Imagine paying only $2,000 for a new car but having to spend $200 every time you filled its tank with gas. This is the pricing model used by inkjet printer manufacturers. They make much of their profits not with printer sales but with the sales of ink cartridges. If you use an inkjet printer a lot, the ink can wind up costing you more than the printer in just the first year.
Companies are free to price their products as they wish, and other companies are free to offer alternatives. Many printer cartridge recycling companies have sprung up over the years. But there’s greater risk in going with off-brand companies, and some have argued that the economics don’t always make sense either.
Making smart decisions here is important whether you use a trusty workhorse laser printer for business or are just starting to print out photos from your digital camera with the new inkjet photo printer you received over the holidays.
You have three main options when you run out of ink: You can buy a new cartridge from the same company that made the printer, you can have it or a third-party company recycle your current cartridge, or you can buy a kit and refill the cartridge yourself.
Many people find that recycling or buying remanufactured cartridges is the way to go. It’s less expensive than buying new cartridges, and it doesn’t add to the solid waste problem. Some do-it-yourselfers like refill kits, which is the least expensive option. It can be messy, though, and it can damage your printer if you make a mistake.
With an inkjet printer, you should avoid companies that use cheap generic ink that’s not fully compatible with your printer. Incompatible ink can cause banding when printing, or it may clog the print head. With a laser printer, you shouldn’t refill a cartridge with toner more than once or twice without having it remanufactured with new gears, drum blades, and other parts for reliable use.
Not everyone is gung-ho on recycled printer cartridges. Consumer Reports recently tested more than 500 replacement inkjet cartridges from office supply stores, franchises, and Web sites. It found that these measures trimmed costs only slightly, if at all, and that quality and fade resistance were usually lower.
Though Consumer Reports didn’t mention this, possible reasons for the lesser quality include not completely refilling the cartridges and using inferior ink. The lesson here is to take care in choosing a cartridge company.
Make sure the company offers a guarantee. The best guarantees not only cover the cost of replacing a faulty recycled cartridge but also cover the cost of repairing your printer in the unlikely event that a refilled or remanufactured cartridge damages it.
One recommended company is Cartridge World (http://www.cartridgeworldusa.com), which bills itself as the world’s largest retailer of ink refilling and recycling services. It’s an Australian company with more than a thousand locations in 27 countries, including 275 stores in the U.S. You can bring a printer cartridge into the store and have it refilled while you wait, have it remanufactured, swap it for an original cartridge, or buy an already remanufactured cartridge.
Another recommended company is 4inkjets (http://www.4inkjets.com), a California company that works through the Web. It sells new name-brand cartridges, new compatible cartridges, and remanufactured cartridges as well as do-it-yourself refill kits. It won’t refill your current cartridge, but it will recycle it and pay for shipping.
Other big players in the printer cartridge replacement industry are Printpal.com of Oregon (http://www.printpal.com), 123inkjets.com of California (http://www.123inkjets.com), and Carrot Ink of Texas (http://www.carrotink.com).
Another good strategy is to take advantage of the rebate coupons offered by office supply stores such as Staples and Office Depot. Typically, you get a coupon each time you buy a new or remanufactured printer cartridge, which you can use when the current cartridge runs out.
Other ways to save money when printing: Print in draft mode on plain paper if possible for works in progress. Keep inkjet nozzles from getting clogged by printing at least once a week or, if your printer has a maintenance routine on startup, simply turning it on once a week. Print Web pages in black and white unless color is absolutely needed.
Finally, if you’re doing a lot of printing, shop for a printer that may cost more upfront but whose per-page costs can save you money in the long run. PC World (http://www.pcworld.com) and CNET (http://www.cnet.com) are good places to search.
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway . He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.reidgoldsborough.com.