Every big market creates one or more sub-markets, so to speak. The housing market creates a plumbing market, an interior decor market and a gardening market. The car market creates a rim market and an exhaust market. You see where we’re going with this.
Now, printers aren’t exactly a basic life necessity like cars or houses, but you could argue that their affordability makes up for them and makes them just as commonplace. Therefore, the big printer market was bound to create a… you guessed it, remanufactured ink market.
It would be more correct to call it an ink cartridge market, although we won’t be getting into the semantics here. Since cartridges are what makes the printer do their thing, it wasn’t going to be long before a whole other market was devoted to them. And with good reason.
Have you ever heard about the Razor and Blades business model?
If you aren’t an economics student, you probably haven’t. In fact, you might be asking yourself “what do razors and blades have with ink”? Well, that’s what this whole remanufactured ink stuff is about. Back in the days of old (not like, ancient), people used to shave with those blades that you can still see in some old-school barber shop. They work great and are made to last. Problem is, you have to sharpen the blade every single time you want to shave. Every. Single. Time. If you’re shaving daily, that’s annoying.
So, the razor blade manufacturers came up with an ideal solution. We’ll supply the people with a high-quality razor and a high-quality blade. When the blade gets dull, you can detach it and buy another blade. We keep making money, and people keep saving time. Everyone is happy. Of course, the Razor and Blades business model spread to every industry that could apply it. Examples abound. Nintendo would sell gaming consoles as the main item, while video games were the complementary goods. Kodak had their cheap cameras as the main item, while the film, along with processing chemicals and printing supplies, played the role of consumable supplies. And, then, of course, there were the printers.
How are printer manufacturers connected to this model?
You see, the printer you buy is the high-quality razor we mentioned above, and the ink cartridges in them are the high-quality blades. And, just like with today’s razor blades, you have to replace the cartridges every now and then. (we’ll be getting to the remanufactured ink cartridges part soon, we promise)
Offices were becoming a thing, so people needed to put a lot of stuff on paper. Doing it manually is a chore. HP, Epson and Canon weren’t going to waste time meeting demand here, and soon enough, they began dishing out the first consumer printers, available to the Average Joe or the average secretary (more or less).
As you might imagine, letting you pour ink from the color shop into the printer isn’t good business. No, in order to use the printer, you had to have an official cartridge. Not just an official cartridge, but a specific one.
Let’s fast forward to the genuine ink cartridge era…
HP wasn’t going to let you use another manufacturer’s ink cartridge. If you have an HP printer, you have to buy an HP cartridge. That’s good business, and these are what we call genuine ink cartridges. Some 30 years after they came up this scheme, the business model is still going as strong as ever. Pretty amazing, right? Well, not as strong as ever, but we’ll get to that part in a bit.
HP was the first to roll out their printers and their official cartridges, followed by their competitors, all employing the same model. You want to put an Epson cartridge in an HP printer? You should consider yourself fortunate if the printer doesn’t explode. Like we said, good business for all.
Trouble is, the market expanded and moved on, and things weren’t as simple as “go to the store and buy some HP inkjet cartridges” anymore.
Different generations of printers asked for different ink cartridge standards
As the years passed and hundreds of models became thousands of models, the whole ink cartridge business got a bit out of hand. A razor’s always a razor, right? However, printer manufacturers weren’t just making razor blades. They were dishing out hundreds of printer models, and in most cases, each printer model required a specific ink cartridge to it.
Let’s use the HP Envy 7640 Ink and the HP Envy 5530 Ink as two good examples. The printers are from the same series. They’re basically the same model. However, their cartridges aren’t inter-compatible. The 7640 cartridge won’t work with the 5530, and vice-versa. And if you think Epson ink cartridges are going to treat you any better, think again.
This is where consumers started to get a bit unhappy. Even a lower-end printer can last for over a decade, but if you’re doing a lot of printing, you’re going to be needing a lot of cartridges. In that decade, HP is going to dish out a thousand new printer models, and the ink cartridges for your lower-end printer become less and less available with each passing month. HP is too busy making new printers and fancy HP ink cartridges for them to care for your dusty old printer. Even though it works perfectly fine, you have no way of getting cartridges for it, and so you can’t print with it. But that’s not where the dissatisfaction ended.
Consumers aren’t happy with the prices or the supply, so cue remanufactured ink
From the start, official ink cartridges cost a pretty penny. Why wouldn’t they? They’re from a big brand. Big brand means big prices. Initially, consumers were willing to deal with that. It’s not like there’s anything else but deal when the only alternative is to use a pencil, you know?
But, as the printer industry kept rolling, cartridges for old models became less available and prices for them stayed high (in fact, they were often higher than before since they were more difficult to come by), dissatisfaction came to a boiling point. Eventually, someone got the idea: hey, why don’t we just take the empty cartridges and fill them with our own ink? And so the wheel, or remanufactured ink cartridges, were invented.
To the main point, what is actually a remanufactured ink cartridge?
When you think about it, the whole thing is pretty good for the environment. Not that that makes printer manufacturers happy, but nevermind. Anyways, before remanufactured ink existed, empty cartridges were simply thrown in the garbage and new ones inserted into the printer.
A remanufactured ink cartridge is an OEM container that has been emptied out, but re-purposed. Think of it as recycling, really. While this all sounds like garage stuff, it’s actually a very widespread and profitable business (rims and gardening, remember?)
PrinterHeadlines Tip: The whole process is done by professionals, as in, companies that specialize in exactly this sort of thing: they obtain empty cartridges for a specific printer, clean them out by hand or device, then fill them with compatible ink and re-sell them. While the printer manufacturers are less happy by the minute, it’s oftentimes the only way to get cartridges for a lot of the older printer models.
Do remanufactured ink cartridges work?
Oh, they work alright. How well, though? That depends entirely on the company producing them. We’re pretty sure you could create remanufactured cartridges without much trouble, which gives you an idea of how easy they are to make.
The devil is in the details. There’s a lot of people and a lot of companies selling remanufactured ink cartridges, and there’s obviously going to be a huge difference in quality between them. With the most reputable companies, a remanufactured cartridge could work equally as well as an official one (although a HP representative might tell you otherwise), whereas a cartridge made by a less reliable source can leak ink inside or outside the printer, might be misshapen, have one or more of its parts compromised and so on.
Are they filled with genuine or remanufactured printer ink?
Here is where the biggest difference tends to come into play. We don’t need to tell you that HP or Epson won’t go out and give their ink to people who are repurposing their cartridges. Instead, remanufacturers have to use their own ink mixture.
So, no, a remanufactured ink cartridge won’t have “genuine” ink in the sense that it didn’t come from the manufacturer, and it will therefore be of a lesser quality. How lesser, though, is the key question. In some cases, you won’t be able to tell the difference between a document printed with genuine ink and one printed with remanufactured ink, even if it has pictures. The colors will be powerful, the letters sharp and there will be no blur whatsoever.
In other cases, the printed documents will not look as good as if you used an official cartridge. This can range from a barely noticeable difference (read: useable) to completely blurry documents that aren’t good for much but playing office basketball.
Does using a remanufactured ink cartridge void my warranty?
No. You remember us saying the printer manufacturers aren’t happy about all this, don’t you? Well, if it was up to them, using a remanufactured cartridge would sort of make you a black sheep on their consumer list. Fortunately, we have laws protecting the consumers. Here, it’s the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Improvement Act.
The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Improvement Act was created to fix problems as a result of manufacturers using disclaimers on warranties in an unfair or misleading manner. According to the report from the House of Representatives which accompanied the law (House Report No. 93-1197, 93d Cong 2d Sess.), the Magnuson-Moss act was enacted by Congress in response to merchants’ widespread misuse of express warranties and disclaimers. The legislative history indicates that the purpose of the act is to make warranties on consumer products more readily understood and enforceable and to provide the Federal Trade Commission with means to better protect consumers.
Basically, to stop printer manufacturers from doing you dirty, Congress went ahead and said: the consumer owns the printer, the printer is under warranty, the cartridge replacement process doesn’t translate to “opening the device”, so you can’t deny them service. So, don’t worry, your warranty is still good if you went the remanufactured way, even if the printer user manual tells you otherwise (Congress > manuals, much as it hurts us to admit it).
Genuine ink cartridges vs remanufactured ink cartridges, what are the pros and cons?
Let’s split genuine and remanufactured cartridges up, outline the pros and cons for each and let you draw your own conclusions.
A genuine ink cartridge will have the highest-quality ink, always work with the printer it’s assigned to and come with a quality guarantee. It’s manufactured by the biggest names in the industry, so you don’t have to worry about the parts or the ink. All the documents will be printed exactly as you would expect them, provided you’ve configured your printer correctly. What you have to worry about is price and availability. Genuine ink cartridges can cost double or triple than a remanufactured version, and if you’re having trouble finding one for your printer, the price can shoot up even higher.
On the other hand, a remanufactured ink cartridge requires a lot more thinking on your part. You have to worry about who it’s made by, how well they made it, what ink they used and whether it’s going to make a mess of your printer. That means it’s best to do some research before buying or trying remanufactured ink to know where it’s coming from. If you found a good remanufacturer, though, the cartridges can cost significantly less, which can come quite in handy if you’re doing a lot of printing. More importantly, remanufactured cartridges are far easier to find for certain printer models (in fact, oftentimes they’re the only option) and can save you from having to buy a new printer altogether.
So, to sum it up, should I try remanufactured cartridges?
As you can see, it all boils down to the kind of printing you’re doing and the printer model you’re using. If you’re only printing occasionally and have no trouble finding official cartridges, there’s no reason or need to experiment with manufactured ink.
But, if you’re dishing out thousands of papers or are using an older model and don’t wish to upgrade your printer, remanufactured cartridges are definitely worth a shot. They can help you save a pretty penny in some cases, be it on ink or from not having to get a new printer because HP or Epson is no longer supplying old cartridges. Remember, though: if you’re going to go the remanufactured route, always know who you’re buying the cartridges from, as there is a world of difference in terms of quality. If you don’t do your research, you probably won’t be satisfied.
While all PrinterHeadlines contributors are printer specialists with many years of experience in the tech industry, we will sometimes refer to other articles and websites. This gives our users a chance to both verify the information they’re getting and gives them a chance to explore additional venues of knowledge.
To cite this article, please use:
Bazmarov, Anya in “What Is Remanufactured Ink and Should You Buy It?” on PrinterHeadlines.com, Published 14/08/2019, Last Accessed 17/08/2021, https://printerheadlines.com/what-is-remanufactured-ink/
References and additional resources (2):
- Wikipedia: Magnuson–Moss Warranty Act
- HP: HP Ink & Toner Cartridges for Printers
Photo Credits to:
- George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images
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