Alley in Pisa, Italy

by Lars Kotthoff

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One of the big costs of ink-jet printing at home is the ink.

A quick visit to google shows that there are plenty of companies out there willing to sell ink cartridges and refills for the major printer brands. Many of these are way cheaper.

Also, some local companies (like costco) will refill empties.

Are any of these a good deal/value?

Ages ago, I tried refilling myself with mixed success. Besides the ink on my fingers, I believe that the heads ended up clogged.

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5 Answers 5

In theory, one could make great third-party inks, but in practicality, I don't think any of them trade on permanence or color quality. They trade on cheapness.

I have a friend who ran out of brand-name ink in a pinch on a project and ended up printing some of it with refills; at first, one had to know in order to tell which was which, but after a week, anyone could see.

I've seen several articles on this over the years — here's one originally from pcworld, 2003. That's a long time ago in technology-time, but I don't think the landscape has really changed on this point.

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There's some other (also oldish) articles from the person who did the testing for that article here: wilhelm-research.com/articles.html –  mattdm Feb 18 '11 at 1:58
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In some cases you aren't even getting the same fundamental type of ink - refills for Epson printers that use pigment, may have dye based inks instead. –  Kendall Helmstetter Gelner Feb 18 '11 at 3:01
    
@Kendall Helmstetter Gelner — excellent point. –  mattdm Apr 12 '11 at 14:40

There are all kinds of arguments around the quality, the longevity, potential damage to your print head, etc. But those are kinda irrelevant for "us" here on photo-SE.

If you're printing pretty office charts and graphics, SURE. That's what most of those inks are built for... some even brag about a "more vibrant red" with their ink.

If you're printing pictures, on decent paper that comes with ICC profiles... nope they're not worth it at all.

The problem is that all the profiles are built based on the original ink, you change to a different ink and the profiles are all wrong.

Now if you're printing ENOUGH volume, and you can find an ink vendor that's consistent, you could in theory pay to have your own profiles built for your printer, your paper and their ink. But you'll probably end up paying just as much for the custom profiles as you saved on the ink.

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How about if one has a way to do print profiles (A Spyder print type device or Vuescan+target based solution). Does that change your argument? –  mmccoo Feb 18 '11 at 6:26
    
@mmccoo if you're willing to do profiling every batch and manage the constantly changing profiles, by all means, go for it. There's also the issue about density that I don't think those tools address... having to know which paper profile to use so that you get the right volume of ink delivered per drop for the paper's absorption curves. I suspect that's trial and error. Personally, my time is worth more than I think you'd save in the long run :) , especially if you buy your ink carts smart (I have a watch on the price at newegg.com for my printer's cartridges, grab them when they're on sale.) –  cabbey Feb 18 '11 at 7:41
    
There was also an interesting conversation at our local SmugMug User Group tonight about inks and printers... it was pointed out that if you move up to the larger "industrial" / "professional" printers, then the ink costs drop like a ROCK for the orignal vendor inks... so far that the cheap refill stuff is even less attractive. –  cabbey Feb 18 '11 at 7:42

I have an Epson SX515W and an official Epson CMYK pack (one of each) is... £35! I bought 3 sets of CMYK for £12 and in terms of colour reproduction they were more than fine for my Graphic Design Degree printing. They were fine until yesterday when my printer decided it couldn't recognise them and wanted a real one. I think it was just the printer being funny.

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We lost a Xerox 8550 to third party 'ink' actually wax. Color reproduction was bad at best and the print heads were irreparably damaged...

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If you're talking about Xerox solid "ink" printers....thats a whole different beast really. Thats complicated enough and expensive enough tech I'd not try 3rd parties in it. We've, unfortunately, got one at work. –  rfusca Feb 18 '11 at 19:36

I've an Epson C62 and can buy 8 cartridges (4 black 4 colour) for less than £20GBP inc p&p. I just pop them in and the Epson status manager moans because it wants Epson cartridges, I just ignore and merrily print away.

I've also got an HP C4480 and just waiting for the Think ink to become available for this...I hope!

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How is color accuracy and gamut? In the context of photography, color purity, accuracy, and gamut are critical, and that is where third party inks usually fail to deliver. There ARE some quality third party pigment inks for brands like Epson and Canon, however they are not much cheaper. –  jrista Apr 12 '11 at 18:47

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