How Much Ink Is Left in That Dead Cartridge?

From PC World Magazine:

We ran printers until they said it was time to change the cartridge–and found that some left more than 40 percent of their ink unused.

You’ve probably had this experience: Your printer tells you it’s time to change the cartridge, but you dismiss the message and keep printing. Days or weeks later, you’re still using the same cartridge and thinking to yourself that rumors of its death were greatly exaggerated.

Or perhaps your printer simply shuts down when it decides you’ve gone deep enough into its ink well, refusing to operate until you replace the cartridge, though you suspect there’s plenty of ink left.

PC World decided to do some real lab testing on this issue; and the results confirm what you may have suspected: Many manufacturer-branded (OEM) and third-party (aftermarket) vendor cartridges leave a startling amount of ink unused when they read empty. In fact, some inkjet printers force users to replace black ink cartridges when the cartridge is nearly half full, PC World has found. 

We tested using multifunction printers from four major manufacturers: Canon, Epson, Hewlett-Packard, and Kodak. (For the top-rated models, see our chart of top-rated multifunction printers.) PC World Test Center results show that models from Canon, Epson, and Kodak reported ink cartridges as being empty when in some cases the tanks had 40 percent of their black ink remaining.

The quantity of unused ink ranged from about 8 percent in an Epson-brand cartridge to a whopping 45 percent in an aftermarket cartridge for a Canon printer. After posting low-ink warnings, those printers wouldn’t let us resume printing until we inserted a new cartridge.

Our test printers typically left more unused ink–in some cases significantly more–when using third-party or aftermarket print cartridges than when using the printer manufacturer’s own cartridges.

[Jack says: Third-party, or compatible cartridges, contain no original manufacturer parts. After-market cartridges are usually OEM cartridge bodies that have been refilled with non-OEM ink or toner.]

There are valid reasons for not draining an ink cartridge completely, printing experts say. “Many inks, if they run dry, can cause significant damage to the printer,” says Brian Hilton, a senior staff engineer at the Rochester Institute of Technology who holds 29 inkjet patents. “You always want to leave a buffer in the tank so that the printer never runs dry. There should always be a factor of safety included.”

Other observers point out that the quantity of leftover ink is often only a few milliliters. “Printers have generally become more efficient over the years,” says Andy Lippman, a printing analyst with Lyra Research. “In the past, you might have seen 40 milliliters of ink in the black cartridge. Today you’re going to get the same amount of pages out of 7 or 8 milliliters.”

Other people, however–both journalists and independent researchers–have reported very different experiences with ink cartridges. Judging from these findings, printer owners are probably throwing away a lot of usable ink. And that’s a problem, when you consider how expensive the precious fluid is. An average black-ink cartridge contains 8 milliliters of ink and costs about $10 which translates into a cost of $1.25 per milliliter (or more horrifyingly, $1250 per liter).

If you bought a gallon of the stuff over the life of your printer, you’d have paid about $4731 for a liquid that one aftermarket vendor told us was “cheap” to make. For some perspective, gasoline costs about $3 per gallon (at the moment), while a gallon of Beluga caviar (imagined as a liquid) costs about $18,000–surprisingly, only about four times as expensive as good old printer ink.

“I personally think that consumers are getting ripped off,” says Steve Pociask, president of the American Consumer Institute, a nonprofit educational and research institute in Washington, D.C. “In some cases, we found that [the price of] the printer could be 1/8 of the total cost of printing,” says Pociask. “Over the life of the printer–and by that I mean three years–you can easily spend $800 for the printer and ink.”

We researched both online and brick-and-mortar tech outlets to find printers that are being used now by high numbers of consumers.

Some vendors and analysts advise consumers to make sure that they get the correct page yield (the total number of pages produced with a single cartridge), rather than focusing on the amount of ink left unused in a cartridge that must be discarded. “This is the most reliable way to understand the life of a cartridge, rather than the amount of ink, or what might be left over,” says Lippman.

But vendor page-yield estimates don’t always match reality, as we discovered when testing printers for another PC World article, “Cheap Ink: Will It Cost You?” Using a different set of OEM cartridges and printers, we found that one HP black cartridge exceed its projected page yield (810 printed vs. 660 projected), while page yields from Epson and Kodak cartridges fell short of expectations. Specifically, Epson printed just 209 pages, far less than the 335 pages the company estimated it would produce; and Kodak generated 480 pages versus a projected page count of 540.

Page yields aside, we have yet to hear a satisfactory and persuasive explanation from a vendor as to why so many printer cartridges leave so much ink behind. Even if the waste amount is only a few milliliters, that unused liquid could have printed a lot of pages.

Read the full article for the conclusions they reached from their testing.

We want you to get the full use out of the cartridges you purchase from us. Any time you believe you haven’t gotten the number of pages that you should have or that not all the ink in the cartridge was used, we’ll be glad to weigh the cartridge for you and tell you just how much ink is left.

We understand that by recycling cartridges, it’s possible for a cartridge to stop working properly part-way through it’s refilled life. That’s why we guarantee that our cartridges will last just as long as the OEM versions.

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