What is HP Instant Ink? How does it work, and is it worth it?

January 22, 2024  MIN READ

If you hate running out of ink or toner, you’ll be interested in Instant Ink. It’s an automated order and delivery subscription service that’s an option with most new HP printers. In this article, we examine the pros and cons of the service so that you can decide if Instant Ink is for you.

If you decide to try Instant Ink, read the terms and conditions closely, even if you usually skip ahead to accept all the conditions. As is usual for contracts of this sort, HP has the right to update its agreement (including plan pricing) at its discretion, so make sure you know what you are signing up for.

Key Takeaways

  • Instant Ink is an automated order and delivery subscription service for printer cartridges, available for most new HP printers.
  • The cost of Instant Ink is based on the number of pages you print per month, rather than the number of cartridges used.
  • Instant Ink promises convenience but has its downsides. If your usage and print volume vary or you only print occasional text documents, it’s probably not for you.

What is Instant Ink? How does it work?

HP’s Instant Ink is a subscription service that orders new printer cartridges for delivery to your door before you run out. It is available for most new HP printers.

HP says it means you never have to worry about running out of ink or toner again.

With Instant Ink, you pay a fixed amount each month based on the number of pages you print - not how many printer cartridges you use. How much you pay will depend on which tier package you choose. Because you are paying based on the number of pages you print, you won’t necessarily get new cartridges every month. Instead, you will get replacement Instant Ink cartridges (noticeably bigger than standard or high-yield cartridges), but only when your printer needs them.

You don’t order new cartridges - your printer does. Your printer monitors your ink or toner levels and places an order before you run out. The new cartridges are delivered to your address, along with a pre-paid satchel for returning your old cartridges for recycling.

replacing instant ink cartridge

Instant Ink cartridges are larger than standard or high-yield cartridges, and last longer. Because you pay for pages not cartridges, you only get replacements when needed.

With HP Instant Ink, there is no long-term contract, and you can cancel anytime. And if your printing needs change, you can easily upgrade (or downgrade) your plan to cover you for more (or fewer) pages per month.

Cancel Instant Ink and you can go back to using normal printer cartridges. Your printer will still work as expected (unless you also signed up to HP+).

Wait...you sell printer cartridges - why would you recommend Instant Ink?

At Good Egg, we sell ink and toner cartridges, so you might expect this to be a one-sided argument. After all, if everyone is using Instant Ink, then no one wants the stuff we sell day in and day out.

Sure, a subscription service like Instant Ink (if well-executed) could be bad for our business. But, putting that aside, we will recommend any product or service if we genuinely think it’s a better option for some of our customers.

Our position on Instant Ink? It has its downsides (more about this later) and upsides. It’s not for everyone, but it may be just what you are looking for (and, armed with the information we share here, that’s for you to decide).

Can my printer use Instant Ink?

Most new HP printers that are sold in New Zealand (inkjets and lasers) can accept Instant Ink toner or ink cartridges. Exceptions include wide format printers and HP Smart Tank printers.

If you are unsure if your printer will work with Instant Ink, HP provides this list of compatible printers.

printer and instant ink

Brother, Canon, and Epson offer similar ink and toner subscription services for their printers, but not in New Zealand.

Note that while your printer may be eligible for Instant Ink, HP states in its terms of service that you must be 18 years or older to sign up. Additionally, the service is not available for public sector employees or anyone using it for government or public sector-related purposes.

When should I sign up for Instant Ink?

If you just bought an Instant-Ink-enabled printer, you may be offered a free trial during printer setup. To take advantage of the offer, you must enrol for Instant Ink within seven days of printer setup.

If there’s no free trial, it pays to delay subscribing until you have exhausted the in-box ink or toner that came with your purchase. That’s because when you sign up for Instant Ink, the in-box cartridges that came with your printer are considered Instant Ink subscription cartridges. In other words, you pay to print pages you would not otherwise have had to pay for. Just remember that there will be a delay after signing up before you get your Welcome Kit delivery of subscription cartridges.

If you are not using in-box cartridges but switching from regular cartridges you subsequently bought online or at a store, keep using your regular ink or toner until you have received the Instant Ink cartridges. Your Instant Ink start date is not your sign-up date but the day you insert your first subscription cartridge.

Going away for a bit? In some countries, HP offers a “Pause” Vacation Mode (which can last for one to three months and which you can use twice a year). However, this option does not yet appear available for New Zealand subscribers.

When will I get my Instant Ink cartridges?

After you’ve signed up, you’ll receive a Welcome Kit (while HP New Zealand does not specify a delivery timeframe, we recommend you allow up to a week or more). When ink or toner levels are low, your printer orders new cartridges. So long as your printer remains online, new subscription cartridges are automatically ordered in time so replacements can arrive before you run out. Don’t install the new cartridges until your printer alerts you that the printer cartridges need replacement.

If your usage patterns are irregular and a big print job comes up, you can still run out of ink or toner.

worry free delivery

How much does Instant Ink cost?

You pay a monthly fee for printing up to a given number of pages, and pricing varies by printer type (laser or inkjet) and tier. Prices can change but, at this writing, you can get started for just $1.99 a month (for up to 10 inkjet pages) or $3.99 (for up to 50 laser printer pages).

For small businesses, HP recommends the 700-page inkjet tier ($39.99) or the 1,500-page laser printer tier ($44.99). Prices are GST-inclusive and also include the cost of delivery and cartridge recycling.

It’s important to know roughly how many pages you will need to print. You can upgrade or downgrade your plan at any time but, while you can make an upgrade immediately, a downgrade to fewer pages will not take effect until the next billing cycle.

Any unused pages in your monthly subscription can carry over, but there is a limit to how many can be rolled over (three times your monthly ink allowance or double your toner allowance). If you print more pages than allowed for in your plan, you can pay for extra pages. You pay for sets of 10-20 pages (depending on your plan) at the base (maximum) rate. Or you can simply upgrade your plan.

How will I know if I am over my monthly printing limit?

HP sends email reminders when you are close to meeting your plan limit. You can also use the HP Smart app or sign in to your account at hpinstantink.com/users/signin to see how many pages you’ve printed, what rollover pages you have, how much ink or toner you have left (and if more is on the way).

What happens if I cancel Instant Ink?

If you decide not to continue with Instant Ink, have some normal printer cartridges on hand so you can still print after cancelling the service. Even if there is ink or toner left in your Instant Ink cartridges, they will be disabled at the end of your billing cycle and you will need to return them to HP (at no charge to you). The exception is if you are still using the in-box cartridges that came with your printer  - they are converted to subscription cartridges when you sign up for Instant Ink, but you can continue to use them as normal cartridges.

At the end of the month, once you have cancelled, you will be charged in full for the last month of service. There are no refunds for unused pages in your plan (including rollover pages) or unused ink or toner.

What happens if my printer is not online?

To print, your printer must remain powered on and continuously connected to the Internet. When it is no longer online, the subscription cartridges are disabled. When it is offline, you can no longer print (although your subscription continues and you will still be charged each month).

printer must stay online

Your printer needs to be permanently online for Instant Ink to work. If it is offline, your cartridges are disabled and you can no longer print, and new cartridges may not be ordered before you run out.

Is Instant Ink better for the environment?

If you think Instant Ink is worth it for the environmental benefits, think again. HP tells a good story: Instant Ink helps reduce waste by only delivering new ink cartridges when needed, providing you with larger cartridges with less packaging, and recycling your used cartridges. What’s more, HP+ is part of the Forest First programme, where for every page you print (regardless of the brand of paper you use), HP will invest in forest restoration, protection, and conservation.

instant ink recycling

With Instant Ink, you get a pre-paid satchel for returning your old cartridges for recycling.

We like that HP makes it easy to recycle used cartridges and that money spent on Instant Ink is invested in environmental initiatives. However, while all that sounds good, critics argue that the HP+ programme encourages excessive printing (since you have a fixed fee for the page volume range you select). In New Zealand, there’s another issue - replacement Instant Ink cartridges are airfreighted directly from Singapore when needed.

Is HP Instant Ink worth it?

The answer to the question of whether or not Instant Ink is worth it depends on who’s asking.

Instant Ink works best if you print regularly, with relatively consistent output each month, and prefer the results you get with genuine HP ink and toner. Because every page costs the same, black and white or colour, you will save the most on ink and toner if you frequently print graphics and photos in full colour.

Instant Ink’s fans praise its convenience. That’s because there’s no need to monitor ink and toner levels so you don’t run out). Every page costs the same and, if you always buy genuine HP cartridges, Instant Ink can save you money - it’s as much as half the cost, according to HP. They also like that if you don’t print all of the pages in your monthly plan, any unused pages roll over to the next month.

The key to getting good value from Instant Ink is choosing the right monthly plan (since there is a limit to how many rollover pages you get, and additional pages are more expensive). Ironically, instead of monitoring how much ink or toner you have left, you must watch how many pages you print. And a printed page, by HP’s definition, is any page you print - no matter how little is on the page, even if it is only a single word, it will be included in your subscription count. If you print both sides of a page, HP will count that as your printing two pages.

If you don’t print regularly or your usage and print volume vary, then Instant Ink is probably not a good fit - stick with store-bought printer cartridges instead. Similarly, if you only print the occasional text document, you won’t save money with subscription ink.

If privacy is a concern, Instant Ink is not your ideal choice. By signing up for Instant Ink, you authorise HP to remotely monitor your printing activities, including page count, ink levels, the types of documents you print (Word, PowerPoint, etc), device types used for printing, and whether the last cartridge you used was genuine or compatible, new or used. Moreover, you consent to HP sharing certain information, such as your name, address, email, printer model, and printer serial number, with the retailer from which you purchased the subscription.

hp smart tank 5101

If you want to save money on inkjet cartridges, you’ll find a cartridgeless printer in the HP Smart Tank or Canon MegaTank range is less expensive to run than a cartridge-based inkjet.

If you decide Instant Ink is not for you, you have other options for saving money on ink and toner. Ink tank printers cost more upfront, but it is more economical to buy ink refills than cartridges and even cheaper if you use third-party ink.

The same goes for standard laser printers (not HP+ printers). Look for a laser printer with low running costs, and you can print contentedly without worrying about how many pages you print each month.

As we’ve said, Instant Ink may not be suitable if you print infrequently or your print volumes vary. However, if you print regularly and prefer genuine HP ink, it can be a cost-saving and convenient option.

If you decide to try Instant Ink, read the terms of service closely, even if you usually skip ahead to accept all the conditions. As is usual for contracts of this sort, HP has the right to update its agreement (including plan pricing) at its discretion, so make sure you know what you are signing up for.

About the Author Jeremy Templer

Our gadget guy. Jeremy’s love for new technology dates back to his first computer, a Mac SE with 2MB RAM and a 20MB hard disk. A former editor of Australian MacUser, he has been writing about the internet, consumer technology and software for over 30 years. He has owned a variety of Canon, Epson, Brother and HP inkjet and laser printers over this time. While he still owns an HP Colour LaserJet MFP M277dw, he has his eyes on an OKI C650dn.

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