The Print Shop: The Search for Cheaper Ink
Gripes over high-priced ink cartridges have spawned an entire cottage industry of fly-by-night refill companies, do-it-yourself cartridge refill kits, and dozens of Web sites that sell no-name-brand cartridges.
More recently, big names like Office Depot and Staples have gotten into the act, putting their own discounted brands on store shelves. These cartridges generally cost 10 to 15 percent less than printer manufacturers' cartridges. But a retail outlet selling even cheaper refilled cartridges may be coming soon to a strip mall near you.
In contrast to the many Web sites that hock refilled cartridges, Caboodle Cartridges operates retail outlets. Thirty-five franchises have opened thus far, most of them in the San Francisco Bay Area, though stores are operating in at least eight other states.
In an effort to undersell the big retailers, Caboodle Cartridges sells its remanufactured cartridges for roughly half their original cost. You can lower the price even more by exchanging spent cartridges for a credit of $2 to $4.
This all sounds great, but I have a few concerns. What if the cartridge damages my printer? How good is the ink? Also, I'll have to run a special errand just to get ink cartridges, instead of being able to pick them up while I'm shopping at Costco or an electronics store.
The Lure of the Storefront
I've never entrusted my old inkjet printer to refilled cartridges from an online outlet; I'm too afraid of damaging it. When the only recourse is sending an e-mail or pinging a Web site for help, I pass. Office Depot and Staples are well-known brands, and they earn credibility because they have retail outlets. Following that logic, I'm inclined to trust Caboodle Cartridges.
Caboodle Cartridges President Daniel Wencel said that his company's cartridges deliver print quality and page yields comparable to the original manufacturers', and that the company will replace a customer's printer if it's damaged by a malfunctioning cartridge.
The company's ink has not been tested for fade resistance by a third party such as Wilhelm Imaging Research, which conducted testing for our September 2003 story, "Cheap Ink Probed." In tests for that story, we found that third-party ink cartridges could make high-quality prints on glossy photo paper, but that their fade resistance was substandard: Photos printed with inks from Amazon Imaging, Carrot Ink, and others averaged a dismal 2.2 years of fade resistance. These inks may save you some bucks, but they won't save your memories.
If you mostly print documents on plain paper, you may not care that your glossy photos could fade quickly. But if you do, I'd await independent fade test results before buying from Caboodle Cartridges.
Coupons for Cartridges: Staples announced on September 19 a recycling program that rewards customers with a $3 coupon for each ink or toner cartridge they recycle at a store location. The company either remanufactures the cartridges as Staples brand items, or recycles them. The coupon can be used for any in-store or Web site purchase through Staples.