OEM ink cartridges vs. cheaper ink refills

Replacing your inkjet printer's ink cartridges can cost more than the printer itself. Cheaper store-brand ink cartridges and do-it-yourself refill kits can be tempting, but what are the risks? If you're shopping for printer ink, expert testers advise you to choose carefully:

  • Skip do-it-yourself ink refill kits. They're the cheapest option, but expert testers find them too messy. For most people, the hassle outweighs the potential savings.
  • Stick with OEM (manufacturer) cartridges for the best reliability, image quality and longevity. If time is more important than money or you want keepsake-quality printouts, OEM cartridges usually deliver the best, most trouble-free results. Photos printed with some OEM inks can last 100 years or more.
  • Refilled cartridges cost less, but they're not as high-quality and consistent as OEM inks. Store-brand cartridges are really used OEM cartridges that have been cleaned and refilled with store-brand ink. Some brands crank out decent-looking printouts in some tests, but they usually don't print as beautifully as new OEM cartridges do, and they tend to fade within a few months or years. Refilled cartridges are also more likely to malfunction or leak, because printer cartridges aren't really designed to be reused. And if a refilled cartridge damages your printer, none of the major printer manufacturers' warranties will cover it. Still, if you can find a refilled store brand that works well with your printer, it can be a good way to save on everyday office printing and the like.
  • Recycle or reuse your empty cartridges. The printer manufacturers will accept used cartridges for recycling, but you'll have to pay postage. Office-supply stores have good but often-changing policies. The chains will give you a store credit or other consideration. Stores with refilling machines will refill your empty cartridges. Some communities have regular or periodic programs for recycling cartridges.
  • Counterfeit ink cartridges are rampant. Be wary of great online deals for OEM cartridges (as in online auctions); chances are, they're knockoffs.
  • Check the expiration date on OEM cartridges. Some cartridges are programmed not to print after the expiration date.

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