How to Save on Ink: Three Great Ways to Save on Inkjet Cartridges and Ink Refills

Most generic ink cartridges are simply recycled manufacturer cartridges that have been refilled and tested. Although the process of remanufacture or refurbishment creates a heck of a lot of value for bargain hunters, buying generic isn't always a slam-dunk. On the other hand, buying brand new isn't a great proposition either, as you have likely noticed the price premium.

There is a third option as well, having ink refilled onsite at an office or drug store. However, common refill station handling and operational mistakes can set you back further than where you started. So how do you get the best bang for your buck when making an inkjet or toner cartridge purchase?

Be sure to consider these three factors whenever you are in need of more printer ink:

Unit Price

Be sure to watch the page yield for cartridges you are comparing. For example, a $10 cartridge rated to output 500 pages gives you a unit price of 2 cents per page. Further, make sure the page yields are both calculated at a similar amount of coverage (i.e. 2% ink coverage per sheet). If the coverage rates differ, adjust your unit price accordingly by converting pages into ink-outs. Think of this as a full-page photo print. To get ink-outs, simply multiply page yield by coverage. Then calculate cost per ink-out as your unit price.

Example: 500 pages at 2% coverage = 10 ink-outs. At $10 a cartridge, each ink-out cost $1.

Shelf Life

How fast are you going to use it? Although technology has improved and most inkjet cartridges are now sponge-based (they won't leak inside your printer as time goes on), once unsealed ink cartridges start down the slow path to drying out.

Further, as we recall from chemistry ink is a solution of water and dye. Even when sealed, particles will settle and clump. If you are a frugal user (your cartridges tend to last 3+ months), DO NOT purchase in bulk just to trigger additional savings. Your cartridges will expire sitting idly inside (or beside) the printer and your "savings" will turn into a frugal tax.

Internet vs. In Person

Many office stores (and a few drug stores) offer on-site ink refills that rival the cost of internet-based ink warehouses. But watch out! In-person refills cost less because the risk of cartridge failure during the refill process lies squarely on the customer. Although at first glance this risk may seem small and acceptable, think about who is running the ink refill machine.

Consider your typical retailer. It employs multiple shifts consisting of inexperienced workers, encourages staff to cover departments outside of their training, and has low levels of accountability. Then, enter a sensitive, high pressure, and messy machine that is built to service multiple brand-model combination's. Mix the two and find lack of interest in maintenance and lots of guesswork. Worse, operators rarely admit their errors and do not compensate you for the loss.

Example: "I tried to clean the print heads on your cartridge by rubbing them vigorously across a piece of paper, but it didn't work. Here's your faulty cartridge back", OfficeMax, Eagan, MN.

On the other hand, online ink warehouses test and certify remanufactured cartridges before placing them into inventory. Although the breakage rate is built into the price of the remanufactured and refilled ink cartridge, it is a cost averaged across a high volume of attempts.