How to Find Cheap Printer Ink Cartridges
What costs more per ounce than imported Russian caviar? At $22 per quarter-ounce, the cost of printer ink cartridges reminds us of why we got that inkjet printer for “free” when we bought our last computer.
Last month my wife took our kids to Staples to get school supplies. They called me while they were there to ask if we should get replacement printer cartridges for our HP OfficeJet 6310 All-in-one-printer. We then spent 10 minutes on the phone figuring out how many we needed, how many we could afford, and questioning why hp printer cartridges cost so much.
And every time we need to buy printer cartridges, I promise myself I’m going to look into lower cost alternatives. Even if it means buying a new, more expensive printer, it’s worth the investment if the ink refills don’t cost an arm and a leg. The problem is that the ink cartridges run out of ink so fast, that we’re back to the store to buy more before I’ve figured out an alternative.
Well, I’ve finally done the research and found some lower cost alternatives. The alternatives include finding places to buy brand printer ink cartridges for less, use remanufactured ink cartridges, use printer ink refill kits, and to buy printers that use less expensive ink. None of these solutions will make printing “cheap,” but they all can save a lot of money.
5 Facts About Printer Cartridges That May Surprise You
Before we get to ways to save money on cartridges, check out these facts that may surprise you.
- Razor and Blades: Manufacturers of printers and printer ink cartridges typically follow the “razor and blades” business model. In the shaving industry, manufacturers give away the razor and sell the blades (which also cost a small fortune). The printer industry is the same. The sell the printer at cost or even at a loss, and make their money on the printer cartridges.
- ISO Standards: The cost of ink cartridges is so expensive that the International Organization for Standardization and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) have set standards specifying how printer manufacturers should test printers to determine the yield or cost per page of the printer.
- $21 billion: According to one study, the printer ink cartridge business generates $21 billion a year in sales.
- Lawsuits, and lots of them: While ink cartridges might not seem like the subject of the next episode of Boston Legal, there have been lots of lawsuits involving the big brands in the industry. Epson has been in lawsuits over the selling of remanufactured cartridges. Canon won a lawsuit in Japan prohibiting the sale of Canon remanufactured ink cartridges. And HP has been involved in lawsuits alleging unfair competition in the marketing of recycled cartridges.
- Recycling cartridges reduces our dependency on foreign oil: Cartridges are made of plastic, which uses oil in the manufacturing process. Depending on the size of the cartridge, the amount of oil can run up to nearly a gallon. Just another good reason to recycle!
Low Cost Brand Printer Ink Cartridges
The most expensive option is to buy brand cartridges. Whether you have an hp, canon, epson, or lexmark printer, buying print cartridges from the company that manufactured your printer will cost the most. For some, however, there are reasons to stick with a brand cartridge. For starters, manufacturers implant microchips into their cartridges. These chips communicate information about ink levels back to your computer, a feature that a generic cartridge won’t offer. In some cases, the chip is also required for the cartridge to work at all, a feature some manufacturers introduced to keep consumers from buying cheap generic cartridge alternatives. Epson is well know for this tactic.
In addition, depending on what you are printing, you may feel that the brand cartridges offer better print quality. Some studies support this conclusion, although generic alternatives have greatly improved print quality according to some studies. Finally, it’s important to remember that the cost of the cartridge is not the key factor; it’s the cost per page. A generic cartridge may cost less, but if it doesn’t provide the same number of printed pages, the cost savings may be less than you expected.
If you chose to stick with a brand cartridge, buying online is almost always your best bet. We’ve started using 4inkjet.com, which seems to offer very competitive prices. You can easily search for the ink cartridges that work with you printer at 4inkjet.com. Check out the end of this article for some links by printer brand to the 4inkjet website.
Remanufactured Printer Ink Cartridges
A cheap alternative is to buy a remanufactured ink cartridge. The remanufacture or recycle process is pretty simple. The cartridge is cleaned and tested to ensure there are no cracks or other structural anomalies that would impair the cartridge’s functionality. Ink is added to the cartridge, which is then inspected for any ink leakage and run through a test cycle. In addition to minimizing its impact on the environment by recycling the cartridge, remanufactured ink cartridges are also significantly less expensive.
For example, for our HP OfficeJet 6310, a new HP ink cartridge (#98-black) bought online costs about $25. A remanufactured cartridge runs less than $10.
Ink Refill Kits
If you are willing to do the work yourself, you can also reuse cartridges with an ink refill kit. A kit for the HP #98 cartridge costs about $13 and comes with enough ink to refill a cartridge 3 to 4 times. Eventually, the cartridge and print quality will degrade, so an ink refill kit won’t eliminate the need to buy a new or recycled cartridge. But it will enable you to get three or four print cycles with the same cartridge for a lost less than cost of buying new.
Low Cost Printers
Picking the right printer in the first place is also a great best way to keep prices low. As a general rule, the lower the cost of the printer, the higher the cost of print cartridges. Printer and ink manufactures rate the cost of each print based on the yield or number of printable pages for a given ink cartridge. There are many factors that will affect the yield of the cartridge, including the type of paper used and the print quality selected. But factoring in the cost per page of a printer before making your buying decision can save you a lot of money in the long run.
When examining a printer’s cost per page, make sure the manufacturer’s estimating process follows ISO standards. You’ll find that the cost per page will vary widely from one printer to the next. It’s also important to consider how you’ll use the printer. The total cost of ownership will vary substantially depending on whether you’ll use the printer every few days to print out a couple of pages, or whether you’ll be printing hundreds if not thousands of pages per week. For limited use, a low cost printer with higher cost ink cartridges might be the best economical choice. As your use of the printer increases, however, it’s likely that a more expensive printer with less expensive per cost printing will be the best option.
Where To Find Cheap Printer Ink Cartridges
As I promised, here is any easy to use ink cartridge finder. Simply select your printer, and you’ll find a wide selection of brand cartridges, remanufactured cartridges, and ink refill kits at competitive prices for your printer:
If you prefer to shop at Amazon, you’ll find a similar tool by clicking here.
Published or updated September 1, 2009.