HP Envy 4520 (HP 63XL)Epson Expression ET-2750 (T502)Standard Shipping
4inkjets$20 for 5-pack (XL)$19 for black,
$23 for tricolor
$29 for 4-pack$4.95
123inkjets$25 for 5-pack (XL)$23 for black,
$27 for tricolor
$33 for 4-pack$4.95
Carrot Ink$18 for 5-pack (XL)$20 for black,
$23 for tricolor,
$38 for both
$29 for 4-pack$3.95
Office Depot$29 for tricolor, $14.39 for pigment black; no regular black$29 for black,
$50 for both
(black XL, color standard)
N/AVaries
Staples$38.19 for 4-pack; no pigment blackN/AN/A$9.95

Prices and availability subject to change. Shipping rates apply within the contiguous United States.

Across the board, the dedicated printer-ink sites had lower prices and larger inventories. But office-supply stores have one big advantage over their online competitors: You can walk in and buy what you need without having to wait for an order to ship. That said, many remanufactured cartridges we looked at online at Staples were not available in stores, although there was the option of free shipping to a store.

Most printer ink vendors deliver within a few days and offer free shipping on orders over a certain amount, usually between $35 and $50. Although you may be tempted to overload your cart to qualify for free shipping, experts caution against stockpiling ink cartridges. Remember, they can dry out, so any extra cartridges should be stored in an airtight container and used within a few months of purchase.

Customer Support

Both online sellers like 4inkjets and bricks-and-mortar stores like Office Depot have phone, email, and online chat support for customers. Complaints about customer service are infrequent, but common issues include slow delivery, incorrect orders, failure to issue refunds, charging for return shipping, slow responses to email queries, rude customer service agents, and long waits on phone lines.

Warranty and Return Policy

All the replacement printer ink retailers we review back their products with money-back guarantees, although warranty length varies from brand to brand. The best retailers offer a one- or two-year warranty, plus a grace period of 15 to 30 days to return unopened products for a refund. However, few of them reimburse customers for the cost of return shipping unless there is a clear defect, a sore spot for some reviewers.