HP's new ink subscription plan includes a printer — but is it right for you?

HP All-In Plan promo image
(Image credit: HP)

There's a new ink subscription plan in town, and it's definitely worth a look. 

The All-In Plan ($6.99/month to start) from Hewlett-Packard works much like its predecessor, Instant Ink. You choose a plan based on how many pages you print, and ink cartridges are automatically shipped to you when your printer is running low. The big new feature here is that the printer is included in the plan.

Yes, you read that right. It's a novel offering, especially for an industry criticized for using the "razor model" (giving away printers for cheap in order to trap customers into buying expensive ink known as "liquid gold" in the long term). But a lot of changed since then, and now all the big players offer ink subscriptions that promise to save you money.

With the up-front investment of buying a printer erased, HP has erased the first step of the buying decision. Now, you just pick your plan and start printing, no need to spend hours researching the best printer to buy first.

However, right now you don't get many printers to choose from with the All-In Plan. Your choice of printers is limited to three models: the Envy 6020e, Envy Inspire 7258e, and OfficeJet Pro 9010e.

HP Smart Tank 7602 review unit on table

With HP's new plan they send you the printer included, no need to waste time shopping for your own. (Image credit: Future)

The monthly price to use it depends on which of the three printer models you choose, and the price increases the more pages you print. As with Instant Ink and other ink subscriptions plans, there is no distinction between black-and-white and color pages; a page is a page is a page. If you go over your plan's allotment, your monthly invoice will include a one-dollar charge per set of 10-15 pages, depending on the plan. If you are under, your unused pages are rolled over to the next month. You can roll over up to three times your plan's allotment. A 300-page monthly plan, for example, allows you to roll over up to 900 pages.

So far, so good, right? Ink subscriptions that automatically order ink for you ensure that you don't find yourself in a bind, having to drive to a store for cartridges. Now, All-In Plan gives you a printer without having to fork out that initial investment, and gives you 24/7 tech support.

The All-In Plan offers round-the-clock live printer support. If an issue can't be resolved, HP will send a replacement, possibly the next business day. There is no charge for the shipping nor the return shipping of a malfunctioning printer.

The plan has a 30-day trial period. After two years, you have the option of upgrading to a new printer.

Breaking down the cost

Ultimately, the value of the All-In Plan depends on how much you print and the value you place on not having to buy a printer. You can not make a direct comparison to a printer's costs per page because these are calculated for two different standardized pages—one to approximate text pages, another for color graphics. But, it's still worth the consideration.

When I reviewed the HP Envy 7955e, its estimated costs per page were 7 cents for text pages and 18.1 cents for color pages, when using its high-yield ink cartridges (which lowered costs per page slightly). Currently, the average costs per page for similar printers is 6.2 cents (text) and 15.9 cents (color). By contrast, ink tank printers and Brother models that use very high-yield cartridges, average

HP Envy Inspire 7955e display

(Image credit: HP)

Of course, that price distinction of color ink versus black ink goes away with a subscription. If you like to print with a lot of color, this may have obvious appeal. This may be especially true if you print a lot.

For example, for roughly the same cost of printing text pages with the Envy 7955e, you could print 300 color pages per month from an Envy (5.3 cents per page) or Envy Aspire (6.3 cents per page) printer—without having to buy the printer.

But that's not to say that every tier of the All-In Plan looks that appealing. The Light tier with an Envy printer, for example, runs 35 cents per page. But if you are expecting print duties to pick up dramatically in the near future, you'd drop that cost to 11 cents per page if you upgrade to the plan with 100 pages per month.

All-In or Instant Ink?

Compared directly to Instant Ink, the All-In Plan reads like a bargain, in many cases. The moderate plan with 100 monthly pages, for example, includes the printer for just $4 extra per month. At that rate, you wouldn't recoup your cost on a $129 printer for two years and eight months.

However, allotting 300 pages monthly costs $22.99 with the All-In Plan and an OfficeJet Pro printer and just $13.99 with Instant Ink. Assuming you bought an OfficeJet Pro printer that cost $289, you would recoup that investment in two years and eight months, thereafter saving $9 per month on your printing costs (assuming the printer continues to work flawlessly).

The ink tank alternative

The lowest costs per page among inkjet printers are offered by those with ink tanks or that use very high-yield cartridges. These models print thousands of pages before running out of ink. However, they also tend to be a little pricey. The price of models we've reviewed in this category has averaged roughly $400 over the past four years. Two recent examples: the $350 HP Smart Tank 7602 and the $230 Epson EcoTank ET-2850.

Ink costs for these printers have averaged just 0.4 cent for text pages and 1.5 cents for color pages. That's a dramatic difference compared to standard inkjet printers as well as the costs of the HP All-In Plan.

Nonetheless, this doesn't mean the All-In Plan isn't worth serious consideration. But you should do the math (based on your expected print output) to make sure your expectations are met.

For example, if you sign up for the moderate plan of 100 pages monthly with an HP Envy Inspire printer, you pay $12.99 per month, or $155.88 for the year.

By comparison, you have to pay $350 up front for the Smart Tank 7602. If you print roughly half text pages and half color pages, your ink costs for printing the same number of pages for the year (1,200) will be roughly $72, at 0.6 cent a pop. And, you'll still have plenty of ink left in the tanks.

In sum, the cost of the moderate All-In Plan with an Envy Inspire will break even in roughly two years and three months, compared to buying the Smart Tank printer outright. Thereafter, you'll either be paying $12.99 per month for the plan, or 6 cents monthly to print. This latter option, of course, does not include the plan's perks, including no-cost printer replacement, 24/7 support, and automatic ink cartridge shipments.

This cost difference narrows more quickly at higher print volumes. The 500-page plan with an Envy Aspire, for example, costs $25.99 per month, or $311.88 annually. The break-even time is at roughly 14 months. Thereafter, you'll still pay $25.99 per month for the plan, while printing 500 pages with the Smart Tank would use up an estimated $3 in ink per month.

Outlook

It goes without saying that one size does not fit all in the inkjet printer world. I hope my back-of-the-napkin calculations have provided some helpful information for comparison. Costs per page are just one consideration, however. You can't discount the convenience of a plan like HP's All-In. If you have been a fan of ink subscriptions, then a small monthly markup to include a printer is likely very enticing.

Another way to look at it is that the frequent plan with Instant Ink (300 pages per month) costs 4.7 cents per page. The All-In Plan includes an Envy printer at that level for 5.7 cents per page, or an Envy Inspire 6.3 cents per page.

Many factors impact this decision, including how your home office or business works. If you often replace your printer, you might welcome getting rid of that repeated one-time expense. The All-In Plan offers some enticing costs per page while removing some of the guesswork and hassle of choosing a printer, troubleshooting a printer, and keeping supplies on hand. If all of that adds up to a no-brainer for you, I guess you could say you are "all in".

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Eric Butterfield is a freelance writer and musician from California. His work has appeared in PC World magazine, CNET, Taproot, and Alter Action — plus Tom's Guide, of course — while his music has appeared in more than 260 TV show episodes for major networks such as NBC, Hulu, BBC America, and more. You can check out his work on Spotify.