Choosing an Inkjet Printer
Most inkjet printers require either one black ink cartridge and one 3-colour cartridge or they use a black ink cartridge and three or more individual colour cartridges. In general the latter is likely to be more economical, but this depends on what sort of colour printing you do. Even if the only colour printing you do is a small variety of similar documents, the difference in cost might be very small; for example, if you are Kent club secretary who only prints KAA documents in colour, then the red content will tend to drain your Magenta and Yellow tanks faster than Cyan - when the first tank runs out, you end up throwing away half of the Cyan! Although this sounds wasteful, three separate cartridges cost more than one 3-colour cartridge of the same capacity. Separate cartridges avoid the wasted ink, but cost more and involve a greater disposal cost.
One area that is worth noting when choosing a printer is that good photo printers tend to be less economical for printing text documents than a document printer - sometimes much less economical. Document printers are rarely much good a producing high quality photo prints. If you do a lot of both, it is well worth considering separate printers, especially given the drop in printer prices during the last few years.
So think about what you will use the printer for, do your research through the manufacturers' web sites and don't just buy this week's special offer, assuming that they are all just the same anyway!
Choosing Ink Cartridges and Paper
Everyone knows that the ink cartridges sold by manufacturers are often much more expensive than independent equivalents; in fact a huge market has sprung up to supply refill kits and remanufactured cartridges at a fraction of the price. So it makes perfect sense to use these doesn't it? Well... yes and no!
The main printer manufacturers do a lot of research to create inks and papers that will give the best possible and longest lived results, coupled with reliability. So if you are printing fabulous photos, the branded inks will give fabulous results if used with the recommended paper from the same brand - and the results will last for a great many years, if stored properly.
However, if you are printing ordinary office documents the advantages of the printer manufacturers' products are normally less profound, but not always! Several independent research groups have shown that printer manufacturers' products tend to be of more uniform high quality, while the "independents" can be an incredibly mixed bunch - very variable quality within one brand and huge variations between brands. One example given was of a UK supermarket branded ink and paper that faded to unreadable in well under a year, even though stored in the dark under controlled humidity!
The author has tried a number of independent brand inks, but reluctantly returned to the printer manufacturers' products, after suffering flooding and clogging of cartridges that resulted in low quality results, unreliability and lower economy! Many other people swear by certain independents.
Similarly with paper. Although office paper all looks much the same, bear in mind that some cheaper papers will give poorer printing results. Perhaps more importantly they may shed dust which can clog print heads and moving parts of the printer, and jam more frequently. It may not even be cut square!
In the end you get what you pay for - you just need to decide where you want to place your compromise between quality and cost.