Inkjet ink is one of the most expensive liquids in the world. This can be especially hard on small businesses that have to watch how every penny is spent. This series will look at the various techniques you can use to reduce your inkjet printing costs.
Refilling the ink cartridge
Using compatible/generic cartridges
Using a continuous ink system
Why Are Inkjet Cartridges So Expensive?
Inkjet printer manufactures have adopted a razor and blades business model where the printer is often sold at a low price (or even at a loss) and the ink is sold at an exorbitant price. This can be damaging for a business that does a lot of inkjet printing. The business model is so prevalent in the inkjet printer manufacturing industry that it has its own paragraph on Wikipedia under “Freebie Marketing”
Computer printer manufacturers have gone through extensive efforts to make sure that their printers are incompatible with lower cost after-market ink cartridges and refilled cartridges. This is because the printers are often sold at or below cost to generate sales of proprietary cartridges which will generate profits for the company over the life of the equipment. In fact, in certain cases, the cost of replacing disposable ink or toner may even approach the cost of buying new equipment with included cartridges, although included cartridges are often ‘starter’ cartridges that are only partially filled. Methods of vendor lock-in include designing the cartridges in a way that makes it possible to patent certain parts or aspects, or invoking the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to prohibit reverse engineering by third-party ink manufacturers. Another method entails completely disabling the printer when a non-proprietary ink cartridge is placed into the machine, instead of merely issuing an ignorable message that a non-genuine (yet still fully functional) cartridge was installed.
The Wikipedia page for inkjet printer manufacturer business model explains further:
A common business model for inkjet printers involves selling the actual printer at or below production cost, while dramatically marking up the price of the (proprietary) ink cartridges (a profit model called “Freebie marketing”). Most current inkjet printers attempt to enforce this product tying using microchips in the cartridges to hinder the use of third-party or refilled ink cartridges. The microchips monitor usage and report the ink remaining to the printer. Some manufacturers also impose “expiration dates”. When the chip reports that the cartridge is empty (or out of date) the printer stops printing. Even if the cartridge is refilled, the microchip will indicate to the printer that the cartridge is depleted.
Why the need to reduce inkjet printing costs?
As mentioned above things have actually gotten worse in recent years with the introduction of selling a printer with a partially filled or “intro” cartridge, this means not only do you have to buy the printer, but it will be a waste to leave the shop without buying a set of “full” cartridges separately. Printer manufactures have also launched “XL” cartridges squeezing more money out of the consumer by offering a few milliliters of ink more than a standard cartridge. In most cases it is cheaper to simply buy a new printer if all the ink has run out than to replace the cartridges.
How I started refilling cartridges
Despite having a very small business at the time, I used to only buy original cartridges for my Canon iP4200, I was happy with the quality I was getting and was using it to print high value items site as screen-printing positives and business cards.
One day I took a bag of empty original cartridges to my local refilling station thinking I could sell it to them to at least buy a set of new cartridges. They told me that they do not buy in cartridges but would be willing to refill a set in exchange for the other empty cartridges. I have always being skeptical of refilling after a horror experience with an Epson “Ink Scam” CX3500. But I wasn’t too worried as the printer was already out of warranty. Worst case scenario: it messes the printer up. I took the refilled cartridges home and tried it, it worked just as well as the original, churning out vivid photographs and opaque screen-printing positives. I have never bought a genuine inkjet cartridge after that.
Inkjet printing cost cutting techniques
One of the cheapest options is to refill the inkjet cartridge, you can either buy a kit (or ink alone) and refill it yourself or you can take it to numerous companies that offer this service. It is often best to refill the original cartridge.
Using compatible cartridges
Compatible cartridges are manufactured by third party manufacturers and is designed to work in designated printers. It is usually much cheaper than original ink cartridges, however I have found some manufactures of cartridges to be better than others and favour refilling the original cartridges.
An interesting thing to note: independent research has found little or no difference between some compatible and genuine ink.
Using a continuous ink system
A continuous or bulk ink system uses ink tanks attached to the printer to feed the cartridge to increase print capacity. This method used to be more common in large format and sublimation printers but is now widespread in inkjet printers as well.
I will be looking into these techniques in greater depth in later pages as well as the tools used to refill and reset cartridges
Which is best?
The owner of the ink cartridge remanufacturing company had this to say:
I believe that the best quality can be achieved by using a dedicated ink to refill the original cartridges.
The generics (compatible cartridges) that are available use typically unknown ink sources and the foam material is not an exact match of the OEM.
Similarly, the CISS systems also are problematic to get the pressure balance correct and often there is leakage from the printer head. I have tried these from many different suppliers and was not overly impressed by any of them.
Whether or not he was biased as his company sells inkjet refilling equipment as well as ink. But I tend to agree with his opinion.