HP’s Instant Ink

Never buy ink at the store again

HP's Instant Ink service delivers excellent CPPs
HP's Instant Ink service delivers excellent CPPs, especially on entry-level printers. Photo courtesy of HP

A little while back, AboutTech reviewed Epson’s new EcoTank ink delivery service, and since then I’ve reviewed one of them, the WorkForce ET-4550 EcoTank All-in-One Printer. While EcoTank is an interesting approach to reducing an inkjet printer’s cost per page, it has a problem or two. Yet another ink delivery method not yet discussed here is HP’s Instant Ink program—an entirely different approach.

Now, with Brother chiming in with its INKvestment product designed to deliver exceptionally low per page costs, the only major inkjet printer maker not to offer a reduced cost per page product is Canon. So far, though, the only actual monthly service where you pay a monthly fee is Instant Ink. In fact, it is precisely the idea that it’s a monthly service that has taken it a while to catch on. I must admit that I was skeptical at first, too.

How Instant Ink works

Of the ink delivery products available at the moment, Instant Ink is by far the most sophisticated and developed. Basically, after its set up, the printer keeps track of how much ink you have and then orders more when you start to run out. That’s right, the printer calls home for more juice. You can interact with the Instant Ink Web portal to adjust your plan, order additional ink, and so on.

Most changes you make on the website happen right away. For example, I ran out recently and went online to order more. I was printing again almost immediately after increasing my limit or going to a higher plan. (Obviously, there was more ink in the tanks than I initially signed up for; the printer just couldn’t get to it, before I paid for it.)

The Instant Ink plans

If you print regularly, Instant Ink really does provide huge per-page savings, especially on entry-level, low-volume printers that before Instant Ink cost far too much to use, on a per-page basis. So let’s look at those plans first:

  • 50-page plan: $2.99 a month and each additional 15 pages cost $1 for a CPP of about 6 cents.
  • 100-page plan: $4.99 a month and each additional 20 pages cost $1 for a CPP of about 6 cents.
  • 300-page plan: $9.99 a month and each additional 25 pages cost $1 for a CPP of about 3.3 cents.

Certainly, the best plan is the $10 one. But the aspect that is not made clear by any of HPs marketing is that these per-page charges apply no matter what you’re printing, be it a monochrome document, a color document, or color photo, they all cost the same.

That’s right, with the 300-page plan you can print photos, on any size photo paper the printer supports for 3.3 cents. Keep in mind that an 8.5x11-inch photo uses a ton of ink, many times more than your average document. Just like a short black-and-white letter, that photo costs 3.3 cents—a savings of perhaps close to a dollar on some printers.

With dollar-per add-ons, the plans are flexible enough to allow you to grow, some. These are, even the highest of them, low-volume plans. While 300 prints may seem like a lot to most homes and many small businesses, there are many, many businesses out there that print thousands of pages each month, and of course , none of these plans are really suited to that.

As I wrote this, HP was offering the first month free and discounts for committing to annual service; the CPP goes even lower.

But then, now you’re talking high-volume printer, and the good ones already have competitively low CPPs. When you pay $300 or $400 for a high-volume printer, you should expect that value is already built in. It’s part of the high purchase price, or it should be.

For those $100 printers that have until now cost far too much to use, Instant Ink is a darn good value—as long as you print enough each month to justify the monthly expense. It’s a good, well-thought-out product and a fair attempt at making printing more affordable.