Ink refill stations: A good way to cut printing costs?
By Verena Wolff Feb 11, 2007, 8:09 GMT
Berlin - Inkjet printers are cheap - and for a good reason. The ink cartridges that are required to run them will bore a hole through your wallet. Many with inkjet printers are all too familiar with this problem - and they are always on the lookout for cheaper alternatives.
'Third-party ink is certainly one way to save money,' says Dirk Lorenz from the German consumer testing organisation Stiftung Warentest in Berlin.
While many consumers have noticed that they can buy third-party cartridges at substantial discounts over the originals, not all have noted the ink refill stations that have started appearing in retail outlets. These refill stations are used to fill empty cartridges brought in by customers, or exchange empty ones for full ones.
'These are cartridges that can be as good as the original,' Lorenz says. That applies both to refilled tanks as well as for third-party inks from well known manufacturers.
The only problem is that the colours of third-party inks can be more light sensitive, the testers found. 'But that also depends on what kind of paper is used,' Lorenz says.
Ink refill stations are primarily of interest to users who print a lot, says Tim Gerber, from the Hanover-based computer magazine c't.
'If you hardly print out anything at all, then the original inks are best for trouble-free service,' he says.
Heavy ink users, by contrast, can save the most money by refilling the cartridges on their own with ink and single-use injection needles. Yet there are a few problems with that alternative as well:
'Ink doesn't last forever - if you buy a litre jug, you really have to be someone who prints a lot,' Gerber says. Ink keeps for roughly two years, if stored properly.
Another factor is whether the printer will work with refilled cartridges and whether those cartridges can produce good quality prints. 'The flow characteristics must be calibrated very precisely to the cartridges, or else the ink will run out or you'll get stripes,' Gerber says.
The inks always function only for specific printer types, although in many cases cartridges from the same printer series can be filled with the same liquid. All the more reason to ignore offers of ink that works for all ink jet printers: 'That's just nonsense,' Gerber says.
Printer manufacturers like Canon naturally emphasise the benefits of their own brand name inks. 'They're the only way to guarantee that the printer heads will last a long time,' says Canon's printer specialist Dieter Roether. The ink is so clean, he argues, that no deposits are left on the printer head - one of the primary problems with refilled cartridges.
Colour fidelity is cited as another potential issue for third- party inks. The manufacturers have followed their competitors' leads and are now selling a combination of ink and paper that can print photos at an overall cost of 29 cents each.
Customers can expect to save roughly 45 per cent by buying refilled ink cartridges, claims Daniel Stroh, business director at Cartridge World Germany. His company currently works on a return-and- swap model.
'In roughly 85 per cent of the cases, customers walk right back out of the store with already refilled cartridges,' Stroh says.
The empty cartridges that are returned are then professionally cleaned, including a run through a centrifuge, rinsing with a special cleaning liquid and filling under vacuum conditions. 'That lets us fill them just like the originals,' Stroh says.
Cartridge labelling, whether on original or refill cartridges, rarely provides precise millilitre fill data. Users are hence advised to be wary when buying refilled cartridges for their home computers, since otherwise that bargain cartridge may turn out to contain only a fraction of an original cartridge's load.
Weighing the cartridge is one way to get an idea how much ink is inside, whether original or third party ink. Another is calculating the total ownership costs. After all, Lorenz from the Stiftung Warentest notes, 'some printers are actually cheaper to print using original ink than third party versions.'© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur