DELVE INTO THE MURKY WORLD OF PRINTER INK
DELVE INTO THE MURKY WORLD OF PRINTER INK
2006-07-25 at 10:59:00 am #16145
Delve into the murky world of printer ink
If you think gasoline is expensive these days, imagine the price for a gallon of ink for your home inkjet printer. It could cost thousands of dollars.The price of printer ink may be the only liquid besides gasoline that infuriates consumers so much. It doesn’t take long for the cost of ink-cartridge replacements to exceed the price of the printer.So it makes sense for consumers to search for ink bargains, especially if you print many photos from your digital camera.The bad news is it’s somewhat complicated. You can choose from many money-saving alternatives, and the best value is not clear-cut. But the decision is based on an age-old trade-off: price versus quality.Studies show the printer’s manufacturer makes the best-quality inks. But think about what quality you need. A child’s grade-school project printed on regular copy paper doesn’t need high-quality ink.Or maybe you take lots of photos of your grandchild to hang prints on the refrigerator, only to replace them a month later with newer photos. ”In that case, you might want to go with an aftermarket ink because you’ll be chewing through the cartridges,” said Charles Brewer, managing editor of The Hard Copy Supplies Journal, a publication by imaging industry market-research firm Lyra Research.If you’re worried about a printed photo fading after a few years, ask yourself whether that’s a big deal. After all, if it fades, you could print it again from the digital image on your computer.Or if you seldom need superior quality, you could use cheap ink at home and just pay for commercial photo finishing for those few important photos. For snapshots, a commercial photo finisher online or at a retail store like Wal-Mart may be cheaper than doing it yourself anyway. Consumer Reports found photo finishers charge 15 to 25 cents per 4-by-6-inch print, while printing at home costs 25 to 40 cents.If you will be printing at home, which choice of cheaper inks is right for you? Descend through the following baby steps in quality and price. With each, you’re likely to get a discount of at least 15 percent and slightly poorer quality. Once you become dissatisfied with your prints, back up one level and you’ve found your ideal trade-off between quality and price.Brand names. This is the top quality for rendering accurate colors and resisting fading. But it’s the most expensive, with such names as Hewlett-Packard, Canon and Lexmark.”If you demand top performance and you can handle the top price, the [brand-name] solution is bulletproof,” Brewer said, adding that same-brand ink, paper and printers are meant to work together to provide the best quality.Comparison shop for the best deals on name brands, but compare apples to apples. Some brand-name printer manufacturers are offering lower-priced cartridges that simply contain less ink and need to be replaced sooner, Brewer said. Get out your calculator and compare unit prices to find the best deal.Store brands. These are cartridges offered under such names as Staples, OfficeMax, Office Depot and Rhinotek. The print quality will likely be quite good, but they are more susceptible to fading than brand-name inks, according to a recent study.Refill shop. These are franchised retail stores, such as Cartridge World and Caboodle Cartridge. You bring in your old cartridge to be refilled or swapped with a different refilled cartridge. Because these are stores dedicated to only one task, they develop expertise and use a variety of different ink sets that will match your printer, Brewer said.Refill machine. These are cartridge-refill machines in such stores as Walgreens and OfficeMax. Brewer said they use a limited number of inks that may or may not match your printer well, and the employee doing the refilling is likely to be less knowledgeable than someone at a store dedicated to refills.Refill kit. The ink quality of some do-it-yourself refill kits can be good, but it’s a messy chore to transfer ink from a container to your cartridge. And a word about all refills, whether a do-it-yourself or a refill shop or machine: An ink cartridge can only be refilled four to 10 times with any of these refill methods. After that, the print head could burn out, Brewer said.Online generics. If a generic replacement for your $45 cartridge costs $7 online, there’s a reason, Brewer said. You just can’t count on the quality of the ink and the cartridge, which may leak. Batches of the same cartridges might differ in quality.”If you go online and it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” Brewer said. ”If you buy something that does not print well, regardless of how cheap it is, you’re not going to feel satisfied.” But you may stumble on an online store selling generics that work well in your printer.A few other tips are not to overbuy on cartridges. Cheap printers break easily. If you have to replace it, you might be stuck with a box full of cartridges that won’t fit any current-model printer.Also, you could use a two-machine strategy. For text, use a black-and-white laser printer, which will give you comparatively cheap printouts. For photos, use a color printer with high-quality ink or small dedicated snapshot printer.