HP Instant Ink: Ink replacement subscription service savings may be overstated

A Monthly Subscription Plan for Ink

Hewlett Packard (HP) recently launched a new subscription service for printer ink that’s based on a cost per page rather than the cost per ink cartridge. Your printer communicates your number of pages printer with HP and you’re billed 3 to 6 cents per page for ink consumed. They claim that the service can save you hundreds of dollars per year as shown in the chart below:


The program seems like an amazing deal. However, if you take a closer look at the cost estimates, it’s clear that the savings are exaggerated.

Sustainability Efforts Haven’t Gone Far Enough

HP offers extended capacity (XL) ink cartridges for lower printing costs and to reduce waste. Presumably that’s the maximum amount of ink you can fit in a cartridge.

Yet, apparently they’ve been holding out on us.

Take another look at the chart above. Notice the statement: “Our cartridges have more ink than HP XL ink cartridges…”

So, all along, HP could have been putting a few more pennies worth of ink in those cartridges, reducing our carbon footprint, saving a trip to the store, and saving money. Yet, instead, it turns out that their XL cartridges don’t hold the maximum amount of ink. That’s apparently reserved for the customers who pay for the monthly plan.

HP Overstates Potential Savings

For example, the HP Officejet Pro 8630 uses the 950 series of ink cartridges. If, like most people, you print mostly using black ink, you can purchase a black ink cartridge for $38 that will yield 2,300 pages.


That’s about 1.5 cents per page, or $54 per year for the 3,600 pages that HP says could cost you $792. That’s way below the annual amount claimed by HP in their promotional materials. Even the ink subscription ‘savings’ plan of $120 per year is over 100% more than what you’d pay just buying about one extra capacity cartridge per year.

Let’s say you use black ink and color inks equally. That’s very unlikely, but let’s say that’s what you do. Then you’ll spend about $120 for a set of four which might yield 1,500 to 2,300 pages. That’s still only 8 cents per page at the lowest estimated yield.

HP is claiming you’ll spend $792 a year on ink to print 3,600 pages. That’s 22 cents per page for ink. That’s virtually impossible regardless of what printer you’re using. Even if you’re printing hundreds of 8.5×11″ portrait photos (which most people aren’t).

If you use the black only setting, and the draft option whenever possible, your print yield will be much higher. Combine that with purchasing XL (extended capacity) cartridges, and you actually could save hundreds of dollars on ink.

Promise of 50% Savings Not Accurate

In the marketing materials, HP states that you can save 50% on the cost of ink. At first glance, any reasonable person would assume that you’d be purchasing ink at a savings of 50%. That should be achievable given that subscription services for products are typically more economical, and if HP is ‘cutting out the middle man’ it seems that a 50% savings off of retail prices might be possible. Yet, as was demonstrated above, the subscription plan in this case could cost 100% more rather than 50% less.

What’s strange is that some of the marketing materials promise 50% savings. Yet, elsewhere, like the chart above, the savings are more like 85% ($120 instead of $792). Why would the representation of savings be so different?


You Pay Even When You Don’t Use Ink

On the subscription plan, you pay every month, even if you’ve printed nothing. HP claims that unused pages on your plan ‘rollover’ just like a mobile phone company. However, there’s a limit and the credits don’t accumulate beyond one month. For example, if you’re on the 50 pages per month plan, you can roll over 50 pages to the next month. Then you loose those credits after a month. You’ll never accumulate more than 100 pages total.

You can cancel any time, but will people really remember to cancel when they go on vacation and then reinstate the program when they return?

What about mis-printing, when you mistakenly have a page with just one word print. With HP,  you’ll pay as if the page was covered with words or pictures.

What about printing on smaller pieces of paper, like 5×7 size pages for photos? Presumably you’ll pay the same as if you’re printing 80% coverage on legal size 8.5 x 14″ pages.

The monthly fees are shown below.


Who is the Program For?

Like a buffet for big eaters, the people who really save money on the subscription plan are those who regularly fill the page with colored ink. It’s well suited for people who use more than the average amount of colored ink consistently and have significant page coverage. These people might only get 1000 pages yield per XL cartridge. So, they might save money on the $10 per month plan (for example).

HP really needs to create a simple online calculator to help consumers determine if this program is right for them. The statement of saving is really arbitrary. The savings will be different depending on a user’s typical printing needs.

Intentional Misrepresentation to Persuade Consumers?

Unfortunately, it seems that HP is engaged in misleading representations about the annual ink costs in an effort to encourage people to pay for a service they may not really want if they knew the savings weren’t that great.

Why Not Switch to Another Brand?

Whenever we’re dissatisfied with a company, there’s always the option to switch to another, right? Well, that’s not so with printers.

Other printer manufacturers aren’t any better.

At least in HP high-end inkjet printers, the ink cartridges are tightly sealed which extends their life during non use. With other brands of printers, the ink and/or print heads can dry out after a month or two of non-use. Other manufacturers use separate components for printing heads and ink tanks. This means it’s possible to overrun print heads causing them to dry out or otherwise perform poorly. HP all-in-one devices such as the Officejet 8630 have very fast scan times — about 3 seconds per page for 300 dpi high quality color. Other scanners sometimes take 10 seconds just to ‘warm up’ and then another 10 seconds or more to scan a page. HP printers are built solid. For all of these reasons, it’s not possible (or at least not practical) to switch to another brand of printer.

What Should HP Do?

The subscription plan in its current form is about as annoying as mobile phone service contracts or lease vehicles where you estimate your usage ahead of time. Inevitably there’s some waste or money lost.

HP should really make some tweaks to this program and roll out a new version that offers the following:

  • Automatic. Automatic orders are placed based on when your ink is starting to run low.
  • Economical. Benefit from 30% savings on ink cartridge purchases.
  • Fair & Green. You pay for ink, not pages, so you can be rewarded for responsible printing choices such as less page coverage and using draft mode. This is fair and promotes more sustainable practices.

The emphasis would be on the convenience, while delivering sufficient savings to motivate consumers to choose the subscription service.

Case Updates

Below are updates regarding this case.

  • Saturday, 26 July 2015 @ 1:14 AM CT. We contacted HP using the Senior Vice President feedback page and provided a synopsis of the above information.
  • Monday, 27 July 2015 @ 9:50 AM CT. We received a call from HP Case Management in response to our communication yesterday. The case manager was very polite and appreciated the feedback about the ink subscription program marketing materials. They said this case would be escalated.
  • Sunday, 22 November 2015 @ 7:25 AM CT. We noticed a sponsored ad on Facebook that continues to promise in at 50% off (see below). So, apparently nothing has been done yet about their advertising campaign.

23 thoughts on “HP Instant Ink: Ink replacement subscription service savings may be overstated”

  1. Another reason that BIG BROTHER WATCHING HP Instant Savings is a BIG rip off! I cancelled the program because my small nonprofit was closing. On the date of the final month my payment covered, my HP printer disallowed me from using up the rest of the cartridge I PURCHASED from Instant Savings- forcing me to recycle those cartridges with plenty of ink in them, and go buy more. (Apparently , in the teeny, tiny fine print of the long contract, they have you sign it says they can do this)- it is such a waste, in addition to consumer fraud and power in my opinion that I will be buying a new non HP printer, and I will never spend one penny with HP ever again.

  2. Recommend noting that if your credit card details change and you don’t update quickly, HP not only don’t send a replacement, they have the ability to remotely disable your printer as long as it contains “their” cartridges. Personally I can’t live with someone able to remotely block my ability to print.

  3. I signed up for the trial offer, and found out that this service was not for me, I wish I had seen your report before, 100% accurate. So I cancelled the plan and purchased a regular black cartridge. The printer still had the color cartridge that was in the box when we bought it. I thought that was my cartridge, but then HP informed that it was going to be blocked as well, because I had signed for Instant ink and the cartridges in the new printer box were both Instant Ink. So they were never really mine -the cartridges “included” with the printer. I decided to buy another printer, a different brand.

  4. We bought the instant ink plan and cancelled after five months because we were barely printing anything. They charged through the next month, then disabled my printer cartridges that I paid $35.00 for through the plan, and they want us to mail the cartridges back to them. Best Buy should not push this plan. There is no savings to it. If we hadn’t cancelled, we would have been paying an astronomical amount of money per page printed since we were barely using the plan. Now I have no ink cartridge, plenty of ink left in the cartridge that we did pay for, and have to go buy other cartridges. Total rip off, was not as explained, complete false advertising.

  5. My experience has been similar to others. The first 2 cartridges I received via InstantInk were both defective, and had to be replaced. One produced a purple and turquoise copy of black text. The other produced pink and yellow copies of photos. I had to return both cartridges plus copies verifying those defects to HP (at their expense), but the defective copies were counted against my 100/mo count. Since I needed to print before the replacements arrived, I bought regular cartridges. The printer would not allow me to use them since I was still on the InstantInk plan. Only after I cancelled the plan and returned the late-arriving cartridges to HP could I use my printer again.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience. In theory, the automatic supplies replacement sounds like a great idea for all parties, but in practice there seem to be many failures with the service. I continue to just buy the ink as needed from Staples.

  6. Sorry – don’t see anything in their marketing that is misleading – they say ” save up to 50% ” It’s not even ” save 50%* ” with a “*” disclaimer in fine print. That directly suggests the customer to determine or if it applies to them.

    For the service itself, have had for 6 months for our small business, and we are happy with it. We are a visual retailer, and print catalog pages, and many color graphics for sales support and staff training – about 350 pages / mo. We were constantly changing out / running out of ink. Now, savings will come-in above 40%, and one-less hassle to take care of. I can see how a standard office savings would be much less, but here’s one example that the “up to 50%” can be backed up – no brainer for us.

    1. What visual retailer would lack the business sense to plan ahead for ink usage and have a couple of extra cartridges in back stock? Sounds like an HP shill to me.

  7. My experience echoes those above; non-savings, blocked use… I will add, nagging emails and popups. I have changed out cartridges, but still pay per page till end of contract. I did not want to give new CC info for a plan I had already canceled. But they wont let me pay buy check/paypal/cash. I sent them a check anyway.

  8. #HPInstantInk is a complete scam. I have been using this printer for well over a year. I print about 200 pages a month. I thought this would be a great deal. BUT the printer stops working when I try to print volume, it now prints blank pages out of nowhere, and when my I have just paid for the month, it works just fine. But once I go over about 25 pages, it gives me so much trouble that printing 25 pages actually takes about 50 pages. NONE of this happened with the exact same printer until I signed up for the services.

    The only thing I learned is do NOT trust HP and that printer cartridges can hold ten times the ink somehow when they have to ship them and pay for the cartridges. The cartridge they send will print so much more than the largest cartridge you can buy.

    Also, I was on hold and hung up on 7 times by HP support. My printer will not work, it claims a “billing error” My billing is correct. I am absolutely certain as it is my billing information for all my automatic account withdrawals. You see I only used 28 pages of my 300, but by the time I am able to reach support the month will have rolled over… So I paid for 300 pages but only printed 28… DO NOT trust HP Instant Ink.

    Buy a more expensive printer from a reputable company. Notice this service only works with certain models? They sell them so cheap because they know you have to buy their ink or your printer will not work. You will save a ton going with almost any other printer.


  9. Hi, question for people who have canceled instant ink:

    How exactly does HP bar you from using instant ink cartridges when you cancel your service? i’ve heard they disable the printer’s wifi. if so, would it be possible to plug your printer up with a usb and print the rest of the instant ink cartridges?

    1. Terry, I believe there is coding on the cartridges themselves. My situation was same as yours, and I couldn’t even make a photocopy when I signed off Wi-Fi. So creepy that they can turn your printer into a big black brick remotely! Cancelled immediately and bought my own cartridges, and now can print/copy with no problem, and found it costs less to buy my own cartridges after all.

  10. I HATE THIS PROGRAM. They send you a large ink cartridge (larger than is available for purchase in the stores). If you cancel the service, you can no longer use the remaining ink. And the hp cartridges you were using before are too dry to now refill. The customer service is bad, it’s hard to get someone on the phone, and I’m left in a worse position than I started. Last thing: if you try to change the print layout in Adobe to 4 pages to 1 page, you will still be charged for the total number of pages (regardless of the fact that you actually saved ink by printing on less sheets of paper. Two thumbs down!

  11. DO NOT BUY INSTANT INK UNLESS YOU KNOW YOUR PRINTER WILL BE ABLE TO CONNECT TO THE INTERNET. My daughter bought a new HP printer and subscribed to instant ink before leaving for college. When she arrived on campus, she learned that the dorms in her college do not allow student’s printers to connect to the internet. Fine, so we tried using her cell phone’s hotspot, but couldn’t connect. We contacted HP who confirmed that the printer’s wireless connection is not compatible with all hotspot services. Short story long, because her printer couldn’t connect with HP, it blocked her from printing, even though she was still using the original cartridges with plenty of ink left. We had to cancel Instant Ink and buy all new cartridges.

  12. I signed up for instant ink about 6 months into having my printer and had the first 2 months free. I NEVER RECEIVED ANY CARTRIDGES THROUGH THEM but when my credit card expired before the 2 months were up I decided I really did not want a recurring monthly charge and cancelled. My printer will not print now even though the cartridge I purchased and inserted before enrolling is FULL OF INK! I am so disgusted with Hp.
    The other thing they do is force you to print and waste ink & paper for stuff that would be just fine to view on screen instead. They do it on purpose. I will never purchase another hp product again as long as I live.
    Did you read that HP? N-E-V-E-R! ┌∩┐(^_~)┌∩┐

  13. tdlr; Same ink same cartridges but one can block you and you probably won’t save much if you’re a regular home user or print b&w(xl cartridges are more cost effective)
    I like hp printers, I haven’t actually owned any non hp printer before and got a deal at frys for an envy 5540 that retails at $129 for about $40 bucks. It includes a free 3 month plan for their instant ink program you need a CC for it to take effect though. If you opt for the enrollment card you may not need a CC?. The trial ink included in the packaging is instant ink so I’m guessing if you want to print from the get go, YOU HAVE TO BUY YOUR OWN INK or choose one of their plans using HP Instant Ink. The 3 month free plan is a meager 15pg/per month, what I find entrapping about this is most people when they get a new printer go on a printing spree and will be forced to spend more money on either the plan or their own non instant ink cartridges. The other thing is that for some reason they themselves state their cartridges hold more ink than the expensive xl cartridges so practically admitting they’ve been holding out why not just offer bigger cartridges to all?

    Who saves from this plan, people who print a lot and in color everyone else will feel it is a rip off since the charges are incurred monthly regardless of you printing or not. You get up to a month’s roll over so long as you’re still subscribed. If you want extra pages the higher the tier of the plan the cheaper they become (the sets all cost an extra buck but you more pages on the 300pg/month plan), The plans aren’t bad 50/100/300 the most expensive only being $9.99 but personally I don’t print all that much. The problem is sometimes you want to print a large job so going with the cheapest plan means you’ll be paying extra.

    I will cancel the freebie before the 3 months I just don’t like the idea of having a to pay for something I already own. But that’s just it you never own the ink that came with your printer(if you bought a instant ink hp printer). You have to purchase the non instant ink cartridges separately. I’ll be buying my own cartridges and print on my own schedule and if they want to improve their plan unlimited roll over so you never end up paying for nothing. Other than that I think others are making a big fuss over not understanding what they’ve just bought. Of course I haven’t had to cancel the subscription just yet but I’ve read from many other sites people are having issues but the bulk of them seem to be people thinking that the instant ink cartridges would be theirs once they cancelled and then find out those have been blocked, your printer still functions it just wont print using instant ink cartridges(the ink and cartridges is the same the only thing that changes is the chip on them and how much ink they hold -_-). The other problem is hp nagging people who never bought their plan or who have cancelled using the non instant ink cartridges having to actually go to their printers(to answer nags) to get any printing done. This is actually a very serious issue and I would return my device if that’s the case.

    It’s not cost effective but they should include both types of cartridges or only the non instant ink ones. Buying one of these instant ink enabled printers means either having to join one of their plans, or buying your own regular ink as you get none included.

    There are people who CAN benefit from these plans but I think most will save more just buying regular ink. If you really want to save just buy refill kits or non-hp branded ink, but that’s the point right this is where they’re hemorrhaging money and the type of businesses they’re “attacking” with their subscription model. We’ve become too complacent letting companies choose how we use our products although having options is always better those options being offered need to be good otherwise you as a company just alienate your consumer.

  14. I found that I in fact wasn’t saving any money with the Instant Ink package. I called to cancel my service & gotta the run around on the phone as usual. I was told that the $20 I had spent already, was simply me borrowing their ink cartridges. And that I needed to return them by a certain day to avoid any further fees. Really it is just a waste of time and money. Even recently I had purchased a laptop from them & in under 30 days it no longer would turn on.

  15. Giant scam! DO not purchase instant ink. They will charge you every month and send you nothing in return. I cancelled my service and they have disabled my printer form using the ink cartridges that I have been paying for. Now I have 2 cartridges(1 color, 1 blck) that are half full that I have to throw away because they dont work. I called customer service and they were assholes about it and no help. Taking my money and running.

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