January 18, 2011, 9:23 AM — Everyone knows that buying new, brand-name printer cartridges from the original equipment manufacturer can be expensive. But are third-party alternatives really a better deal? As PCWorld's Serial Refiller, I've set out to try third-party options--including remanufacturers, refill services, and do-it-yourself refill kits--and tell you whether the savings seem worth the hassle.
Because I use each refill for just a brief period of time, and with only one printer, my experience is anecdotal and does not test the durability or archivability of third-party inks, nor how the printer will fare after repeated use with them. Nevertheless, my hands-on trials will give you a taste of what to expect if you try a third-party alternative with your own printer.
My test printer is an HP Photosmart e-All-In-One. For each evaluation, I start with a new set of OEM cartridges, drain them, and then use them for the refill or for comparison with the remanufactured option. I use the standard-size HP 60 cartridges; the high-yield 60XL cartridges will last longer and usually save you more money.
With both the OEM and third-party inks, I print a set of pages--ranging in content from plain text to a full-size color photo--over and over again until the ink starts to run out (blank streaks appear on the page). I count the number of pages that printed before streaks appeared, to get a sample page yield. These page yields will likely differ from those that the OEM or third-party ink vendor quotes, just as your own mileage will vary depending on what you print. I also compare the print quality of the pages using third-party ink versus those printed with the OEM cartridges.
Office Depot Remanufactured Cartridges Save a Step--For a Price
When printer ink runs dry, nothing is easier than heading to the nearest office-supply megachain to buy a new cartridge. Not the OEM cartridge--the Serial Refiller would never do that!--but a remanufactured one. That was my penny-pinching strategy when I went to Office Depot and bought two refurbished ink tanks for my HP Photosmart e-All-In-One. Office Depot's cartridges undercut HP's price by just a few dollars, but installing them is definitely less messy than using the do-it-yourself refill kit I tried last time.