Printer ink cartridges are one of the costliest expenses associated with owning a printer. Depending on the type of printer you get, buying a replacement ink cartridge may cost you half of what the printer itself did. For this reason, you might find yourself gravitating toward generic ink cartridges to save money. But are you better off sticking with the name brand and steering clear of cheap knockoff ink cartridges? The answer to that question is: It depends.
The Question of Cost vs. Quality
Without doubt, you’re going to pay far less for generic printer ink cartridges than you will for name brand replacements. In most cases, buying a generic ink cartridge in an electronics store will save you 15 percent. When you buy online, however, you can save even more, paying anywhere from 50 to 70 percent less. While this may seem like a no-brainer strategy to save money, there is one important issue to take into consideration. That’s the issue of print quality.
Generic print cartridges that take a “one size fits all” approach to meeting your office needs tend to perform more poorly than their name brand counterparts. Typically, you’ll find the gap in quality is greater when you’re using a generic cartridge to perform high quality color print jobs, like photographs or artwork – but the difference in quality can even be seen when printing text documents in black and white.
There’s a higher rate of ink overspray and blurred lines with generic brand ink cartridges than there is for more expensive, manufacturer-approved cartridges. If quality isn’t a concern and you tend to use your printer mostly just for quick and infrequent interoffice drafts, using generic printer ink will probably serve your needs. However, if you use your printer for professional purposes and require the best quality possible, or if your office environment produces a high volume of print jobs, it’s strongly advisable to stick with what the printer maker recommends.
Will Using Generic Ink Void Your Printer Warranty?
In a word, no. One of the concerns a lot of people have about using generic brand inkjet printer ink is that doing so may void their printer’s warranty. But in language expressed by the Magnuson–Moss Warranty Act, a manufacturer isn’t allowed to require that you use any specific brand of replacement accessory as a condition of your warranty.
The only thing you have to be certain of is that the replacement part (in this case, the printer ink cartridge) was intended for your specific make and model of printer. In other words, if you install the wrong type of ink cartridge in your printer and damage it as a result, all bets are off. If it can be proven that your printer came to harm as a result of your use of an off-brand ink cartridge, the manufacturer could use this to void your warranty—so check your warranty paperwork before you make the switch to generic.
Of Bells, Whistles, and Error Messages
Although printer makers are bound by law to honor your warranty if you choose to use another brand of replacement cartridge, there’s nothing to say that they can’t install a few bells, whistles and warning messages to remind you that you’re not using an officially sanctioned accessory. There have even been reports of printers failing to work with generic cartridges, but for the most part you’ll just get an onscreen error message that requires you to confirm you are aware that you’re using an off-brand replacement.
Additionally, because generic printer cartridges aren’t always compatible with the printer’s built-in software, your ink level readings may not report accurately. Keep this in mind if you frequently rely on your software telling you when it’s time to replace the ink in your printer. Otherwise, you’ll have to find out the hard way.
DRM for Replacement Cartridges?
According to a Wired earlier last year, HP rolled out a DRM (digital rights management) firmware update that would render it impossible for users to install generic print cartridges in their printers. While this was later “taken back” by HP due to public demand, it’s still indication of where printer manufacturers may go in the future to keep users from leveraging generic brand ink cartridges to save money. Read: buyer beware.
The Final Word
As with most things technological, quality and performance is determined greatly by how something is used. Before you permanently swear off generic print cartridges for the manufacturer’s recommended replacement, consider running a few tests of your own to compare performance. If you’re dissatisfied with the outcome of generic ink cartridges, you might arrive at the conclusion that spending a few extra dollars for the brand name is preferable to achieving a substandard end result.
Always research the maker of a generic ink cartridge before you buy, paying attention to buyer’s reviews. Stick with outfits that have been around at least a few years. When you conduct your research, always look for indications that the cartridge you’re eyeing is compatible with your printer’s specific make and model.