What is HP Instant Ink?

What is HP Instant Ink
(Image credit: HP)

If you own an inkjet printer or are considering the purchase of one, you would be wise to consider an ink subscription. Just like high-yield ink cartridges reduce ongoing ink costs compared to lower-yield cartridges, an ink subscription offers another way to save on ink. The most popular of these services is HP Instant Ink, an ink-by-mail subscription service that is offered alongside most of the HP printers sold today.

For this article, we're looking at HP's Instant Ink program, which the company claims can save you up to 50% on ink costs. We've crunched the numbers and compared the subscription plan costs to the price of standard cartridges to see if this is true. We've also looked at how HP Instant Ink rollover pages can save you money and headache, and how the ease of changing your plan makes HP Instant Ink billing pretty simple, even when your printing needs change in a given month.

What is HP Instant Ink?

HP's Instant Ink program is a subscription service that HP offers its customers, which uses your printer's usage data and your monthly printing habits to send regular ink refills right when you need them.

The best part? It's all at a low monthly cost that is generally less expensive and more convenient than buying new cartridges in stores every time you run out.

How does HP Instant Ink work?

One convenience of an Instant Ink subscription is that ink cartridges are ordered automatically. Although it can take up to 10 days for the cartridges to arrive by mail, ink gets ordered well before you should ever run out. For this to happen, you need to have the printer connected to the internet. To set up the subscription account, you need a valid email address and to put a valid credit or debit card on file.

HP Instant Ink

(Image credit: HP)

Unless you suddenly decide to take on an enormous printing project, you should not run out of ink before replacement cartridges arrive. That's because an ink cartridge order is placed well before you're expected to run out—and this is based on the number of pages included in your monthly plan.

HP Instant Ink prices and monthly plans

Every person, household and office has different printing needs, which is why HP offers four primary monthly plans, ranging from 15 to 300 pages per month for the majority of home and business users.

HP Instant Ink

(Image credit: HP)

If you need something better suited to the demands of an office, HP also has a Business plan that jumps up to 700 pages per month.

HP Instant Ink

(Image credit: HP)

HP offers flexibility in changing plans, allowing you to upgrade and downgrade, depending on your printing volume. If you downgrade to a lesser plan, the change takes place at the next billing cycle. You can, however, upgrade your plan in the middle of a billing cycle.

If you need more pages in any given month, you can purchase 10 extra pages for $1 (10 cents per page), or 15 pages for $1 (6.7 cents per page) with the Business plan. If you don't use all of your pages, they will roll over—up to double the monthly page amount allowed in your subscription plan. If the printer is connected to the internet, you should receive an email notifying you when you are near using up all the pages in your plan. You also can check your print volume via HPSmart.com.

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HP Instant Ink Plans
NameCostPages Per MonthRollover PagesCost Per Page*
Basic$0.9915457 cents
Occasional$2.99501506 cents
Moderate$4.991003005 cents
Frequent$11.993009004 cents
Business$24.997002,1004 cents

Perhaps the most interesting detail in this subscription program is that all pages cost the same. No matter if you print an 8 x 10-inch color photo on glossy paper or a text document on plain paper, every page simply counts as a page under the plan.

HP calls its Instant Ink cartridges “extra high capacity”. They have more ink than XL cartridges, and thus you replace them less often. You return the cartridges for recycling in postage-paid packaging sent to you by HP. No more need to drive them to a local retailer like Office Depot that recycles ink cartridges.

There are no additional fees for a subscription, beyond the monthly fee and the additional pages surcharge. There is no hidden annual fee. You can cancel at any time.

If you already own an Instant Ink-eligible printer, you can sign up for a subscription now, but you won't be billed until you begin using it. So, even if you still have plenty of ink in your HP printer, you can sign up now for Instant Ink now, but won't be billed until 30 days after you have installed the first Instant Ink cartridge in your printer.

HP Instant Ink vs regular ink purchases

Will a subscription plan in all cases be less expensive than buying ink cartridges on your own? That may be a difficult calculation to make, because many factors come into play.

For example, let's take the HP OfficeJet 250, a portable printer whose high-yield cartridges have estimated costs per page of 6.7 cents for black, and 17.3 cents for color pages. Even with the basic plan, which comes out to 7 cents a month, it looks like you would come out ahead if you printed just a few color pages per month. By this logic, the more color pages you print, the more you are saving by having a subscription plan.

As previously described, you don't lose pages you don't use. But, you can only roll over so many. On the Basic plan of 15 pages a month, you can roll over a maximum of 30 pages. With the 50-page Occasional plan, you can roll over up to 100 pages, and so on. As long as you use up all your pages, it appears that you will save money over buying cartridges on your own, when you need them.

By the same token, the HP Envy 7855 offers costs per page of 7.1 cents (text) and 18 cents (color) when using high-yield cartridges. The Moderate plan of 100 pages monthly would knock down your cost per page to 5 cents. The more color pages you print, the more money you're saving.

If you need to downgrade your plan, and do so in time, you should be able to prevent any loss in rolled over pages.

HP Instant Ink ready printers

Many of the company's Deskjet and Officejet printers are eligible for the program, including all of the models recently tested by Tom's Guide. This includes models seen in our best printers list, like our HP Tango X review, the HP Envy 7855 printer review and the HP OfficeJet 250 that tops our list of the best portable printers. Several of HP's office-oriented printers, like the HP OfficeJet Pro 9025, also support an Instant Ink subscription.

Given the long list of compatible models, it’s most likely that an HP model on your short list supports Instant Ink. HP’s online store offers a page listing Instant Ink printers.

One critical feature for compatibility is a working internet connection. If a printer is offline, it will not be able to report supply levels and trigger shipment of your next set of ink cartridges (or, toner cartridge).

However, Instant Ink is not available on all HP printers. The slightly older HP OfficeJet Pro 7720, for example, isn't eligible for an Instant Ink plan.

HP Instant Ink

(Image credit: HP)

What you'll find missing from this list is any mention of HP's many laser printers, but that's not going to be the case for long. HP has recently added toner to the Instant Ink plan, letting monochrome laser printer owners enjoy the same subscription-based savings and convenient refills by mail. At press time, color laser printers were not supported.

Is HP Instant Ink worth it?

There is no doubt that HP Instant Ink can save you money, if you maximize your monthly print limit. HP claims that you can save up to 50 percent, but this calculation is based on standard cartridges, not high-yield cartridges, and assumes a fixed cost per page. The biggest question is how many color pages you print—the more color pages you print, the more you'll save by switching to an Instant Ink subscription, particularly if you make lots of large prints of color photos. Or, to look at it another way, having an Instant Ink subscription will free you up to print all those documents in color that in the past you printed in black-and-white in order to avoid the high cost of using your color inks.

It may take vigilance to avoid losing rolled-over pages. You need to make sure to downgrade your plan if you are not using all your pages, and are approaching the limit of rolled-over pages. HP makes this part easy, allowing you to downgrade at the next monthly billing cycle, without locking you in to a longer term. Checking your print volume is easy via HPSmart.com.

Also, you will want to make sure you upgrade your plan if you need to, so you don't overpay for extra pages. HP makes it easy to purchase extra pages, and also allows you to upgrade in the middle of a billing cycle, if you want to. That's quite a bit of flexibility.

All that said, even if you were to lose some pages in your plan, your cost per page would not skyrocket to the traditional costs of color pages, using ink cartridges without a subscription.

For example, even if you only used 75 of the 100 pages allowed each month under the Moderate plan—and lost them all because you maxed out the allowed rollover—your cost per page would only increase from 5 cents to 6.7 cents. That's still less than the cost of a text page when printing with high-yield cartridges in the HP Envy 7855.

As a worst-case scenario, if you only used 10 of the 15 pages under the Basic plan, you'd be paying 9.9 cents per page, using the same "lost rollover pages" assumption.

Although your individual savings may depend on what you print, and the consistency of your print volume, HP Instant Ink appears to be a pretty solid bet for most printing scenarios. Given the flexibility of the plans, the number of allowed rollover pages, and the ability to change plans without getting into a long-term commitment, it appears HP Instant Ink offers a subscription service that can save most inkjet printer owners money.

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.