Which printer ink refills can save you the most?

Cheap ink: This is what every inkjet printer user wants. But while ink from printer manufacturers is typically expensive, the alternatives — refilled or remanufactured cartridges — come with dire warnings of drips, disappointing print quality, or damage to your printer.

Are Third-Party Inks Worth the Risk? There used to be only two ways to find out: try it yourself — possibly sacrificing your printer in the process — or hire a lab to do extensive testing. PC world did the latter three years ago for Cheap Ink: Will It Cost You?

Birth of a series refill

Now let’s try a third way – the Serial Refiller way. PC world sent intrepid writer Jeff Bertolucci an HP Photosmart e-inkjet all-in-one multifunction printer, a model whose cartridges are popular with third-party ink suppliers, and tasked him with this mission: try a few refills and let’s know what happens. For each test, he repeatedly printed a variety of samples until streaks appeared in the output, after which he was able to calculate the cost per page and also examine the print quality.

The baseline: The HP 60 black and color cartridges included with the Photosmart e-All-in-One produced 132 fully printed pages. At $35 for both cartridges (when purchased separately), the cost per page is a whopping 27 cents. (HP’s $32 60-ink cartridge combo pack saves a few bucks.)

Each of the options we’ve tried so far offers its own approach and range of supported printers – mostly older printer models, as third parties take time to develop their alternative cartridges and inks. Cartridge World’s service is aimed more at older models. Among the supported newer models, InkTec sells a do-it-yourself refill kit that works for numerous Lexmark models such as B. Lexmark Genesis, Lexmark Platinum Pro905 and Lexmark Pinnacle Pro901. Costco’s in-store refill service supports both the HP, which we used as a test case, and the HP Envy100 e-All-in-One. Office Depot’s service supports newer printers such as the HP OfficeJet 6500A Plus e-All-In-One.

So far, we’ve found that the greater the effort involved, the greater the savings – but output quality varies. The best balance we’ve found comes from Costco: its in-store refill service is convenient and delivers acceptable print results for half the cost of HP’s own inks.

What are the risks?

The risks of using third-party inks are unpredictable. Use of such inks will not void your printer’s warranty; However, the warranty does not cover any damage that may result from this use.

Ink spillage during refilling or use is probably the biggest risk, causing a mess at best and potentially damaging the cartridge or printer at worst. We also had to endure a lot of pop-up dialog boxes and warnings on the control panel. Such messages can be intimidating and persistent, but usually you can click OK to dismiss them.

Short-term experiences of the Serial Refiller are anecdotal and do not test the durability or archivability of third-party inks, nor how the printer performs with them after repeated use. Still, our hands-on tests offer a taste of what to expect when trying a third-party alternative with your own printer. For more adventures of the Serial Refiller, see the following articles “Portrait of a Serial Refiller”.

* Refilling InkTec ink saves money and eliminates mess

* Office Depot ink cartridges save money, lose quality

* Costco ink refills: Super cheap price, mediocre quality

* Cartridge World Printer Ink: A Bargain?

* Cheap ‘jumbo’ ink refills: Too messy to recommend

* G&G Ink Refill Kit: Maximum effort, poor printouts

* Ink-O-Dem Refill Service: Good quality, modest bargain

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