Cheapest Printers for Ink Costs
Over time, you can spend more on ink cartridges than on a printer itself. These ink-thrifty models will save you money in the long run.
A “low ink” warning from your printer can be as stressful as seeing your car’s fuel gauge in the red. Printer ink is one of the most expensive liquids on the planet, and Consumer Reports’ surveys show that many people are frustrated by how frequently their printer’s ink cartridges run out and how much they cost to replace.
You can take steps to use less ink no matter which 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. The cheapest printers for ink costs are listed below.
For each of the 200-plus printers in our ratings (available to members), Consumer Reports lists an annual ink or toner cost estimate, using the price of replacement cartridges, data from our member surveys on how much people tend to print, and measurements of ink consumption from our labs.
If you add that ink or toner cost to the price of the printer, you can calculate the total cost of ownership over time.
The total financial outlay can balloon quickly.
Take the Canon PIXMA TR4722. Often priced around $60, it may seem like a steal in the store. But when you add our estimated $148 per year for ink replacement, the cost of ownership is $208 after one year and an eye-opening $800 after five. The Epson EcoTank ET-3850, roughly $350, hits your wallet hard on Day One, but it has an ink reservoir instead of cartridges and therefore requires only about $5 per year in ink costs, making the first-year cost of ownership $355 and the five-year cost $375. (Of course, these numbers are estimates to help you compare your choices. Printer and ink prices fluctuate, as does the amount that people print.)
The two options I just cited are inkjet models, but laser printers are often a wiser choice, especially if you usually print in black and white. Though often priced higher to start, those printers use toner instead of ink, and in the long run, you’ll probably spend less money on toner than you will on ink. And laser printers tend to outperform inkjets in CR’s predicted brand reliability and owner satisfaction ratings, which are based on our member surveys.
Here are more of the cheapest printers for ink costs.
Estimated ink cost per year: $68
Estimated cost of ownership and ink replacement (at a printer price of $100): After year 2, $236; year 3, $304; year 4, $372; year 5, $440
This relatively compact all-in-one inkjet is a good option for many people. It can scan, copy, and fax, and it uses very little ink to maintain the print heads.
It’s about average when it comes to text printing quality and speed. And testers say the printer handles color graphics and photos on glossy paper just fine for casual users.
We estimate that in typical use, the MFC-J1010W will consume about $68 worth of ink each year. That’s not cheap. But given the low upfront cost, that makes the printer a solid, cost-effective purchase compared with pricier printers with higher ink replacement costs.
And it’s stocked with convenient features, such as auto-duplexing (for printing both sides of a page) and an automatic document feeder (for scanning or copying multipage documents). It won’t print if a color ink cartridge is empty, though, even if you just need a black-and-white document.
Estimated ink cost per year: $5
Estimated cost of ownership and ink replacement (at a printer price of $180): After year 2, $190; year 3, $195; year 4, $200; year 5, $205
As with other reservoir, or tank-style, printers, the EcoTank Photo ET-2400 does away with pricey replacement cartridges in favor of tanks that can be replenished with low-cost bottles of ink. Our estimates show the typical yearly cost to keep this printer running is just $5, a fraction of the figure for conventional inkjets.
The model scores well for text and graphics quality but doesn’t earn a CR recommendation, in part because it’s relatively slow compared with other inkjets and offers only basic features: WiFi connectivity, scanning and copying, and a typical 100-sheet paper tray.
If you own the model for a few years, however, it becomes one of the cheapest printers in our ratings, especially if you routinely churn out recipes, book reports, tickets, schedules, graphics-heavy school projects, and the like.
If you want auto-duplexing and a digital display panel, you might consider the Epson EcoTank ET-2850, which also has a $5 per year ink cost and can often be found for $250.
Estimated toner cost per year: $13
Estimated cost of ownership and toner replacement (at a printer price of $250): After year 2, $276; year 3, $289; year 4, $302; year 5, $315
Not everyone needs to print in color, and those who don’t may want to consider a black-and-white laser printer. Like other all-in-one lasers, this model from Canon is on the larger side, but it makes up for that with admirable efficiency and overall performance. We estimate a typical user will spend only about $13 per year on toner.
The Canon ImageClass MF264dw gets a top rating for the quality of its text printouts, which are delivered at a speedy 20 pages per minute. It offers auto-duplexing for printing on both sides of the paper, and CR testers say copying works well. It doesn’t have a duplexing auto-feeder for scanning and copying both sides of each page, though. (For that, look to the Canon ImageClass MF451dw, which costs a bit more.)
The MF264dw has a generous 250-sheet main paper tray capacity and a second 100-sheet tray as well. In addition to USB and WiFi connectivity, you can connect the printer to your network router with an Ethernet cable.
Estimated toner cost per year: $45
Estimated cost of ownership and ink replacement (at a printer price of $280): After year 2, $370; year 3, $415; year 4, $460; year 5, $505
Need a color laser printer that can print out presentation-quality charts and web pages while still being fairly cheap to run? This multifunction printer could fit the bill.
It doesn’t score quite high enough to earn a CR recommendation, but it’s among the few color laser printers to receive a top rating for graphics quality, and it has an above-average score for text quality, too. It lags behind other options in text speed, though.
A big printer with a relatively low starting price for a color laser, the MF642Cdw has an auto-feeder and can print on both sides of a page with auto-duplexing. Connectivity options include USB cable, WiFi, and Ethernet cable. Note that the model can’t print if any color runs out.