Printers have seen something of a resurgence recently, with many people having to work from home due to the pandemic and needing a way to print off important documents or homework for the kids. Along with this returns the old problem of running out of ink at just the wrong time or having to spend a small fortune buying new cartridges because you're printing so much.
An alternative is to subscribe to the ink subscription service that your printer manufacturer offers. HP, Epson and Brother offer them but, as of yet, Canon does not.
The services send ink - or toner - by post to ensure you don't run out, and they also spread the cost over months so you don’t have to pay a lot at any one time. And they can work out cheaper than buying the cartridges yourself. Here’s how they work and what they cost. Note that all prices are for ink/toner only and do not include paper.
How do printing subscription services work?
The idea is simple. You pay a monthly amount for your ink and can print up to a specified number of pages each month or across the whole year. Brother's service even includes a printer as part of the package. Usually, your printer will be connected to the internet so the service can monitor its ink levels, then send you out a replacement cartridge so it arrives before the wells run dry. In other cases, the capacity of the printers will mean you will only have to order the replacements a few times during the subscription.
While having a limit on the pages you can print might seem restrictive, if you take a little time to work out your printing habits then you should find a plan that fits in with your requirements. Of course, as with any subscription, try to estimate how much your current usage levels would cost you across a year, then compare it to what you’d get from using one of these services.
While it is possible, in some cases, to use your existing printer, you may need to buy one that’s compatible with the service. The printers are usually heavily subsidised, to make the idea of the subscription service more appealing.
There are a few different subscription-based printing services around, but here are how the major competitors line-up.
Note that we have compared pricing only with genuine manufacturer cartridges. You can save money by buying third-party 'compatible' ink or toner. While it is fine to do so, bear in mind that print quality may be inferior, prints may fade faster and check that the seller will accept returns if you find that your printer detects a non-genuine cartridge and refuses to print (unlikely, but it can happen).
Brother’s EcoPro service, which isn't available in the USA, is split into three main categories: mono, colour and fast colour printing. Each requires a printer as part of the package, and the options break down as follows:
Simple Mono Printing
With this package you receive a monochrome laser printer for £20 (+VAT) or you can use an existing Brother printer if it’s compatible. Then for £9.98 per month (over a 24 month subscription) you can print up to a maximum of 6,000 A4 pages per year, which works out to 500 per month. Brother estimates this will save you around 70% of the costs you would have incurred if you bought the printer, ink and printed 12,000 pages across the two years.
Obviously, if you only print 50 pages per month usually, then this would be a waste of money, but for those who are regularly churning out pages, it’s well worth considering.
Should you prefer a 12-month subscription, then it costs £13 p/m, plus the £20 (+VAT) for the printer.
Using these prices we can calculate that the cost per printed page with the Eco-Pro service works out (if you remove the printer cost) at £0.02 on the 24-month tier and £0.03 on the 12-month contract.
At the time of writing, you could buy a TN1050 Toner cartridge for £41.99, which would print 1,000 pages. This would make the price per page £0.04, which is actually more expensive, especially if you then factor in the price of a printer.
With all the Brother EcoPro tiers, you’ll need to order replacement cartridges or toner manually online on the Brother EcoPro website, and you can only do so every thirty days.
Flexible Colour Printing
This tier includes a colour inkjet printer for £20 (+VAT) or you can use your own compatible Brother printer. The monthly cost is £13 if you sign up for a 24-month contract or £14.99 for the 12-month option. For this you can print up to 6,000 A4 or A3 colour pages per year.
This works out at 3p per page on both the 12 and 24-month contracts.
Again, checking the Brother site we find that LC3213 cartridges in Black/Cyan/Magenta/Yellow retail at £51.59 for 400 pages. This makes the price per page 13p, which is considerably more than the subscription offering.
Fast Colour Printing
The most expensive tier includes the same cost for the printer, which this time is a Brother colour laser model, and allows up to 6,000 A4 colour pages per year. A 12-month contract costs £29.99p/m while the 24-month variant is £25p/m.
This works out at 6p per page on the 12-month contract and 5p if you go for the 24-month plan.
Looking on Brother’s site, the black toner cartridge with the code TN-247BK costs £91.19, plus similar prices for the three colour toners. This makes the cost of replacing the entire range of cartridges around £400, which will give you 2,300 pages of colour printing. This works out at £0.17 per page, thus proving that the subscription rate is the way to go if you want to print regularly.
You can check out all the details about the services and its tiers at the Brother EcoPro website.
HP Instant Ink
HP was the first manufacturer to offer a subscription service. Instant Ink works with lots of HP printer models with Wi-Fi. This means that HP knows when your ink is going to run out, so it can post you the replacement to arrive in time to hopefully avoid any disruption to your output.
The range of options is quite expansive, all based on how much you print each month. Be sure to leave yourself a bit of wiggle room though, as it’s quite expensive to print over your allotted number of pages.
One good thing is that unused pages get added to your rollover pot, meaning you can make use of them at a later date. Each tier has a maximum amount of rollover pages allowed, so check the HP Instant Ink site carefully before signing up so you know your entitlement.
The tiers on HP Instant Ink are priced as follows and are all per month:
- 15 pages - £0.99/$0.99
- 50 pages - £1.99/$2.99
- 100 pages - £3.49/$4.99
- 300 pages - £9.99/$11.99
- 700 pages - £22.49/$24.99
- 50 pages - £1.99/$1.99
- 100 pages - £3.49/$3.99
- 400 pages - £12.99/$13.99
- 800 pages - £17.99/$19.99
- 1500 pages - £22.99/$25.99
Working on the basis that you sign up for a year, then here’s how those tiers break down in terms of cost per page:
- 15 pages - £0.08/$0.08
- 50 pages - £0.48/$0.72
- 100 pages - £0.42/$0.60
- 300 pages - £0.40/$0.48
- 700 pages - £0.39/$0.43
- 50 pages - £0.48/$0.48
- 100 pages - £0.42/$0.48
- 400 pages - £0.39/$0.42
- 800 pages - £0.27/$0.30
- 1500 pages - £0.18/$0.20
You can cancel your plan at any time and there are no minimum contract lengths or any other commitments.
HP states that you can save up to 70% on the cost of running your printer by using the subscription model, and while we can't provide the exact saving for ever HP printer here, if you print regularly, you'll definitely be better off with an Instant Ink plan rather than buying the ink direct from HP.
The same is true for Epson printers too.
Not to be left out, Epson also offers an ink subscription service which it calls ReadyPrint. There are two main variants of the service, which are Flex and Go. This might sound like a Yoga channel on YouTube, but the plans offer different approaches to how you use an ink subscription service. Note that these are UK-specific: there are alternative offerings available in the US (scroll down to see them).
This works with either Epson’s Expression Home or Workforce printers, so if you have one of the those then you’re good to go. The plan has range of tiers available, all of which have different allowances for the number of pages you can print each month. Here’s how they break down:
- 30 pages - £1.29
- 50 pages - £1.99
- 100 pages - £3.49
- 300 pages - £9.99
- 500 pages - £16.49
Used pages rollover to the next month and can be kept for a maximum of two months, but if you need to print additional pages each month you can either pay £0.10 per sheet or move to a higher Flex tier. Bear in mind that A3 prints count as two pages.
Basing the price on a one-year contract (you can cancel at any time on ReadyPrint) this is how much each page costs:
- 30 pages – £0.50
- 50 pages – £0.48
- 100 pages – £0.42
- 300 pages – £0.40
- 500 pages – £0.40
Both the Workforce and Expression Home variants of Epson’s printers will automatically monitor their ink levels, then notify Epson when they are running low, so the service can send you out replacements just before they are needed.
This is a pay-as-you-go version of ReadyPrint, which is best suited to those who have a more erratic printing patterns. With this service, you register your compatible Epson printer (the site will allow you to check before signing up), then like the Flex plan it will monitor your ink levels then automatically order a new cartridge when your current one about to run out. No contract or minimum payments, just an automated service. You can choose to pause this at any time, so you’re not tied into ordering cartridges forever.
The costs are the same as buying regular sized cartridges directly from Epson, so check the site to see how much they are before signing up. To find out more, visit the Epson ReadyPrint site.
In the USA, there is another element to the service, in that you can choose to buy a printer as part of the package, as with the Brother EcoPro service, which is only in the UK.
There are three different packages available, each with a certain printer best suited to the requirements of that tier. Basically, the higher the tier, the fastest the printer, the more pages you can print, plus there are additional features, such as larger tray capacity, a fax and ethernet connectivity. Here’s the range:
Unlimited ink, Epson ET-2750U printer, 1,250 pages per month, $14.99 per month.
Unlimited ink, Epson ET-3750U printer, 2,100 pages per month, $19.99 per month.
Unlimited ink, Epson ET-5850U printer, 8,300 pages per month, $34.99 per month.
Which is the best printing service for you?
If you don’t already have a printer, then Brother EcoPro might be quite tempting, as you get one as part of the deal, plus the price per page is still very reasonable.
If you have an HP or Epson printer that's supported by their schemes, it obviously makes most sense to go with whichever brand you have, as the cartridges aren’t cross compatible with the other brand. Do take the time to calculate how much you could save even if it means buying a new printer though as switching brands could work out cheaper in the long run.
Ultimately if you print a lot of pages at home or just like the idea of never running out of ink, then it’s well worth considering a subscription service as they can certainly reduce the frustration of having your printer well run dry at that crucial moment.
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