Portrait of a Serial Refiller: Ink Refilling Saves Money, Creates Mess

Portrait of a Serial Refiller
We work in the privacy of a garage or bathroom. Our tools are simple but effective. Serial refillers buy bulk ink and pump it into the same cartridge, over and over again. We wouldn't dream of buying brand-name ink cartridges for our printers; we know that the cheapest way is to handle the task ourselves. I'm a serial refiller--and this is my story.

I became a serial refiller when I realized that my printer's ink cartridges cost more per milliliter than human blood or Russian caviar. I started shopping around, and I realized that cheaper alternatives are available for anyone willing to get their hands dirty--or willing to pay someone else to do the messy work.

In the "Portrait of a Serial Refiller" series, I'll try third-party alternatives to buying new printer cartridges from the original vendor (aka original equipment manufacturer, or OEM), including remanufacturers, refill services, and do-it-yourself refill kits. Because bargain ink, no matter how cheap, is a bad deal if it smears, runs, or is a hassle to buy or use, I'll put each third-party option through its paces and tell you whether it's worth the trouble.

My test printer is an HP Photosmart e-All-In-One, which uses HP 60 or 60XL (high-capacity) black and tricolor cartridges. For each refill experiment, I'll start with a new set of OEM cartridges, drain them, and then use them for the refill or remanufacture. I'll print a set of pages, ranging in content from plain text to a full-size color photo, over and over again until the ink starts to run out (blank streaks appear on the page). I'll count the number of pages that I was able to print before streaks appeared. I'll also compare the print quality of the pages using third-party ink versus OEM cartridges.

While my ink refill experiences won't apply directly to other printers, they will give you a taste of what to expect. And then maybe you'll become a serial refiller, just like me.

InkTec Refill Kit: Very Cheap, Very Messy

Products:
* InkTec Refill Kit for HP 60 and 60XL Black Ink Cartridges, $13
* InkTec Refill Kit for HP 60 and 60XL Color Ink Cartridges, $17
Tax and shipping costs: None when purchased from OCProduct via Amazon.com
Vendor URL: InkTec.com
Worth trying? Yes
Hassle factor: High
Print quality compared with OEM ink: Excellent
Yield (mixed set of samples): 90 pages
Cost per page: 2 cents (OEM: 27 cents)
Bottom line: If you're a do-it-yourselfer who doesn't mind a little spilled ink once in a while, the InkTec Refill Kit is a dirt-cheap alternative to pricey printer cartridges. In my experience, it cost over 90 percent less than the OEM inks did.

My printer needed two kits to get started: the $13 black ink package, and the $17 color set, which includes individual ink refills for cyan, magenta, and yellow.

The InkTec kits have everything you need to inject fresh ink into a depleted cartridge, including one or more injection needles (depending on the kit), a pair of plastic gloves to protect your hands, and a suction syringe to clean the cartridge nozzles. Protect your workspace from splatters with paper or plastic covering, and keep a few rags handy to soak up spilled ink.

The user manual includes step-by-step illustrations, which are quite helpful. In fact, novices might have a tough time without them.

First, remove the ink cartridge from the printer and insert it in the refill clip, which secures the cartridge during the ink-injection process.

The InkTec kit includes a sticker that affixes to the top of the ink cartridge and has a dot to indicate the hole (manufactured into the cartridge by HP) for refilling. The syringe (attached to a refill tank) goes in the cartridge hole marked by the black dot. The color cartridge's refill process requires a separate injection for each color.

Yellow ink injection

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