TONER INK IS GETTING CHEAPER !
TONER INK IS GETTING CHEAPER !
2006-02-06 at 10:41:00 am #14171
New Printer Cartridge or a Refill? Either Way, Ink Is Getting Cheaper
Powell, a sports photographer in Tulsa, Okla., shoots high school and
college games and sells his work to the players and their parents.
prints on a Canon Pixma photo printer, but he does not use Canon ink.
For the last eight months he has been buying refilled cartridges from
Cartridge World. “I couldn’t tell the difference, and my customers
couldn’t tell the difference,” Mr. Powell said. “It saves me about 50
On the face of it, the logic of buying refilled ink
cartridges seems pretty obvious. A new HP 26A cartridge, for use in
about two dozen Hewlett-Packard printers, costs $29 at Staples. Buy a
$21 Staples-brand remanufactured unit and you save 28 percent. Go to
Cartridge World and you pay $18.39, a 37 percent discount.
is installing cartridge refilling machines in the photo department of
1,500 of its 5,120 drugstores. Office Depot is testing the same kiosks
in Charlotte, N.C., and Minneapolis. These machines, called the
Ink-O-Dem, cost about $40,000 and can refill a cartridge in about 2.5
minutes. “We cut out the middlemen,” said Harry Nicodem, chief
executive of TonerHead, the maker of the kiosk.
The automation gives
Walgreens a price advantage: its HP 26A is $14.50. (You can also refill
one yourself at home and, after you scrub the ink from your hands, save
even more, 65 percent.)
End of story, right? You would go for the
cheaper alternatives. But saving money is not just a matter of finding
the lowest price. Two recent studies suggest that the more important
consideration is the price per page printed, a number that is affected
by the quality of a refilled cartridge.
argue that you are wasting your money with refills, which is what you
might expect the company to say. Manufacturers have a lot riding on a
business model in which they sell ink cartridges that can cost a third
of what the printer did.
The company has a point. QualityLogic, a
Moorpark, Calif., test laboratory found that while new Hewlett-Packard
cartridges had a 2 percent failure rate, 70 percent of remanufactured
units did not last as long as promised. Hewlett commissioned the study,
but Consumer Reports magazine came to a similar conclusion last May.
Testers there found that in almost all cases, the refilled cartridges
cost as much or more when evaluated on their per-page output.
executives said that was because the company optimized each printer
head – the strip of silicon containing the microscopic ink nozzles -
for its printer, ink and paper. In its San Diego lab, “print head
architects” use high-powered microscopes and cameras to watch the
firing of those nozzles with various ink formulations made in three
company labs to find the designs that work best. Lexmark International
and Brother use similar printer-head technology on their cartridges.
(Canon and Epson put their printer heads in the printer itself. Those
companies did not respond to requests for interviews.)
printer heads for some of its commercial printers that can last five
years in continuous use. But the company said that its consumer printer
cartridges were designed to be disposable. A printer head lasts just
long enough to jettison that last drop of ink, a company official said.
refillers have a differing opinion. They say those cartridges can be
used three to seven times. And they have built a $6.5 billion industry
to prove it. “It creates an opportunity for us,” said Burt Yarkin, the
chief executive for the United States operations of Cartridge World,
which has 1,100 stores worldwide, 350 of them in the United States. He
says a refilled cartridge drives down the cost of making a color print
at home to about 13 cents a print, less than most retail photofinishers
The refillers have put a dent in the printer makers’
business. Market analysts at Lyra Research in Newton, Mass., which
specializes in this industry, said the manufacturers were hanging onto
about 79 percent of the $30.1 billon printer supplies business. The
high-volume “remanufacturers,” which supply stores with refilled
cartridges, have about 18 percent of the market. The refillers at
retail do about $1 billion in business, but that is growing at the rate
of 18 percent a year.
The impact is being felt. The migration to
alternatives is a major reason net income dropped 47 percent in the
fourth quarter at Lexmark International. “Consumers are becoming more
aware of refilling and Walgreens effort will make even more people
aware of it,” said Charlie Brewer, managing editor of Hard Copy
Supplies Journal, published by Lyra.
Dave Shaw, the vice president
for franchise development at Rapid Refill, a Springfield, Ore.,
refiller with 40 outlets, said, “It’s not a bunch of guys in the back
with syringes punching holes in the cartridges.” Franchisees buy about
$200,000 worth of machines that suck out the old ink, centrifuge out
any remaining ink that could contaminate the new ink, rinse the
cartridge with cleaning fluid and then refill it. (A Cartridge World
franchisee’s equipment costs about $150,000.) “They absolutely have to
worry about quality,” Mr. Brewer said.
The ink used by some of the
refillers is very similar to that used by the manufacturers. For
instance, Rapid Refill’s ink is supplied by OCP of Germany and
formulated to perform like the ink that Hewlett, Lexmark or Brother put
in originally. Cartridge World will not disclose its sources of the 150
to 200 different inks at a typical store, but Mr. Yarkin said, “We are
matching their ink.”
It is no empty boast. Hewlett went after
Cartridge World last October for using ink that infringes on patents
for its Vivera line of inks. It demanded that the company, based in
Emeryville, Calif., stop using inks with the same chemical composition.
Also last year, Hewlett filed a lawsuit against InkCycle, the company
that makes refills under the Staples brand, asserting that the company
had violated three patents covering fast-drying ink for plain paper and
methods for preventing color from bleeding on paper. The dispute was
resolved when InkCycle changed its formulation.
So if the ink used
by the reputable refillers is good enough to provoke Hewlett’s lawyers,
it should be O.K. to use with confidence, right
The upshot is that
you will not have much problem with used cartridges from reputable
refillers if you are printing documents with black ink on standard
20-pound paper, what most people call copier paper. Most have
money-back guarantees. You will not have much problem with color inks
if the scope of your printing is maps and the children’s homework.
half the price, even if half of what you buy fails to print as much as
a new cartridge, you are not much worse off. Unless, that is, you are
printing photographs on expensive photo paper that you want to keep as
heirlooms for 75 to 100 years – and you might include greeting cards or
company brochures in this category. Then you will want to stick with
the printer manufacturer’s ink and the recommended photo paper.
for instance, has developed photo paper with a polymer coating that
swells in thickness as it absorbs the droplet of inkjet ink. The
polymer then encapsulates the ink, protecting from fading for as long
as 100 years if the photo is kept under glass or in storage, according
to Wilhelm Imaging Research, which tests photo longevity. The ink and
paper are also tested to protect photographs from fading because of
pollution, humidity and heat.
That means that two prints, one made
with original ink and one with refillers, could look identical when
they come off the printer. But a few decades later, the refiller’s
print could fade.
What it may boil down to is how offended you are
that Hewlett-Packard sells a $30 cartridge that cost it an estimated
$3.50 to make (not including the hundreds of millions of dollars it
spent on research and development of the technology).
But you are
not going to feel much better about refillers. It costs refillers about
$2 to refill a cartridge that they sell for $10 to $15. It costs them a
bit more if you do not bring in an empty cartridge. The spot market
price for a core, as they are called by the refillers who buy and sell
the empties in Internet auctions, is about $3, but can be as much as $9.
is a happy result of the intense fight over refills. Prices of the new
cartridges have been dropping. A manufacturer like Hewlett has figured
out how to more efficiently spray ink on the paper so a cartridge can
hold less ink and it can drop the price to $10 or less. That disrupts
the refillers’ economics and makes a 20 percent or 30 percent discount
on refills look less dramatic.
Indeed, one day ink may be as cheap as Champagn