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Best discount ink cartridges 2020

Best discount ink cartridges 2020

The best discount ink cartridges are a great way to save money on what is actually a surprisingly expensive part of your home office. Ink cartridges are expensive, especially if you go for the official branded cartridges (often called Original Equipment Manufacturer, or OEM) from companies like Epson and HP. If you’re a heavy user of your home printer then you’re going to be shelling out some serious cash over the course of a year. This is why we think that the best ink cartridges out there are actually discount ink cartridges from third-party sellers.

The best discount ink cartridges offer good quality printer ink at a very reasonable price - you’re probably not going to get the kind of quality that you’d find in the branded products, but you’re also not paying anywhere near as much for it. With that said, not all cheap printer ink sellers are even and some offer better quality discount ink cartridges than others.

Editor's Choice: 4inkjets

We searched high and low, but in the end we think 4INKJETS is the best discount ink cartridge seller out there. Low prices, cheap shipping, and great service. VIEW DEAL ON 4inkjets

We’ve reviewed the top online printer ink websites that sell cheap printer ink cartridges and looked at the service they offer. This includes the obvious factors like price and quality of the ink cartridges that are being sold, but also other factors like the range of cartridges on offer for various printers, returns policies, customer service and more. Based on all of these factors, we found that 4INKJETS is the best option out there. 4INKJETS offers low prices, low-cost shipping and diverse payment options. It also stocks OEM ink cartridges, along with remanufactured cartridges, printer paper, and printer cables. 

If you're looking to pick up a new printer, check out our buying guides for the best compact printers, best all-in-one printers, and best photo printers.

How we tested?

To compare prices and check inventory size, we searched for discounted ink cartridges that’ were compatible with a range of printers from multiple brands. We looked at prices and the cartridges’ manufacturer-reported page yields. Using this information, we found which stores have the largest inventories and the lowest prices.

During testing, we also researched user ratings to see how customers felt about their experiences buying and using discount ink cartridges, as well as the customer service that these sites offer.

1. 4Inkjets: Best overall 

4 inkjets - discount ink cartridges - cheap printer ink

4Inkjets

It strikes the best balance for range, shipping and payment options

Good variety
Cheap prices
Free shipping over $50
Two-year guarantee

While 4InkJets might offer the lowest prices out there, it does offer the best balance between offering great discounts and having a wide range of ink cartridges, especially when it comes to those that work with the big names like HP, Canon, and Epson - and that includes OEM cartridges.

On top of that, 4InkJets also stocks just about everything else you could possibly need for your printer including paper, refill kits, toner, and replacement cables - it even sells 3D printing supplies. The prices are very competitive and schools or government agencies can get extra discounts.

4InkJets also offers a two-year guarantee on all its compatible or remanufactured products - it will refund or replace for the first year, and replace or refund with store credit for the second year. This is a huge benefit, especially as we’re dealing with discount and third party ink cartridges here which can be less reliable and less high quality than OEM cartridges. It gives you some peace of mind that you’re not going to sink cash into a broken product. OEM products bought from 4InkJets come with the standard manufacturers guarantee instead though, so be mindful of that.

On the payment front, 4InkJets takes a variety of payment options including credit cards, PayPal, personal checks, and Amazon Pay. You also get free shipping on orders over $50. Currently you can only place international orders to Canada, Puerto Rico, Guam, and APO addresses. There is also a customer service hotline that you can call if you have issues.


2. 499Inks: Best value 

499 inks - discount ink cartridges - cheap ink cartridges

499Inks

499inks sends out monthly coupons to further discount its already low prices

Very cheap
Good variety
Free shipping over $49
Ugly website

Some products just do exactly what they say on the tin, and that’s the case here with 499Inks which sells a huge variety of ink cartridges for, you guessed it, $4.99. While it doesn’t have the same kind of variety as other websites, it still stocks a huge number of ink cartridges that will work with almost any printer model out there. Overall we’d say that 499Inks is the cheapest discount ink seller that we tested.

The website isn’t the most modern or sleek storefront that you’ll find, but it’s easy to navigate, letting you sort by brands and printer model. In addition to ink cartridges, 499Inks also has a limited selection of other products including toner (and oddly enough, face masks/ppe).

Shipping within the US is free if you spend $49, which is basically the same as our top pick, 4InkJets. This is a fairly standard free shipping rate, but it’s worth noting that some others, like InkCartridges, do offer free shipping on all orders. InkCartridges accepts most major forms of payment including credit cards, personal checks, and PayPal.

499Inks impressed us with its social media presence - it’s active on Facebook and regularly posts deals there. You can also get 5% off your first order, and 499Inks offers a one-year guarantee on all it’s products, which isn’t quite as good as 4InkJets’s two-years, but it’s still impressive.

  • Read the full 499Inks review.

3. Inkcartridges: Best shipping 

Inkcartridges-discount ink cartridge - cheap printer ink

Inkcartridges

Free shipping on all orders where ever you are in the US

Easy to use website
Good prices
Free shipping on all orders
Two-year guarantee

With a name like InkCartridges, you’re never going to forget what these guys sell. InkCartridges stocks ink cartridges that are compatible with all the major brands, but also a lot of the less common ones too. It also stocks a bunch of other printer products including paper, cables, and toner. The prices are competitive too, and as an added bonus you get free shipping on all orders in the US, regardless of size.

We found the website was easy to use, with numerous search and filter options to help you find the product you’re looking for. InkCartridges also offers the exact same two-year guarantee as 4InkJets - a full refund or replacement within the first year, or a replacement in the second year.

You can pay via credit card, PayPal, personal check, and even cash using a virtual credit card from PaidByCash. Schools and government organizations can also get extra discounts, but you’ll need to contact a representative to arrange this. InkCartridges has both online and telephone customer support channels should you have any issues.

  • Read the full InkCartridges review.

4. 123inkjets: Best payment options

Discount ink cartridges - cheap printer ink

123inkjets

Plenty of payment options, including PayPal and via a Amazon account

Great website
Free shipping over $55
Two-year guarantee
Not the cheapest

123InkJets has one of the slickest, most modern websites of all the discount ink cartridge merchants that we reviewed. More importantly, it’s incredibly well laid out with categories for each brand. It’s easy to navigate too, meaning you shouldn’t have any trouble finding the ink cartridges you need. 

123InkJets offers both OEM and remanufactured ink cartridges, so you can choose between savings and reliability (you’ll still be saving money even on the OEM cartridges when compared to the MSRP). 123InkJets is one of the more expensive sites that we’ve reviewed though, so you will probably be able to find cheaper equivalents elsewhere.

You can get free shipping on orders over $55 (within the contiguous US), which is a slightly higher minimum spend than our top choices, but it’s still a great deal. When it comes to payment options, you can choose between credit cards, personal checks, PayPal, and Amazon Pay.

Finally, 123InkJets offers a two-year guarantee on its compatible and remanufactured products. Much like other websites, this offers you a refund within one year, or a replacement in the second year.

5. Inkgrabber: Most brands

Inkgrabber - Cheapest printer ink - Discount ink cartridges

InkGrabber

Features ink cartridges from 135 brands

Good range
Free shipping over $75
Only 90 day returns policy
Clunky website

InkGrabber is another fine choice if you’re looking to pick up cheap ink cartridges online. This family run business offers both OEM and remanufactured cartridges for all major brands of printer, and a lot of more niche ones too. Pricing is in line with most of the other websites that we reviewed.

The website can be a bit clunky to navigate, but you can just use the search bar to quickly find compatible cartridges for your printer by searching for it by name. Otherwise you can use the categories, but this sends you into several sub menus that are unpleasant to trawl through.

Shipping is free on all orders over $75 within the US, which is the highest free shipping threshold of any of the websites that we reviewed. Shipping to Canada or offshore US is a flat rate of $8.95. The returns policy only lasts for 90 days though, which falls well short of what the rest of the competition offers.

  • Read the full InkGrabber review.

Why trust us on discount ink cartridges?

We researched and compared prices on more than 30 sites that sell discount ink cartridges to find the best, most convenient online stores to buy cheap printer from that doesn't skimp on quality. We also considered shipping costs, payment options, the number of ink cartridge brands each store carries and whether the site sells other printing essentials.

In addition, we evaluated how secure each site is and the quality of the store’s support options because security and customer service are important when making purchases online. We’ve researched what to look for and what to avoid when buying discount ink cartridges online, as well as read the fine print in FAQs and return policies to make well-informed recommendations.

Things to consider when buying discounted ink cartridges: price

The price of an individual cartridge varies depending on the type of printer you have. Inkjet cartridges can cost from $3 to $30 while laser toner cartridges cost much more at $50 to $200 or more. Remanufactured cartridges cost less than originals but may void your printer’s warranty. For our evaluation, we calculated the cost-per-page using each site’s prices and the cartridge manufacturer’s reported yields. We found prices don’t vary much from site to site, especially on remanufactured cartridges. In fact, the average prices at a few of the stores we researched only differed from each other by $0.001. As such, a site’s return policy, payment options and shipping options are more important to consider. It’s also true that the prices we found could change at any time, so you may want to compare prices at our best picks before you buy to make sure you get the best deal.

Customer satisfaction

Anytime you buy online, it’s important to make sure the store offers plenty of support, including contact information and troubleshooting guides. With discount ink, it’s also important to consider the site’s customer satisfaction guarantee so you can get your money back if something goes awry.

Many sites say they have a one- to two-year satisfaction guarantee, but the fine print says you can’t get a cash refund. Some stores only allow exchanges or issue store credit. 4inkjets has the best guarantee we saw, letting you return unopened or defective discount cartridges for your money back for a full year after you place your order. 123InkJets and InkCartridges offer similar guarantees.

Because using remanufactured ink cartridges can void your printer’s warranty, we recommend waiting until the warranty expires to use them.

Ink cartridge brands 

There are four major brands of printers: HP, EPSON, Brother and Canon. All of the discount ink cartridge stores we reviewed have products that are compatible with all of these brands, but there are dozens of brands that aren’t as well-known. Lesser-known brands, like AstroJet and Kyocera – and even big names, like Kodak and Apple – make printers and ink. However, these brands don’t get much attention because the big four dominate the market.  

We noted the number of brands that each discount ink cartridge store sells. Our top pick sells cartridges for 80 brands, which is about average across our comparison. This may not be a consideration for users of the four main brands of printers, but it's important for people who use printers from lesser-known companies.

Shipping & payment options

Nearly all the sites we researched offer free shipping on orders totaling a certain dollar amount. Many require you buy $50 to $75 of product to qualify. If you find a site with a higher purchase minimum than that, we recommend you keep looking. Some stores, like Inkcartridges, offer free shipping on all orders sent within the United States.

Most of the sites we researched offer ground, two- or three-day, and overnight shipping. However, not all of them list every option online during checkout. Instead, they require you call a customer service agent to expedite shipping. This is less convenient because it’s much easier to manage your account online than over the phone.

At minimum, a site should accept traditional payment options like credit card, check or purchase order. Online stores that also accept modern payment methods, like Amazon Pay, PayPal or Google Checkout, are even easier to use.

Other printing supplies

Printers need more than just ink to work, so it's nice when the discount ink cartridge store you shop at sells supplies such as paper, ink refill kits and cables. Three of the stores we reviewed offer products other than ink:

4inkjets has the largest stock of ink refill kits we saw as well as a decent paper and cable selection. 123inkjets and Inkcartridges sell different types of paper, including all-purpose paper, copy paper, glossy photo paper and brochure paper. They also sell other paper products like paper tape.

It’s worth noting that 4inkjets and Inkcartridges sell color filament spools used for 3D printing. Filament serves no use in conventional printers, but if you have this new emerging tech, these stores are convenient places to shop when you’re low on ink and filament.

How much can you expect to save with discounted ink cartridges?

Using major online retailers like Amazon to buy your ink may be more convenient than visiting a discount store, but saving a few minutes of online shopping could cost you a lot over time. We compared the price of the top-selling cartridges from Amazon with our best overall pick for discount stores, 4inkjets, to give you an idea of how much you can expect to save.

At the time of this writing, the best-selling printer ink cartridge on Amazon was HP 63 Black & Tri-color Original Ink Cartridges. You can buy this dual- cartridge-pack for about $50, once you add in taxes and shipping.

On 4inkjets we found similar cartridges at great discounts. For instance, the LD Remanufactured Replacement Ink Cartridge for HP is an alternative that will only run you about $30. While we saved money with alternative ink cartridges compared to Amazon, the prices on 4inkjets were similar to ink prices on Walmart’s online store.

How to tell if an ink cartridge is compatible with your printer

It's frustrating to buy the wrong type of ink cartridge for your printer, especially when you purchase it online. While you return the ink and wait for the exchange, you are left with a useless printer. To help you avoid this situation, here are some ways to make sure a cartridge is compatible before you buy it:

The first thing you need to know is what printer model you have. This is usually displayed on the printer's front control panel. If you can’t find it there, it may be on the top of the printer, near the cartridge access area or inside the cartridge or ink access door.

Once you have your model number, consult the help section on the printer manufacturer’s website. Major brands, such as HPCanon and Epson, provide comprehensive lists of all their printers, and you should be able to find your model fairly quickly. 

There should be a list of compatible cartridge types next to the printer's model number. For example, our HP Envy 4520 takes HP 302 Black and HP 302 Tri-color cartridges. You can then take that information to a discount printer cartridge site and search to see if they have it in stock.

Alternatively, the best discount ink cartridge stores, like 4inkjets, allow you to search for cartridges based on your printer model number. So, you can skip going to the manufacturer’s website, although it’s always a good idea to double-check before you buy. 

Should you buy remanufactured ink cartridges?

One of the reasons discount ink cartridge stores can offer lower prices than places like Amazon and manufacturer stores is the fact that they sell remanufactured products. These are used cartridges that have been recycled either by the original manufacturers or third-party companies.

If you choose this route, you can expect to save between 15 and 50 percent from buying new cartridges. If you’re environmentally minded or just want to save a few bucks, this is a great option for you.

However, there are a couple of things you should do before buying one. First, read reviews, not just the store reviews, but also the reviews of the cartridges themselves. You’ll have a much better idea if it’s right for you after reading others’ experiences with them.

You should also check the warranty offered by the store you’re buying from, since recycled products have a higher chance of being defective.

And finally, find out if the cartridge you’re considering has been tested by an independent party and meets OEM standards, and if it's certified by the Standardized Test Methods Committee. Doing these three things greatly reduces the chance of your printer being damaged or getting a bunk cartridge.

Does ink go bad in a printer?

If you don’t use your printer very often, you may wonder if your ink will still be good after long periods of inactivity.

We asked Brian Westover, who reviews and writes about printers for Tom’s Guide, and he told us that the ink itself will last a long time, but old ink does have the capability to harm the printer.

“Generally speaking, ink in the cartridge stays fine for some time. Eventually it will dry out. More often the problem is not the ink in the cartridge, but the ink in the outlet valve to come out of the cartridge. It can dry and create a blockage. It’s even more of a problem in HP printers where the cartridge also has the print head in there, and all those valves are prone to that same sort of clogging,” Westover said.

If you’re unsure about the ink in your printer check the expiration dates on the cartridge. Most ink cartridges expire between 18 and 24 months after you install them. So, even if you have plenty of ink, you’ll still want to change your cartridge at least every year or two.

Is toner cheaper than an ink cartridge?

When you’re choosing between an inkjet and laser printer, part of your calculation should include how much it’s going to cost in the long run. Laser printers use toner cartridges and inkjets use ink cartridges, and which one you need can affect the cost dramatically.

“A toner cartridge will generally be more expensive than a similarly sized ink cartridge, Westover told us. He further explained that “the volume to page ratios are much different, so you get far more pages out of toner than straight ink."

He also emphasized the difference between the laser jet and inkjet printers. “If you’re using toner, you’re using a laser printer, which means it will be better suited to different uses, primarily text and graphics rather than photo printing,” Westover said.

Basically, it’s all about what you want to do with your printer and how that calculates into your buying decision.

How many pages can be printed with one ink cartridge?

It may be better to think of this question in terms of cost per page. This gives you a more accurate picture of your printer’s ongoing costs. 

The number of pages you can print with a single ink cartridge will vary based on a number of factors, most of which have to do with what type of documents you’re printing, your specific model’s ink usage, the type and brand of ink you use, as well as your personalized settings.

However, you can get a rough estimation of how many pages you can get from a particular printer by visiting the manufacturer’s website. You may have to dig around a little, but companies generally list average page yields somewhere.

What is the cheapest printer ink?

If you’re looking for the absolute least expensive ink cartridges, chances are it won’t be compatible with your printer. In our top choice for discount ink cartridge stores, 4InkJets, we found ink cartridges for under $6. However, those are for specific models of printers.

A better question would be “What are the cheapest ink cartridges for my printer?” Finding out the answer is simple. When you go to 4InkJets, or any of the other discount ink cartridge stores we reviewed, search for your printer model number and the site will list all the available cartridges for that printer. Although you can’t sort results from lowest price to highest, lower priced cartridges are usually near the top of the list.

Whatever you do, don’t buy an ink cartridge based on price alone. You’ll end up paying more in returns and exchange fees because you’ll likely get an incompatible product.

What is an OEM ink cartridge?

As you shop for discount ink cartridges, you will come across the term “OEM cartridge.” OEM stands for "original equipment manufacturer." That may seem nebulous, so we asked Westover to put it in simple terms. “An OEM ink cartridge is one made by the manufacturer of the printer. So, if it’s an HP printer, it’s going to be HP ink. Same thing with Brother, Canon, Epson or whatever other brand you use,” Westover said, adding that “The alternative to OEM is third-party [cartridges], which just means it’s made by someone else.” Most discount ink cartridge stores sell both OEM cartridges and third-party cartridges.

What printers use refillable ink cartridges?

Some printer manufacturers make models that use refillable ink tanks instead of replaceable cartridges. For example, Canon makes the PIXMA series and Epson has several models that use refillable tanks. These may be preferable for some, as refilling the tanks can save money over replacing cartridges, and some people may find it easier to refill a tank than change a cartridge.

However, it should be noted that there’s a difference between printers that use refillable tanks and those that use cartridges you can refill yourself. Third-party companies, such as InkOwl, create refillable cartridges for major printer brands.

Since refillable cartridges are usually off-brand, you need to make sure they’re compatible with and won’t harm your printer. Printer manufacturers usually recommend against using refillable cartridges and say you should opt to purchase standard ones from them instead.

How long does unopened ink last?

Every OEM ink cartridge comes with a factory-set expiration date, which we recommend you follow. That's because printer ink dries out over time, even if you don’t open or install the cartridge. The expiration date is the only indicator you have that the ink has degraded to the point that it isn’t wet enough to use in your printer. Dry ink can damage your printer's components and reduce the quality of your printed pages.

To avoid wasting full cartridges, buy them as needed. You should also store your ink properly so you don't otherwise damage the cartridges. For example, always store ink upright. If you store ink cartridges on their backs or sides, you run the risk of the ink settling in a position that could ultimately affect your printer’s performance and print quality.

Can you use expired ink?

Buying too many ink cartridges at once may end up costing you money, especially if you don’t use your printer heavily. That’s because all OEM cartridges have an expiration date, and you may find yourself in the situation where you’ve run out of ink and the only cartridges you have are expired.

You may be tempted to use the expired ink. If it’s not too far past the expiration date, you might be able to get away with it, but consider what it might do to your printer. Complications of using ink that’s too dry include clogging internal parts and ink flow problems that result in lowered print quality.

Refill your ink cartridges at Costco

It's inconvenient to buy ink cartridges online when you don’t have time to wait for them to be delivered. Luckily, there’s a brick and mortar alternative to online ink cartridge stores. If you live in the United States and have a Costco membership, you can take your empty ink cartridges to the store and have them refilled while you shop. Depending on the type of cartridge, a refill costs anywhere from $7 to $15. That's much cheaper than buying a new cartridge, and you save money on shipping as well. 

Discount ink at OfficeMax and Office Depot

In addition to refilling your ink cartridges at Costco, you can get discount ink at other brick and mortar stores. OfficeMax and Office Depot offer printers made by the big four manufacturers, as well as the ink they use. We spoke with an associate at OfficeMax over the phone and she estimated that depending on what type of cartridge you’re looking for, you can save anywhere from $10 to $50 on printer ink. She also told us about the company's “100% No-Risk Quality Guarantee,” which means that you can trust these cartridges to not damage your printer and to yield high quality results.

Maintenance tips to improve ink cartridge performance 

Inkjet printers have a sophisticated series of mechanical parts that require routine maintenance to perform at optimal levels. To get the most out of each ink cartridge, clean your printhead and align it properly. In addition to proper cleaning and alignment, there are a few placement and usage tips to follow to maximize the output and life of an ink cartridge.

Head alignment and cleaning

The easiest way to avoid printhead clogs is to print a test sheet at least once a week. Regular usage ensures the nozzles stay moist and free of clogs associated with dry bits of ink. If the printer has been idle for many weeks, it’s time for a cleaning. Most inkjet printers have a maintenance or utility menu in the software interface or the hardware’s menu. Once you find the maintenance menu, look for a tab that says “Head Cleaning” or “Nozzle Check.” Printer maintenance professionals suggest performing a head cleaning once or twice per year based on a regular usage schedule or when you notice a decline in print performance. It’s also a good idea to run a manual head alignment after the cleaning process is complete to make sure the nozzles are pointed in the right direction.

Printer placement and dusting

Any electronic device with moving parts needs to be dusted occasionally to avoid debris buildup, which, in printers, can cause jams and ink streaks. First, place the printer on a level surface with good ventilation. Maintenance professionals also suggest keeping the printer away from windows and vents that result in drastic temperature fluctuations. Even if the printer is in an area with ventilation and a consistent temperature, it’s a good idea to open the covers and remove dust occasionally. Canned air is perfect for removing dust buildup in the print feed path; just don’t put the nozzle too close to delicate parts. Also, try to avoid printing on coarse or dusty paper that could leave behind debris and damage the printhead or rollers.