Types of 3rd Party Ink Cartridges: Exploring Your Options

by Rich on December 5, 2008

Interested in buying ink from a third-party provider? If so, you’re not alone. Millions of people buy cartridges and ink from third-party online vendors, and for the most part, the ink is high quality and safe to use. However, there are several types of cartridges sold by third-party vendors, and each has its benefits and drawbacks. Here’s an overview of the types of cartridges sold by third-party providers.

Original manufacturer’s cartridges. These are cartridges that come directly from the manufacturer. They are often covered by the manufacturer’s warranty, even if you buy them from a third party. Third-party sellers buy the ink in bulk and are sometimes able to secure a discount for customers, but this is typically the most expensive ink you can buy online. Still, it can be less expensive than the same ink you’d find at a brick-and-mortar store, and if something goes wrong with the cartridge in your printer, your warranty should cover a replacement in most cases.

Compatible cartridges. Third-party compatible or Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM)-compatible cartridges are made by a third party company using the original manufacturer’s specifications. Many third-party manufacturers reverse-engineer the cartridges and ink from major manufacturers, taking original cartridges apart and analyzing ink to discover how it’s made. This process can lead to ink, toner and cartridges that are virtually indistinguishable from the original product.

Compatible products typically have a better performance record than remanufactured, because compatible cartridges are made new and not recycled. They can cost 30% to 50% less than the original brand. Some original manufacturers have leveled suits against third-party companies to stop them from selling ink and cartridges that are too similar to their own products, however, which is why compatible cartridges are not widely available for all brands.

Remanufactured cartridges. With remanufactured or refilled cartridges, a third-party company collects used cartridges, replaces damaged or worn components, and refills the cartridges with third-party ink. Cartridge-recycling companies are typically considered the most environmentally friendly of the third-party options, as they keep used ink cartridges out of landfills. They are also as much as 50% cheaper than original cartridges.

It’s rare for remanufactured ink cartridges to damage print heads, despite what manufacturers will tell you. However, remanufactured cartridges do have a slightly higher failure rate than compatible since the cartridges themselves are used. When buying these cartridges online, look for a 100% satisfaction guarantee and only buy from companies that test their cartridges rigorously before selling them.

Home refill kits. Home refill kits are typically the cheapest option out there for discount ink, but many consumers are reluctant to try refilling their cartridges themselves. These kits have a reputation of being messy, hard to use and prone to failure, but today’s home refill kits have evolved considerably since they were first introduced to the market. Today, you can buy a home refill kit with tools and ink tailored to your specific brand, making the refill process much easier.

If you order a home refill kit, you’ll receive one or more bottles of ink, syringes or needles, and a cartridge holder. Refill kits for some brands include additional tools as well. The process can be time-consuming—it can take up to fifteen minutes to refill a cartridge if you’re doing it for the first time; less if you have experience. But if you’re willing to learn, you can save significant money over original and even third party cartridges.

As for reliability, refill kits generally don’t cause damage to your printer unless you don’t follow the directions properly or if you wait too long to refill your cartridge. If you let your cartridge go completely dry before refilling it, dried ink residue could clog the outlets and damage the cartridge. Refilling a cartridge too often could also cause damage due to worn-out cartridge components.

Still, most refilled, remanufactured and third-party compatible cartridges are safe to use and much cheaper than original cartridges—and millions of businesses and home printer users buy them every day. Choose a reputable vendor with a strong guarantee and a rigorous testing process, and you’re sure to find a dependable source for discount printer cartridges.

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