Ink for less

By Mir
June 28, 2006

Fire up your printers, darlings! Anita writes:

Dear Mir,

Thank you for your new blog and for being pretty.

I assume there’s a better way than paying $25 for an ink jet cartridge at Staples? Can you enlighten me as to what that way is? I assume there must be generic ink jet cartridges out there that are comparable in quality to the name brands?

Thank you!

I’m not sure that anyone’s ever thanked me for being pretty, before. I like it. I like it way more than the cost of ink cartridges, if you must know. Then again… I like liver more than I like the cost of ink cartridges.

Remember back when we had those dot-matrix printers that took the gigantic striped paper with the holes all along the sides? No? Did you just call me old? Hmph. You kids today, I tell you what. Why, back in my day—

Huh? Oh! Right! Ink cartridges!

Basically, you have three options when it comes to putting ink into your printer.

  • You can buy the brand-name cartridges for your specific printer. This has the advantage of pretty much always working correctly with a minimum of hassle, but the disadvantage of sometimes requiring you to take out a second mortgage to pay for your ink.
  • You can buy generic cartridges. This has the advantage of being cheaper than brand-name, but the hassle factor can be higher. Plus, depending on what, exactly, you’re buying, it may not be of as good quality as the cartridges made specifically for your model printer.
  • You can refill your existing cartridge via ink injection. This is the most cost-effective option, as well as the most likely to cause aggravation.

Let’s work our way backwards through the options, starting with injection refills. I think this article is a nice, even-handed analysis of the pros and cons of doing refills. They ultimately concluded that it’s a good option if you’re looking to save some money, although I must say I was given pause, in particular, by this:

Potential Pitfalls

Spilling or leaking ink, overfilling the ink reservoir, and damaging the print nozzle are potential problems. These problems are less likely to occur if you follow the instructions that accompany the kit. Lower ink quality and poor printing results are the primary concerns after you refill a cartridge. By law, manufacturers cannot void a printer warranty based on the brand of ink you choose. An additional challenge comes from changing technology. Some Epson cartridges contain a built-in chip that can detect a re-used cartridge and block the printer from using it. You can, however, purchase chip-reset tools that work around this problem.

Yes, after I’ve bought the kit to save myself some money, I’d like to run out and buy a chip-reset tool. I also plan to smash my head against the desk repeatedly, while doing so, just to make sure that I’m really getting the maximum amount of enjoyment out of the whole thing.

So, yeah. Read the article; they’re less biased than I am. I’m not interested in doing my own refills (although I might consider using a refill store). If I want to spill ink everywhere, all I have to do is pick up a pen.

What about a generic cartridge? That’s a great option, if you can find one that fits your printer, at a price you’re happy to pay. My printer is sort of old and (apparently) not all that popular, so I’ve not had much luck finding generics for it. Hope springs eternal, though. I know that Target and other places carry generics right alongside the name-brands, so by all means, compare.

By now you’ve figured out that my choice is to stick with the manufacturer’s recommended cartridges for my printer. I’m a snob that way. So how do I do it without breaking the bank?

Remanufactured. Do you know this big, scary word? Do not be afraid! Guess what it means, when we’re talking about inkjets. It means they took an empty cartridge and refilled it with ink. They spilled it on their desk, and they worried about whether or not there was any chip that needed resetting. Lovely! Now it comes to you as—for all intents and purposes—a brand new cartridge, and it comes with a lower price tag and a guarantee, to boot. Remanufactured is a great option to save a few bucks.

Inkjet discount sites. Go do a Google search for discount inkjet cartridges. I’ll wait. Oh, you’re back! I can see by the way your brain exploded out of the top of your head that you were a bit overwhelmed by the choices. That can happen, for sure.

I’ve used this site before, and probably my new favorite is ASAP Inkjets, not the least of which because they are offering free shipping on all orders right now. You get exactly what you need at a significant savings. What’s not to love?

Great coupons at office supply stores. This one is more hit-or-miss, but patience pays off. Stores like Office Depot and Viking (which, oops, looks like Viking is Office Depot, now) will sometimes offer a fabulous online coupon, like $20 off any order or somesuch. Whenever I see one of those, I snap it up and head straight for the ink. (Wow, that sounds dirty. You know what I mean.)

You have to decide what works for you; what works for your sensibilities, and what works for your budget. The only thing I can tell you for certain is that there is no reason to pay full price, ever. There are plenty of lower-cost options. And full price is for suckers and people who don’t listen to me.


  1. Mir, you just helped me save a bundle. I was just about to buy ink cartridges for my Smell printer through Smell because I have always thought that one could only get them from there. That is why I have not bought ink since I bought the printer. They are too expensive! But thanks to you, I just got them for half price. Woo-hoo, Mir!

  2. I buy my toners from here because if I’m gonna get ripped off for printer supplies I’d like to give my money to God.

  3. Allie,
    Do you get a Jesus discount (see WCS)? 🙂

  4. another way to keep the price down in a weird way to sell your empty cartridges on ebay. it is insane how i can SELL something i would normally just toss..errr i mean recycle.

    i think some of the remanufacturers must buy them. you have to use the phrase virgin ink to get top dollar. 🙂 love love love your blog!

  5. A couple comments, JMO- the thing about Ebay, is their costs are too high if the item you’re selling is not selling for at least $10. Lower than that, it is not worth your time, and you are hardly making any profit at all, to speak of. Ever since Ebay raised their fees, a lot of people moved out of Ebay selling and onto their own online storefronts. This is because it is almost impossible to make a profitable margin, after the Ebay fees, and the Paypal fees, and all. I used to sell my products there a lot, but it just became unprofitable. Secondly, another option to consider is not having a printer at all! There are many places online that you can have print your documents, like FedEx/Kinkos, and they can mail it to you, or any number of different options. You can even email the document to yourself, and print it out at the library! If it costs 10 cents, or 15 cents per page, (which many do) that is certainly comparable to the costs of having your own printer- and personally I think it’s a good deal cheaper.

  6. Good points, Caya. I agree with your wholeheartedly about eBay. I take issue with the viability of the Kinkos thing, though… certainly not a great option for those of us who sometimes buy good behavior from the midget set with some coloring pages or Sudoku puzzles printed on the fly. 😉 Not to mention that I’d probably never leave the house if I couldn’t print off my Mapquest directions before I head out.

  7. Yes that’s true about printing out coloring pages & such 😀 I don’t even think about it, my kids are rather too young to be picky, a $1 coloring book from WalMart or a bunch of paper & crayons & they’re happy 😀 But that is a good idea! One thing I do with the Mapquest directions (and yes, I’d be completely lost all the time without Mapquest, too!!) is I get the directions on “printer-friendly”, I highlight the directions, and I “cut & paste” them into my desktop “memo” program for my PDA. I edit a little, to make it more readable, but I don’t have to. I have a whole file entitled “directions”, and all my directions go there. The first line will read something like “To Carla’s house from home” so it’s easy to find. ‘Course you have to have a PDA for that one- 😀

  8. Also, check your printer to see if you can set the settings for how it is printing. I’ve changed mine to “draft” and haven’t noticed any appreciable difference in quality, but I have noticed that my cartridges last about three times as long.

    This is for the stuff that I don’t need to look good — coloring pages, sudoku, mapquest directions. For “official business letters” or if I wanted to print out your pretty picture, I would switch back to high-quality.

  9. Don’t ever use! They SUCK! Yeah, they were cheap (about 1/2 the price of what I normally pay) but when I finally got the ink cartridges, 1 was dried up, 1 spilled all over my desk and a 3rd was spilled inside the bag. After 2 phone calls where I was on hold for no less than 20 minutes each time PLUS 3 or 4 emails, I was still out 3 ink cartridges. Even though they SWORE they sent me the return slip via email. Also, I found that the usable ink cartridges lasted about 1/2 as long as brand new ones.

    I typically buy my ink cartridges at Sam’s Club or Costco. I can get 2 black cartridges, a blue, a pink and a yellow for about $50 there. They are brand-name and brand-new.

    BTW, I use a Cannon S520 printer (I love it! Had it for about 3 years now and it’s awesome).

    And now that I no longer own a membership to either store, I will take Mir’s suggestions and possibly take my empty cartridges to the mall where they refill them.

  10. I do what Julia said. If you change your settings under printer properties to fast draft or draft, you get a lot more use out of the ink cartridge. And it only really matters if you are planning on copying the paper…. because it just wont copy as purty 😉

  11. After comparing the per page cost, we got a laser printer. It’s about 3 cents per page verses about 7 cents per page for inkjet. We use our inkjet the few times a year we need color.

    When researching all this, I found a site that claimed the ink for printers works out to $2,000 per gallon! I’m sure you could do the math yourself if you’re curious. I know it’s way too high, whatever it is.

  12. Hey, love your website! I know this is a little late, but I have been catching up since I just found you recently. Anyhow, I have been buying my ink from for several years now without a problem. I have 2 personal Epson’s and bought another for my organization since I know I can get ink for dirt cheap (like $3-4 a cartridge). They are generic, but I have not had a problem to date. I print alot of paperwork for the club I run and use my old Epson alot (it prints the fastest) and ink seems to last forever.

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