Reminder: HP’s ‘Cheap’ Instant Ink Program Requires Monthly Payments, Constant Monitoring

Reminder: HP’s ‘Cheap’ Instant Ink Program Requires Monthly Payments, Constant Monitoring

Last November, HP rolled out a new “Instant Ink” program. I didn’t pay much attention to it at the time, and neither, apparently, did a number of other people. Some customers have accidentally discovered that they signed up for a monthly service that you have to purchase indefinitely if you intend to continue using an Instant Ink printer.

Last month I canceled a random charge for $4.99 per month from HP called "InstantInk". Wasn't sure what it was for. I've had it for over a year but had no idea what it did.

I just found out what it did

— Ryan Sullivan (@ryandonsullivan) January 17, 2020

Instant Ink is HP’s idea of “Printing as a service.” Here’s how it works:

Reminder: HP’s ‘Cheap’ Instant Ink Program Requires Monthly Payments, Constant Monitoring

You choose a printing plan that suits your needs. If you print 15 or fewer pages per month, you don’t have to pay anything for Instant Ink. If you pay $3, you can print 50 pages, roll over up to 100 pages that you haven’t used, and buy the right to print 10 additional pages for just $1. This scales up to $20 for 700 pages. The ratio of pages per dollar is 16.6 at the $3 plan and 35 at the $20 plan. Anything with ink on it counts as a page.

There are some good points to Instant Ink, including:

  • No contract (service is month to month)
  • HP monitors printer ink levels and automatically ships new cartridges before you run out
  • You can print in color for the same price-per-sheet as printing in black and white, not counting the cost of photo paper.
  • Less risk (at least in theory) of running out of ink at a critical moment. I suspect this is why the $19.99 plan comes with a spare set of cartridges — HP is aware that a company might suddenly need to print hundreds of pages.
  • It appears to be optional on every printer except the HP Tango, which requires Instant Ink in order to work. If you’re aware of other products that require it, sound off below. HP is pushing the idea hard but it doesn’t seem to have started making it mandatory across product lines just yet.

Here’s the downsides:

  • The printer requires a constant internet connection in order for Instant Ink to work.
  • You cannot roll over pages you paid for indefinitely (you can adjust your plan)
  • You’re literally paying someone an ongoing fee for the privilege of printing from a product you purchased at a store at full price.
  • Any amount of ink counts as a page. Need to print a test sheet? That’s a page. Accidentally wind up with one letter printed on an otherwise blank sheet? Still counts as a page.
  • Instant Ink only competes with printer ink costs if you print a lot of photos, and most people don’t. Good photo paper is also more expensive than regular paper, which would eat into some of the savings.
  • The overage fee structure is insane. You’d need to manage your print volume carefully relative to your print plan in order to avoid them, because slapping an extra 5 to 10-cent tariff on a printer’s per-sheet cost ruins the benefits of this service. The $3/month plan offers a base printing cost of 6 cents per sheet, while the $20/month plan brings this down to 2.8 cents per sheet, but if you have to buy additional paper, both numbers start becoming uncompetitive. According to William Harrel’s HP Office Jet Pro 9015 AIO review, here’s how buying ink the old-fashioned way compares to using Instant Ink on that device:

If you buy the highest-yield XL ink cartridges (2,000 pages monochrome and 1,600 pages color) for this AIO, each monochrome page will cost you about 2.2 cents and each color print will run about 8.8 cents. Subscribing to the company’s highest-yield Instant Ink subscription (700 pages for $19.99 per month, with each additional 20 pages for $1), each page will cost you 2.9 cents… Hence, it is with colorful, content-heavy pages that Instant Ink delivers the best value…

By comparison, the Epson WF-4720’s running costs are 2.7 cents monochrome and 8 cents color. The Canon TR8520, a five-ink printer, will run you significantly more than that. And the Brother MFC-J995DW, one of the company’s INKvestment Tank models, will run you just less than 1 cent for black pages and slightly less than 5 cents for color.

There seems to be very little benefit to anyone from this kind of solution. Instant Ink’s lower-end plans are not price competitive with alternative customer solutions (previously referred to as “buying a printer,”) and its upper-end plans would have you paying $240 per year to use a device you already purchased for $180. Yes, you get ink cartridges shipped to you, but I suspect HP has tailored the price per page against its own ink cartridge costs carefully. Unless you’re planning to start printing out full-page photo albums, I wouldn’t go looking for an HP Instant Ink printer. It may be convenient, but it doesn’t seem to be particularly cheap.

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