Cheap ink: will it cost you?

Buying replacement ink from a third-party vendor can save you big bucks. But will you pay with lousy-looking prints that fade in no time? We did months of testing to find out.

Third-Party Ink Yields Were Higher

On the other hand, printing with the third-party cartridges in our tests will save you anywhere from 3 percent to nearly 70 percent per page, depending on what kind of printing you're doing. For example, a set of remanufactured Epson Stylus CX5000 color cartridges (cyan, magenta, and yellow) from 123Inkjets.com printed nearly 70 percent more pages than the Epson ink, at a cost of about 9 cents per page of color printing, and 2.6 cents per page for black. In contrast, Epson's ink cost 30 cents per page of color printing and about 10 cents per page for black. Epson's Web site says that a set of its color cartridges for the CX5000 should print about 350 pages, but the Epson cartridges we tested averaged only about 190 pages. In contrast 123Inkjets' remanufactured color cartridges averaged just over 320 pages.

Third-party ink cartridges outlasted HP ink cartridges by an even greater margin. 123Inkjets' black cartridge for the HP Photosmart C5180 printed at a cost-per-page of 0.6 cent, while its brand-name HP counterpart printed at 2.2 cents per page. The 123Inkjets cartridge yielded 72 percent more pages than the HP before needing replacement. 123Inkjet's color cartridges (cyan, magenta, and yellow) did even better, yielding an average of 99 percent more pages than the HP cartridges. Cartridge World cartridges, which cost less than HP's OEM versions on all counts, produced impressive page yield numbers, too: Its black, cyan, and magenta cartridges generated about 70 percent more pages than the HP cartridges, and its yellow cartridge churned out 80 percent more.

The overall disparity between Canon inks and Cartridge World inks was smaller. Both cartridge sets produced reasonably good page yields and costs per page for black and color prints. For high-quality photo prints, however, the Cartridge World cartridges were a bargain, printing at 17 cents per page versus the Canon inks' 26 cents per page.

Third-Party Inks Printed More, Cost Less

Which printer inks — those made by printer manufacturers or those made by third-party ink sellers — delivered more bang for the buck? Using 13 competing cartridges in five printers, we calculated the cost of the ink needed to print a page of black-only, full-color, or high-quality photo printing. Though many third-party ink cartridges failed to work in our test printers, those that did printed more pages and cost substantially less than the brand-name rivals.

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Jeff Bertolucci

PC World (US online)

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