In a move not likely to please ink-jet printer makers, Fry’s Electronics will begin offering customers in-store ink-cartridge refilling. Fry’s has 34 stores located in nine states. With the service, which begins this quarter, the customer would just drop off their ink cartridge for refilling while they shop.
Fry’s selected Retail Inkjet Solutions (RIS) to provide the in-store refilling (Fry’s also sells do-it-yourself ink-cartridge refilling kits). RIS will deploy its InkCenter station (above). Fry’s claims that cartridge refilled by RIS’s InkCenter station “exceeds a new cartridge’s printed page count,” citing a study from Quality Logic that RIS refills provide 10 to 20 percent more pages than a new page. To refill cartridges, the operator first drills holes in the cartridge so that ink can later be injected into the cartridge, performs automated clean, and then injects new ink into the cartridge.
Refilling – A Good Idea?
As we’ve written about this topic before, yes, you may save money when just purchase price is considered, but there are number of reasons why refilled ink cartridges may not provide good image quality – something other testing labs have also backed-up.
First, there’s no guarantee you’ll actually save on ink or toner costs. Just because the cartridge is cheaper, doesn’t mean you get a better deal. In order to calculate cost per page, the seller must state the average page yield that’s determined using industry-standard test methods. Only by obtaining cost per page can you actually be able to compare cartridge costs (cost per page = price of cartridge divided by page yield).
Second, the ink in OEM cartridges is specially formulated for two critical archival properties: 1) resistance to exposure to liquids (water-fastness); and 2) resistance to exposure to light (light-fastness). If the third party’s ink formulation doesn’t match that of the OEM ink, this can result in premature aging of prints, so that within a year or so, all of the luminance is drained from the picture and/or there’s an overall yellowish appearance to the photo.
Third, there’s a good chance you won’t obtain the same image quality that you will with the OEM cartridge, especially if you use paper that’s been recommended for use with this particular ink formulation. Wirth Consulting’s Terry Wirth, who has been testing ink- and toner-based printers, All-in-Ones and MFPs for over 30 years, says that the odds of getting comparable image quality are about 50-50.
There are several reasons why this is so. First, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be getting the same exact same ink formulation as provided by the OEM cartridge, as the OEM ink is typically patent-protected. OEMs expend vast resources in developing inks, and it’s virtually impossible for a third-party refiller to be able to copy molecule-by-molecule the exact ink formulation. For example, if one ink is slightly different than the OEM ink, color-fidelity problems may occur when printing color photos (the printed colors don’t match the actual colors in the photo). For instance, all of the colors in the photo may display a greenish caste. You may be able to reduce the green caste using by experimenting with the printer’s color-management software, but you’ll be printing more and consuming more ink.
Also consider that when you’re printing presentation materials or color photos, you’ll probably be using papers and media sold by the OEM–media that’s been designed in particular for your printer or All-in-One. The OEMs themselves generally don’t manufacture this media. Instead, paper companies submit samples to the OEM, which in turn tests and then re-brands or recommends the media that delivers the best image quality and reliability when used with the printer. However, once the formulation of the ink is changed (when you use a refilled cartridge), that recommendation goes out the window, because you’re using a different ink. Moreover, even though you may find a refilled cartridge that you like, the cartridge refiller may change ink sources down the road–it’s a decision of price over performance that may result in a different ink formulation, so you’re almost guaranteed to get different results.
Last, OEM ink is developed to provide the best performance when used with a particular printer or series of printers. The physical characteristics of third-party ink may not match that of the OEM ink—in more extreme cases, third-party ink may evaporate too quickly (dry too soon) or remain wet too long. This can cause reliability problems (as well as wasted ink), and result in clogged print-head nozzles, caked-up buildup on the print head, or ink smeared on prints and paper-feed rollers (the last of which will cause misfeeds if ignored over time). Moreover, the printer’s cleaning mechanism hasn’t been designed to work with this slower- or faster-drying ink. Ink-jet printers must periodically clean their print heads; but if enough waste ink has accumulated, the cleaning mechanism may be overwhelmed, and won’t be able to clear the accumulated ink. Once periodic cleaning can’t be performed correctly, image quality will invariably suffer.
The bottom line is that there’s no guarantee tha trefilled ink cartridges are the best way to go, and in the long run, may not save you money, and in some cases may actually cause you more problems than they’re worth.
The safest thing to do is to use OEM ink. And if you research cost-per-page beforehand, you may realize that you may not be saving much with refilled ink cartridges.
There are also several easy ways for you to save on OEM ink-cartridge costs without having to purchase refilled cartridges:
- Set the printer default to grayscale printing. Some printers allow you to set a network default on the device, while others require that you set the default print settings in the printer folder on all of your computer workstations. When you set grayscale printing as the default, users will quickly find out that they must execute several more “clicks” in order to print in color. This forces them to make a decision about whether they really need a color print. We feel that more often than not, they will print with the default grayscale setting, which will save them considerably on color and black ink.
- Buy high-yield ink cartridges when ever possible (particularly high-yield black ink cartridges). High-yield cartridges may initially cost more, but deliver a lower cost-per-page and higher replacement intervals, which in turn minimizes the cost of shopping, shipping and physical replacement.
- Take advantage of OEM free shipping, rebates, and rewards programs for lowest prices.
- Keep enough ink in stock so that it saves you the time and costs of running out to the store (usually at the worst possible moment); it’s more cost-effective to have on hand ink that’s been delivered free to you (and as part of a rewards program).