| Print prudently with recycled cartridges
By Rik Fairlie
Remanufactured inkjet cartridges cost at least 30 percent less than those sold by printer makers. Is there any reason not to buy?
Editor, Computer Shopper
There's nothing thirstier than a well-used inkjet printer, which can guzzle a $30 cartridge in what seems like a single sip. And any Ctrl-P devotee will tell you that replacement ink cartridges sold by printer makers can just as swiftly drain your bank account.
Remanufactured cartridges, which usually cost at least 30 percent less than those sold by printer original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), are a better deal for consumers. They're also good for the environment. Remanufacturers refill depleted cartridges, keeping thousands of tons of industrial-grade plastic and metals from ending up in landfills each year, according to the International Imaging Technology Council (IITC), an industry group formed to support the remanufactured-consumables industry.
Recycled cartridges also restrain printer makers from monopolizing the lucrative consumables market, a constraint that printer OEMs appear eager to fight. "Printer vendors have definitely ratcheted up the stakes and are becoming more aggressive as the cartridge-replacement industry approaches $3 billion in worldwide annual sales," says Patricia Judge, executive director of the IITC. "They're getting more aggressive with smart chips, and they're basically giving away $100 printers, which has created a need to protect [the consumables] marketplace."
Whether motivated by profits or print quality, printer makers say the use of refurbished cartridges can result in damaged printheads, ink leaks, and inferior output. "Part of making image quality, permanence, and durability come together is that hardware, ink, and paper are optimized to work with one another," says Rajeev Mishra, Epson's group product manager for consumables. "Ink is a very exacting science, and companies that remanufacture cartridges don't have the technology for production of ink that we do."
The remanufacturing industry scoffs at such assertions. "It is the same tired song: 'Because we are the OEM, we can do it better.' After 15 years as an industry, remanufacturers can compete on quality and price," Judge says.
The cartridge wars extend beyond swapping salvos on ink superiority and cost, however. Printer makers implant smart chips in cartridges that can render remanufactured cartridges incompatible with the printer. Typically, smart chips monitor the ink supply in a cartridge and stop the printer when the ink runs dry. But some printers will not work until a new OEM cartridge with the appropriate smart chip is installed. Remanufacturers cannot install a new chip in recycled cartridges, and that results in unusable recycled consumables.
Recycled cartridges are good for the environment, and they restrain printer makers from monopolizing the lucrative consumables market.
Another sneaky way that printer manufacturers try to curtail refurbished consumables is an implicit threat to void warranties if you use these cartridges. But invalidating the warranty would violate the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Improvement Act. It's also an infraction of antitrust laws, says Judge. "It's a scare tactic, because OEMs need you to buy those products in order to subsidize their hardware production."
The printer manufacturers refute that claim. "It's not a scare tactic," says Mishra. "The overall warranty is still intact, and we are very up-front about the program."
Printer makers say they determine damage by checking for use of third-party cartridges, which they say often cause nozzle clogging and ink leakage into the printer. Because only damage directly caused by third-party cartridges can legally void the warranty, the printer maker must prove that off-brand consumables were responsible for the harm.
As a means to end this squabble and legitimize the use of remanufactured cartridges, the IITC is working with the Standardized Test Method Committee (STMC) to develop standards for cartridge inks. (It has already established strategies for laser-toner cartridges.) The goal is to ensure that remanufacturers test inks using STMC guidelines for page yield, image quality, and other factors.
For now, consumers in search of reliable consumables should first check the business credentials of the company that makes the cartridges, including how long it has been in business and whether it is a member of the IITC. Judge recommends products by established firms such as Dataproducts, General Ribbon, and Nukote International because they have solid track records and employ rigorous testing practices.
Many users swear by remanufactured inkjet cartridges and say that they can't ascertain differences in print quality over more costly OEM products. Others, particularly those who insist on the highest-quality output for digital photographs, maintain that cartridges from the printer vendors are necessary for picture perfection. If you fall into the former faction, it's a good bet that remanufactured cartridges could cut your consumables costs without affecting output. It's not exactly a license to print money, but it is a permit to print more prudently.
It's a good bet that remanufactured cartridges could cut your consumables costs without affecting output.
Rik Fairlie is the editor of Computer Shopper magazine. Questions or comments? Let him know!