Printer ink isn’t cheap. To avoid getting hit with a huge ink cartridge bill at the local office supply store, many people turn to online 3rd-party ink sellers to score cheap ink. These cartridges can cost significantly less than original ink-sometimes 50% or more off the standard price. This makes third party ink worth it to many, but there are a few questions you should ask before buying.
Recycled or compatible? There are two basic types of 3rd party ink cartridges: recycled and “OEM-compatible.” Remanufactured cartridges are essentially recycled; sellers collect used, empty original cartridges and refill them with their own ink. With OEM-compatible cartridges (“OEM” stands for “Original Equipment Manufacturer”), companies reverse-engineer cartridges based on the specs of the original design. The cartridges themselves, as well as the ink, is created by a third-party vendor based on the original ink and cartridge specifications.
There are benefits and drawbacks to each type. Compatible cartridges tend to have a higher quality overall than recycled, but due to patent infringement issues, they’re not as widely available for some brands as recycled cartridges are. Recycled cartridges can have a slightly higher failure rate, but they’re easier to get for most brands and they cost less.
What’s the company’s quality control process? If you’re going for recycled or compatible cartridges, do your best to find out what process the company uses to make sure their cartridges work. With recycled cartridges, choose a company that does more than simply refill old cartridges with new ink. They should also check cartridges for cracks in the casing, failure in electrical components and other quality-compromising issues, and repair or replace cartridge components that need it. Both recycled and compatible companies should test their cartridges before selling them.
What’s your printer’s warranty? Warranty issues are difficult to judge. Almost all manufacturers have warranties that say they won’t cover damages caused by third-party ink. However, the Magnusson-Moss Warranty Improvement Act, enacted at the Federal level in the U.S., prevents companies from attempting to control which consumables customers use. In general, if you use a third-party cartridge it won’t automatically void your warranty if the cartridge didn’t cause the damage-but if it did, you may be stuck paying for repairs or replacements out of pocket. It may be worthwhile for you to find out whether the third-party ink company you choose will repair the damage to your printer in case of a problem caused by their cartridges.
What are you planning to print? Not all third party ink cartridges are of equal quality, but according to consumer reviews, many look just as good as the real thing coming off the printer. However, not all third-party ink cartridges are as durable and long-lasting as originals; if you’re printing pictures, you may get better results with name-brand ink that will last longer without fading.
Are you really saving money? Check the pricing on the third-party cartridge with that of the original manufacturers’. With shipping costs, sometimes the cost difference isn’t very much-and you might want to look into recycled cartridges for deeper discounts.
What’s the store’s reliability? Branded ink products typically have some sort of guarantee. Third-party ink cartridges don’t, and while many have proved reliable and high-quality, it’s not unknown for third-party ink to clog print heads and fade more quickly than original inks do. The best third-party cartridge stores offer some sort of written guarantee that stands behind their products. In addition, the longer a store has been in business, the more likely that it offers a high quality product. Look for a store with good online reviews and a strong guarantee.
Buying printer ink from a third-party vendor can be hit or miss. But if you find a reliable source of high-quality recycled or compatible ink cartridges, you could save a significant amount of money on your printer consumable costs. Do your research and make sure you know what type of third-party cartridge you’re getting, your store’s reputation, and the original manufacturer’s prices-just to make sure you’re saving money in the deal. If you do, you’re likely to be able to save money on ink.