As “generic", “remanufactured", and “new compatible" inkjet printer cartridges and laser toner cartridges creep deeper into the printer accessories market, the choices become varied and often confusing. It is estimated that by the year 2004 the aftermarket share of the inkjet and toner cartridge market will exceed 11% of the estimated 12 billion dollar printer accessory market [source: CART magazine, March 2001] Here's a look at what all these terms mean, and an examination of the upside and downside of using non-"brand name" printer cartridge products in your printer.
First, let's examine the terminology. When shopping online for a new inkjet or toner cartridge for your printer, you'll likely encounter these terms:
OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) or brand name products
A “brand name" inkjet or toner cartridge is just that - it's a printer cartridge that carries the brand name of the manufacturer on it, usually the same as the printer manufacturer, for example, Epson, Canon, Hewlett Packard, etc.
New compatible, off-brand or generic products
A “new compatible", “off-brand" or “generic" inkjet or toner cartridge is manufactured by a company other than the original printer manufacturer. There are a large number of these “new compatible" manufacturers, and it's quite true that the quality of their product can vary (more on that a bit later). In the case of inkjet cartridges, “generic" cartridges are completely new. In the case of toner cartridges, to qualify as “new compatible" the toner drum must be replaced with a brand new drum, as well as all major parts serviced and replaced as needed.
A “remanufactured" inkjet or toner cartridge, by definition, is a cartridge which has been serviced, cleaned, refilled with toner or ink and possibly had a few component parts repaired or replaced. In many cases, remanufactured toner cartridges do not have new drums; they instead refurbish the original drum and send it out for another cycle.
An Important Note About Toner Cartridges
The relatively unknown truth is that almost all laser toner cartridges, including most of the original brand name “new" cartridges, have been remanufactured to some extent. The defining point is to what degree they have had component parts repaired and/or replaced. For example: check the box for a brand new Hewlett Packard Laser Jet 4000/27X. Brand new, right? Well, it is. But check the fine print, which says: This newly manufactured product may contain parts and materials recovered from the HP planet partners recycling program. This means that the product, while “new", is possibly not completely new; it's quite probable that components of this cartridge have been used before, and have been recycled.
Quality vs. Cost
It's a fact: the cost of brand name inkjet and toner cartridges can be exceedingly high in comparison to generic or remanufactured inkjet or toner cartridges. In many cases, new compatible inkjet cartridges can be as much as 70% less than the cost of brand name cartridges. New compatible or remanufactured toner cartridges on the whole tend to be as much as 50% less in cost than their brand name counterparts. For example, an Epson T013201 black inkjer cartridge, used for various Epson Stylus printers, sells for $17.09 direct from Epson. The same cartridge, compatible, at an online retailer, Abacus24-7 (http://www.abacus24-7.com), sells for $4.95. The difference. . . .70% in savings. (Prices as of August 2005)
What's the catch?
Well, there really isn't one, if you find a quality off-brand product you can purchase from an online merchant you can trust, one who stands by their product in those rare cases that generic or remanufactured products don't perform as well as you expect. Brand name cartridges cost much more than generics primarily because of the marketing and advertising budgets most OEM manufacturers spend in promoting their products; a cost most smaller manufacturers don't have. And then there's the issue of your printer warranty - we'll discuss that issue a little bit later.
Inkjet Cartridges: Performance
Generic or new compatible inkjet cartridges are in general highly reliable and perform as well as, or nearly as well as, brand name cartridges. Latest technologies and adherence to ISO 9001 codes (internationally recognized standards for quality assurance) by most producers of generic cartridges has increased the overall reliability of these aftermarket products in relation to your typical brand cartridges. In particular, Epson and Canon new compatibles are highly reliable, as the technology required to duplicate the performance of their cartridges is minimal (with the exception of the very latest Epson cartridges with the “computer chip"). In terms of print life (how many pages they print) generics stack up pretty well - usually within plus or minus 5% of the life of your typical brand name cartridge.
High quality photographic printing is the one area where generic cartridges are occasionally suspect. The quality of the inks used by the manufacturer play a significant role here - lower grade ink which doesn't have the same density or brilliance and consistency of color can produce inferior results in the most high-demand cases. Although most manufacturers of generics have moved away from inferior inks, we recommend you ask your online merchant about the quality of the inks used by their supplier, if you are doing this kind of high-quality photographic printing. In particular, the inks should be made in the U. S. A. . With good ink your results should be just fine.
Remanufactured Inkjet cartridges are another subject. Primarily you will only find remanufactured Inkjet cartridges for Hewlett Packard, Lexmark and Dell, as these companies have meticulously patented (and subsequently filed suit against anyone who tried to duplicate) their inkjet cartridge designs. There are no true “generics" for HP or Dell inkjet printers.
Remanufactured cartridges are a huge cost value over new cartridges - usually over 50% less - and for every day printing work just fine. The failure rate of remanufactured cartridges is slightly higher than new product, however, and so it's important your online merchant guarantees their product to cover the occasional return. For typical printing, remanufactured inkjet cartridges can be the right choice over new ones. Lately, Dell computers and printers are increasing in popularity. Dell's popular models include the Color 720, and All-in-One a920, a940, and a960 models. Direct from Dell, one can buy an OEM cartridge, for example the color cartridge (X0504) for the Dell a940 printer for $34.99 from www.dell.com. The same cartridge, yet remanufactured, sells online for $23.95 at Abacus24-7 (http://www.abacus24-7.com). (Prices as of August 2005)
Laser Toner Cartridges: Performance
As with generic or new compatible inkjet cartridges, new compatible toner cartridges are for the most part highly reliable and provide a noticeable cost savings over brand new toner cartridges. Again, ISO 9001 standards have greatly increased the consistency and reliability of the aftermarket toner product in recent years. Further, many new compatible toner manufacturers increase the volume of toner in the cartridge, providing for a longer print life. Quality new compatible cartridges will have new or replaced mag sleeves, wiper blades, and magnet tips.
Remanufactured toner cartridges in general have a less stringent set of criteria applied to them, and as mentioned before may not contain a new toner drum. Be sure to ask your supplier. It is our humble recommendation that you go with toner cartridges that have a new aftermarket drum, as opposed to a refurbished or recycled drum. Lastly, ask if the new drum is “high density". You want that.
Color laser new compatible toner cartridges are just coming to market, and although early feedback seems to indicate a positive outlook, an evaluation of these cartridges is premature at this time.
Good for the Country, Good for the Environment
If you care about recycling or the good of the Country's economy, consider these facts:
- 99% of new compatible toner cartridges are manufactured in the USA; most “OEM" brand cartridges are manufactured overseas
- Nearly 40,000 tons of plastic are saved from our nation's landfills each year, by remanufacture of inkjet and toner cartridges
- It takes on average 2 quarts of oil to manufacture a Brand New Toner cartridge but less than half of that amount to manufacture a new compatible toner cartridge
Your Printer Warranty and You
A legitimate concern of many people is whether using generic or remanufactured cartridges in their printer voids the printer's warranty. The answer is no. The following is a partial quote of the text of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Improvement Act, which deals with this exact question:
MAGNUSON-MOSS WARRANTY IMPROVEMENT ACT
United States Code Annotated
Title 15 Commerce and Trade
Chapter 50 Consumer Product Warranties
15 Section 2032
. . (c) No warrantor of a consumer product may condition his written or implied warranty of such product on the consumer's using, in connection with such product, any article or service (other than article or service provided without charge under the terms of the warranty) which is identified by brand, trade or corporate name; except that the prohibition of this subsection be waived by the commission if:
1) The warrantor satisfies the Commission that the warranted product will function properly only if the article or service so identified is used in connection with the warranted product, and
2) the Commission finds that such a waiver is in the public interest.
In English, this means that no warranty may be voided by use of aftermarket products unless the manufacturer acquires a waiver that clearly shows such voidance would be in the public interest, or that their product will only function properly if the specified manufacturer parts are used.
There is one catch, however: the manufacturer (in this case your printer manufacturer) is not compelled to repair their product under warranty if damage done to the product occurred as a direct result of using aftermarket parts. In other words, using generic cartridges is fine, and if your printer ever fails under conditions which have nothing to do with the cartridge you are using, no problem. However, if the damage is directly caused (however unlikely) by the use of a generic cartridge, the warrantor may elect not to repair it, although the warranty would remain in effect for all other warranty issues.
In general, aftermarket generic and new compatible or remanufactured printer cartridge products are an excellent way to cut significant costs from your every day small business or personal printing expense, while maintaining quality printing results. Those who need extremely high quality printing (such as photographers and artists) can, with a little trial-and-error testing of different generic cartridge products, find a product which provides the quality results you need.
In all cases, be sure to buy your cartridges from an online supplier who 100% guarantees their product without question, and isn't afraid to answer your questions when it comes to the quality and reliability of their products.
Written by David Amerman also published by About.com