Originally published in Macworld magazine, commissioned by Hewlett Packard.
Why cheap inks can be expensive.
From counterfeits to second-rate refills, skimping on OEM cartridges for your printer will cost you money in the long run. We explain why.
When your printer’s running low on ink we know it’s tempting to turn to third party cartridge makers or sites that advertise cut price supplies. Everyone likes a bargain, but saving some pennies in this case may cost you pounds later. Hundreds of pounds if your printer gets damaged. We look at the potential pitfalls of buying third party and tell you why you should always stick with official replacement inks, cartridges and toners.
Refills, Fakes and Third Party Cartridges
A quick online search will uncover lots of cheap alternatives to the replacement supplies your manufacture recommends. Take our advice though; you get what you pay for.
At the top of the pile and the closest to legitimacy are third party cartridges and toners. These are replacement inks designed for your printer, but made by a different manufacturer. The dangers here are relatively slight, but you’re likely to find yourself short-changed, with cartridges that don’t last long and printing results that are poorer quality. That’s not just bluster, by the way. HP recently commissioned research that showed HP cartridges deliver 34% more pages than third party cartridges, for example.
Refilled or remanufactured cartridges are another step down on the ladder of reliability. These are recycled cartridges that have been filled by a third party. They may have the original manufacturer’s badge on the side but will contain inferior inks. And, again, they don’t last as long. HP’s survey showed that refilled cartridges produce, on average, a staggering 69% fewer pages than the manufacturer’s own inks.
At one time it was popular to market refill kits, but changes in the design of ink cartridges have made these items less prevalent. If you do attempt to refill your own cartridges, good luck. Firstly, it’s a fiddly job. Secondly, newer cartridges have built in chips that need to be reset before the refill can be used. That means fitting a replacement chip or using a device to reset the existing chip. Both approaches are far from foolproof and, frankly, a bit of a hassle.
In the place of the once ubiquitous refill kit, you now see Continuous Ink Systems (CIS). These are cartridge sets that fit in your machine as normal but have a cumbersome, external reservoir of ink which can be topped up. Not really something you’d want sitting on your desk.
Finally, the very worst choice is the easiest to be caught out by: counterfeit cartridges. These fakes fool you into thinking they’re from the original manufacturer, but they’re actually recycled cartridges or third party supplies with misleading packaging. Beware offers on auction sites claiming to supply cheap, original cartridges, especially if they’re shipping from overseas.
There are potential problems when you choose any of these alternatives. Inks in remanufactured cartridges may not adhere as well to your printing paper, causing smears and blobs. They can print too dark or too light or have an uneven tone. Even if the results are acceptable at first, they’ll fade more quickly than your printer manufacturer’s inks.
There are some more series issues too. Recycled, refilled and counterfeit cartridges may generate error messages when placed in your machine. With the onboard chip reset, none-OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) cartridges can misreport the amount of ink available – showing a full cartridge as empty, for example. A cartridge that continues to report that it’s full after all the ink has been used up is an even greater liability. Running on empty can damage your print-heads, meaning an expensive repair or replacement printer.
At worst, the unpredictable behaviour of none-OEM supplies can cause severe problems. The inks created by your printer’s manufacturer are specifically optimised for use in their products. That’s not the case for refilled, recycled or fake cartridges. There are a number of ways that poor quality inks can cause long term damage to your printer, including clogging up the nozzles, getting ink onto rollers or leaving dried ink on print heads.
If this happens while your printer is still under warranty, you won’t be able to get the device serviced for free either. Using ink cartridges from another manufacturer will make that agreement void, if they’re the cause of the damage. So, even using a legitimate, third party cartridge can be a risky proposition.
Original and Best
The safest and wisest choice is to stick with the manufacturer’s recommendations for both ink and paper. The benefits are significant. OEM inks are guaranteed by the manufacturer and won’t affect your warranty rights if something goes wrong with your printer.
Of course, if you match HP inks with an HP printer, you also avoid all the other pitfalls of alternative supplies. The cartridge will work the way it should in your printer and carry on working until it’s ready to be replaced. That’s a huge plus.
Even more importantly, your printer is finely calibrated to work with your equipment manufacturer’s inks. They’re good for your printer in mechanical terms, ensuring smooth operation and fewer hardware problems. It also means you’ll get better quality results. Use recommended papers too and you’ll have the best output possible for your device. Printer, ink and paper work in harmony to create colour and finish that does justice to the source, whether it’s a document, digital illustration or photograph. Change any of those three items and the results may not be up to scratch.
So, the next time you need to replace inks in your printer, don’t skimp. Go for OEM cartridges for the sake of your printer, your prints and your pocket.