The overwhelming majority of experts say that if quality and reliability matter to you most, you should stick with your printer manufacturer's recommended ink cartridges and ink (even though you can save money by buying aftermarket cartridges). For example, the combination of a Canon, Epson, HP or Lexmark printer and the recommended ink and paper most often results in photos that look the best and last the longest without fading, reviewers say. If you're mainly printing text pages or noncritical graphics, however, you can save some money by buying refilled printer ink cartridges from Cartridge World (*Est. $8 to $19).
We found the best reviews of ink cartridges from Canon, Epson, HP and Lexmark at three consumer-testing organizations -- ConsumerReports.org, and its overseas counterparts Which? magazine (U.K.) and Choice magazine (Australia). PC World and TrustedReviews.com also conduct scientific tests comparing manufacturers' OEM cartridges to aftermarket ink. Wilhelm Imaging Research provides useful data about the relative reliability of printer inks.
1. PC World
PC World and the Rochester Institute of Technology test inks from Canon, Epson, HP, Kodak and Lexmark alongside cheaper aftermarket inks. Although the lower-cost inks print more pages, images printed with the brand-name inks look better and fade less.
Review: Cheap Ink: Will It Cost You?, Jeff Bertolucci, June 23, 2008
2. Which? magazine
Editors here test 19 ink cartridges, including inks from Canon, Epson, HP and Lexmark as well as Cartridge World and other aftermarket suppliers. Each ink is rated for document and photo quality.
Review: Ink Cartridge Reviews, Editors of Which? magazine
3. Choice magazine
This test pits official manufacturers' ink against multiple brands of third-party ink in Brother, Canon, Epson, HP and Lexmark printers. Detailed charts show each ink's cost per page and over three years, as well as scores for quality and durability.
Review: Inkjet Refill Alternatives, Steve Duncombe, Updated March 15, 2011
TrustedReviews.com evaluates all aspects of the printer inks they review, including durability, in blind tests. Canon, Epson, HP and Lexmark inks are included, as well as aftermarket inks such as Cartridge World.
Review: The Inkjet Investigation, Simon Williams, April 21, 2007
ConsumerReports.org tests hundreds of store-brand, third-party and generic ink cartridges, using popular photo printers from the three major brands. Editors find that seven of 19 off-brand cartridges are unusable; manufacturers' own inks produce better output, except for a couple of cases in which aftermarket ink was just as good for both images and text.
Review: Printer Inks, Editors of ConsumerReports.org, July 2006
6. Wilhelm Imaging Research
According to this site, Wilhelm Imaging Research "conducts accelerated light exposure and dark aging tests to determine the comparative life expectancy of inkjet and other digitally printed photographs, as well as that of traditional black-and-white and color photographs." Tests here show differences in permanence between aftermarket cartridges and OEM cartridges from Canon, Epson and HP.
Review: Test Results from Wilhelm Imaging Research, Henry Wilhelm and Editors