How to Stop Printer Ink Cartridges from Smearing Your Budget

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.

  1. 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. They sell the printer at cost or even at a loss, and make their money on the printer cartridges.
  2. 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.
  3. $21 billion: According to one study, the printer ink cartridge business generates $21 billion a year in sales.
  4. 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.
  5. 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, which seems to offer very competitive prices. You can easily search for the ink cartridges that work with you printer at 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

There are two places I recommend for getting discount ink. The first is 123 InkJets. I’ve purchased from these guys in the past and haven’t been disappointed. The second is Amazon. They have some great deals on printer ink.

Topics: Smart Spending
Savings Builder

14 Responses to “How to Stop Printer Ink Cartridges from Smearing Your Budget”


    I tired the COSTCO refill option worked fine in my CANON Pixma MP780 for about 6 months, then the black big cartridge [ 3erefill from Costco] started leaking into the next cartridge down a yellow one from Canon . This is in my trial of using black refill in for the bulk of my ink expense. The black cartridge destroyed 2 yellow 12.00 a piece for them .Used alcohol to clean up print cassette and drilled hole in yellow cartridges and used hot water tap to get black out of those cartridges. Ended up refilling those by a kit [no, I don’t throw cartridges away have a whole bag of them and I re-seat those clips on them as soon as they go empty too] Will to continue to monitor this situation

    • Rob Berger

      Myr, that’s a tough one to diagnose without seeing the printer. It may be a problem with the printer. One option, though expensive, is to buy the printer ink from Dell and see if you have the same problem. The issue may be with the Staples branded ink. I’ve had similar problems in the past with certain types of generic ink cartridges. Sometimes you just have to experiment until you find one that works well with your printer.

  2. Good to know about dell cartidges. I have problem with my printings and
    from Dell very expensive. Staples sales those but smear the ink and the prints are not readable at all. How do I clean that mess? I take out the cartridges and clean them but still the ink is all over I cannot read anything. Can someone give an idea what is all about this problem
    or how can I save Y pay $25. per cartridge gives only 195 prints.?
    Thank you

  3. Not only printer manufactures sell ink and toner for outraging prices, they also create printers that are not ink efficient.

    It turn out, that using smart algorithm it is possible to reduce ink consumption by 70% and still get high quality printouts.

    PretonSaver Home is a software that works in the background, works with any printer, and drastically reduce the ink consumed for printing.

    By far, this is the most effective savings one can get while still getting excellent print quality.

  4. Amanda Brand

    I work for a company that re manufactures ink jet and toner cartridges. I commend you for doing your homework! I would like to add a couple of things though. The re manufacture process is not standardized and many places will tell you they are re manufacturing your cartridge when in truth they are only refilling it. We actually soak the cartridges in a cleaning solution, spin them empty in a centrifuge, and place them in a vacuum chamber to be filled (to prevent air bubbles & clogging). Then the cartridges are weighed and tested before being packaged for sale. You also didn’t mention that most re manufactured cartridges have 20% to 60% more ink in them. Thanks so much and if you have any questions feel free to contact me [email protected]

  5. Perfect timing: just as the dratted HP announced that it’s running low on ink…again! I also am going to try refilling mine at Costco. Is it risky to do that? I’ve heard that refilled cartridges can leak and wreck your printer. Is that true or is it another urban techno-myth?

  6. Frank Fenley

    I enjoyed your article on cartridges for printers. At least it encouraged me to look at the true price per page of my copies. I teach at a university, which provides me with a computer but no printer. I have a Dell 922 for which I provide the cartridges. My correspondence must look neat and professional. A high-capacity black cartridge (I print very few things in color even though the printer can do that) from Dell costs $30.00. If I’m willing to take the no-cost mail option, as I always do, I pay no postage or handling, and there’s also no tax.
    I get about 625 pages from the cartridge, which comes out to slightly less than a nickel per page. That seems reasonable for my purposes, but would probably seem a little high to individuals doing only personal printing.

  7. I print extremely infrequently (as in, I only need to print a couple of pages a year) and I often find that by the time I need to print something again, the ink in the cartridges has dried out…

  8. andrea, that’s a great tip. I checked out ebay, and they do have a huge selection of printer ink cartridges for just about every brand of printer you can think of, and the prices seem very competitive. You can check out ink cartridges on ebay by clicking here.

  9. There is another option: use E-bay. I just purchased my 2 new in box HP cartridges for $17 total. They retail for $73 in a twin pack. Both are recently past their install dates, one was Aug. 2008 the other April 2009. HP guarantees their newly installed ink for 6 months after the install date. When using E-bay for ink I only buy from the small sellers who are able to guarantee the dates on the ink.

    Remanufactured cartridges don’t seem to print as clean. (At least the ones in my office had that problem, so I’ve never bought them for personal use.)

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