Save Money With These Penny-Pinching Printers

Portrait of a Serial Refiller

The bulk inks used for refilling cost significantly less per milliliter than the ink in OEM cartridges. The manual labor is the tradeoff.
They work in the privacy of a garage or bathroom. Their tools are simple but effective. Serial refillers buy their own ink and pump it into the same cartridge, over and over again. They wouldn't dream of buying brand-name ink cartridges, or even third-party refilled or remanufactured ones. They know that the cheapest way is to do it themselves. I met a serial refiller; this is his story. (Note: He requested anonymity.)

My serial refiller could be anyone's next-door neighbor: A mild-mannered fellow, living in a neatly landscaped house in a peaceful suburb. He has been refilling not one, but two printers: an HP DeskJet 880Cxi that he purchased in 1998, and a Canon Pixma iP4000 that he bought seven or so years ago. He told me exactly how he became a serial refiller.

First he searched online for bulk ink and refill kits for his specific printer models. Once he got the kits, he just reordered as needed. For his Canon printer, for instance, he can buy a one-pint bottle of ink for about $25. Since the typical ink cartridge costs anywhere from $10 to $25 but holds an amount of ink measured in milliliters, that bottle represents a huge savings.

The kit for the HP included a small hex wrench and screw. The hex screw replaces the ball bearing that originally sealed the fill hole in the cartridge. My refiller removed the ball bearing by forcing it into the cartridge, using the tip of a ballpoint pen. He then finagled the filled syringe into the hole and added more ink. He refilled the same cartridge for many years using this method, until the print head finally gave out. Unfazed, he bought another cartridge and started over.

To refill the Canon unit, he had to drill a small hole into the top of each of its five tanks so he could fill them via syringe; then he sealed each hole with a screw. The kit provided a small, manual drill, but he said it was easier to use his electric drill. Occasionally, he switched to a slightly larger screw, as a tank's ac­­cess hole expanded with reuse. He covered the tank's ink spout with electrical tape during a refill to prevent ink from leaking. He removed the tape carefully afterward and kept tissue ready to dab away any ink.

What about print quality? Vendors warn that it will suffer if users stray from brand-name inks. My serial refiller did not care, saying that what he got sufficed for the letters, invoices, and labels he printed. He also used draft mode most of the time to save even more ink. He took his digital photos to a local Walgreens store, paying a dime or so per print, versus 25 cents or more using an inkjet printer.

Could you become a serial refiller? How badly do you want to save money on ink?

Refilling may not be pretty; but it is very, very cheap.

More Tips

For more money-saving printer tips, see "The Cheapskate's Guide to Printing"; and for more about inks, check out "Cheap Ink: Will It Cost You?" and "How Much Ink Is Left in That Dead Cartridge?". Also, don't miss our ranked charts of inkjet multifunction printers, inkjet printers, color lasers, and snapshot printers.

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