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Nearly two and a half years ago, I was one of the lucky people who were offered the chance to test printer cartridges for a certain well known consumer review site. It would be understandable if you thought "Lucky? Ink cartridges - what's lucky about that?" and I would agree that ink is boring stuff most of the time. The lucky bit was getting to keep a super-whizzy printer/scanner/copier from HP.
After the initial two free sets of printer cartridges ran out, I had to start buying my own and soon realised that it was going to cost me a fortune to feed my hungry HP Photosmart C309g since it uses not one but FIVE different cartridges. Whilst this has the advantage that you never have to throw away a multi-colour cartridge just because one of the colours ran out, it does mean you end up buying a lot of the damned things. It didn't take me long to work out that the shocking costs of ink could be reduced a little by buying the 4-cartridge multipacks.
If you're paying attention there's a fairly obvious inconsistency in the offering of a four pack when the printer actually uses five cartridges - cyan, magenta, yellow, black and 'photo black'. The multipack doesn't solve all your ink needs as one of the two black cartridges - the photo black - is not included and still needs to be bought separately. I would guess that there must be printers which use these cartridges and DON'T do photo printing.
Whilst this is a review of the multipack, I guess something needs to be said about the quality of the cartridges in general and how to use them. Once you get the hang of the way to load these, they are pretty idiot proof although I have to admit when I first got the printer I managed to attempt to repeatedly insert them upside down. It soon becomes apparent that just won't work. Each cartridge comes wrapped in a shrink wrap sleeve with a tab to pull to remove the sleeve. Next step is to snap off the orange plastic apostrophe-shaped tab which reveals the ink head. Take care to place the different colours in the right slots or you'll get something very odd coming out the other end. The cartridges are quite chunky - 7 cm long, 4.5 cm high - and the black cartridge is about 1.5 cm thick compared to the others which are thinner and around the 1 cm mark.
One of the advantages to the multipack is slightly less rubbish to get rid of when you've finished loading the cartridges. If you buy individually you get a sturdy cardboard box, the shrink wrap, and the orange apostrophe several times over. With the multipack you reduce to just the one box which is a tiny advantage. One thing I find annoying with HP is that they would love us to send back the empty cartridges but they don't provide the envelopes to do this. I have to go online and order recycling posting bags and I find that annoying. You want them back HP? Make it easy for me and I'll send them.
The quality of the printing onto paper is absolutely fine and I never have any problems. I do tend to print way beyond the point at which the warning signs are telling me I should change the cartridge but I guess that most people probably do that. The Photosmart printer is - as the name suggests - also a photo printer and this is why I was originally given it to test. After an initial flurry of excitement about being able to print my own photos, I've pretty much given up on that in the last year and half. The quality of photo printing was excellent but I never got anywhere close to the 100 6"x4" prints that are claimed by the manufacturers.
The slight downside to buying multipacks is that very few people use the colours evenly. My usage of yellow for example is much lighter than the other two colours. As a result, sooner or later I'll have more yellow cartridges left than the magenta and cyan. It's not a big deal and I've gone through at least 10 sets without it becoming a problem.
Trying to work out whether you're getting a good deal on these cartridges is always tricky as price comparison sites can sometimes find you a good deal on part of the combination but not on the whole lot. I don't use the unofficial knock-off cartridges but I do find that buying a multipack will save me between 10 and 25% of the cost of buying them individually although I still have to buy extra supplies of both the standard and photo black cartridges. This four pack will set you back around £20 give or take a pound or two. I recommend watching out for special offers and discounts and bulk buying when a good price comes up.
Clearly the fact I'm still using my free printer two and a half years after getting it means I don't have any major issue with it or with the cartridges. Of course I wish they were cheaper but on the whole I don't think they are outrageously priced for anyone who is a relatively light printing user.