Ink cartridges are an important part of buying a printer. Without them, the printer wouldn’t function, but they can be one of the most expensive part of a printer purchase depending on the type of printer purchased.

Ink Cartridges: The Basics

The most common ink cartridges come in two color formats — black and multi-color. Multi-color cartridges usually come with a combination of cyan, yellow, and magenta.

Depending on how the printer is designed, it supports a dedicated black cartridge and a combination multi-color cartridge or individual color cartridge. Most basic and moderate-level printers use a black and multi-color cartridge combination, which are sold individually or as a set.

Expect to pay around $20 for a single cartridge while a combination pack costs about $35. Larger capacity cartridges are also available for $35 each or $70 per combination pack. These are prices are typical for the manufacturer-brand cartridges. Third party ones tend to be less costly.

OEM vs. Third Party Cartridges

In the spring of 2017, the Supreme Court handed down a ruling which states that third party vendors are permitted to sell ink for printers produced by major manufacturers. While they are cheaper than the standard cartridges, there are some things that you should know about them prior to purchase.

Consistency

In a survey, customers say that cartridges from third-party providers work just as well as OEM ones by 36 to 63 percent. However, testing shows different results. Some cartridges printed without incident, but others caused the printer to produce error messages or to not print at all. Ink also clogged up the printer heads in some instances.

To reduce issues, use the cartridges as soon as they are purchased and ensure they come with a money back guarantee.

Voiding Your Warranty

If your printer is still within its warranty period, installing a third-party ink cartridge could void it. Even if nothing happens with the cartridge during use, any problems that occur after the install might not be supported.

Why? Your printer might tattle on you. Internet-connected printers can notify the manufacturer of third-party equipment installations. So, if you want to try another cartridge brand, wait until after your warranty expires.

Your Printer Might Not Work

Third-party cartridges can cause a printer not to work properly, which is why consistency is a potential problem. Despite the Supreme Court ruling for third party ink, manufacturers may install software that prevents the printer from working at all.

HP was accused of installing firmware that does just that. The company installed an update in 2016 that impacted the OfficeJet, OfficeJet Pro, and OfficeJet Pro X models stealthily six months before the ruling went into effect. It was eventually turned off and HP never activated it again despite last year’s report. While such fixes are never permanent due to technological work-arounds, it is a hassle.

Third-Party May Be the Only Solution

OEM ink cartridges almost always work, so consistency isn’t an issue. They don’t void any warranties and no software should ever keep them from printing out a photo or written document. However, there are times when a third-party cartridge is the only viable option.

Sometimes, printers will not function at all even with the correct and genuine supplies installed. Third-party cartridges may help in this instance.

With new printers coming out constantly, finding cartridges for an older printer that you are happy with is harder over time. Mainstream retailers won’t sell them anymore. Finding them through other vendors is one way to resolve the issue. But they may be even more expensive or take longer to get. Again, third party ink cartridges are a handy solution.

How to Save on Ink Cartridges

At the end of the day, choosing an ink cartridge and printer always comes down to cost. Besides buying generic or third-party ink cartridges, there are other ways to save money on the cost.

Have Ink Cartridges Refilled

Retailers like Costco, Walgreens, and others offer cartridge refill services. Simply bring them into the store and have them filled again by a professional. If they are in good condition, each one can be filled between four to six times, but check with the retailer before taking them in as some cartridges can’t be reused.

Fill Cartridges Yourself

If you are a DIY person, you can absolutely buy the supplies and refill your cartridges. Be careful since it takes precision in order to avoid making a mess.

Buy Re-Manufactured Cartridges

Ink cartridges can be recycled, so it’s possible to buy ones that have been professionally served and filled again. They’re typically sold online for 30-60 percent less than retail.

Recycle Your Old Cartridges

Besides being good for the environment, recycling old cartridges can translate to helping a cause or saving money. Some schools use them as a way to raise money, while retailers give coupons out in exchange for returning the old ones. This results in money off new cartridges.

Print Smart

Use grayscale printing mode or draft. These two printer modes use less ink. Since black is still cheaper than tri-color cartridges, it is worth printing in one color or to use less in order for the cartridge to last longer.