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

Ready, Set, Squirt

The process can get messy. My first attempt to refill the cyan tank resulted in an overflow. I quickly dabbed the excess ink with a rag, glad that no cyan ink dripped into the magenta or yellow tanks.

After refilling, I used the suction syringe to drain a little ink from a rubber hole on the bottom of the refill clip. This step cleans the cartridge nozzles.

Next, I removed the cartridge from the clip and dabbed the cartridge nozzles. After reinserting the cartridge in the printer, I ran the printer's nozzle-cleaning utility before use. The black cartridge reinserted without incident. When I reinserted the tricolor cartridge, I got two low-ink warnings, one from a pop-up dialog box in Windows and the other on the printer's LCD. I started printing anyway. After producing three sets of perfectly good prints, the printer's LCD posted this dire warning: 'Original HP Ink Depleted. Print cartridge(s) refilled or depleted. Replace Cartridge(s) or press OK to continue.' I pressed OK.

The refill process for both the black and color cartridges took me about an hour and a half. I spent a lot of that time studying the manual; with a little practice, I could probably slash my refill time to 30 minutes or less.

High Print Quality, Low Cost Per Page

Although the InkTec refill process was messy, the results were surprisingly good. I couldn't tell the difference between the pages I printed using the OEM inks and those using the InkTec refill inks. In the samples, colors were vibrant and matched perfectly. Similarly, text from both samples was sharp, with no banding or streaking. I didn't test durability over time, but I did drip a little water on an OEM sample page and an InkTec sample page; each suffered the expected streaking and color bleeding, but the third-party ink fared no worse than HP's house brand.

As for the page yield, the HP 60 cartridges printed 132 pages before streaks began to appear in images and text. After I refilled with InkTec inks, streaks appeared after 90 pages. Even considering that lower page yield, the InkTec inks are far cheaper than the OEM inks. The prints I produced with the set of HP 60 cartridges worked out to 27 cents per page. With InkTec kits, the costs came in at 2 cents per page--a savings of more than 90 percent over the OEM inks.

Note that InkTec's kits are good for multiple refills. The black kit comes with 40 milliliters of ink in two 20ml tanks. Each refill of a standard-size cartridge uses approximately 4ml of ink, so one kit is good for up to 10 refills. Similarly, the color kit has three 25ml tanks, and each refill uses 1ml of ink. Hence, each color kit is good for up to 25 refills. If you're refilling the high-capacity 60XL cartridges, you'll get 4 black and 12 color refills.

Refill Caveats

The InkTec kits are undeniably less expensive, but the hassle factor is high and could increase with time. Ink spills and cartridge cleanings could lower the number of refills. The OEM printer cartridge could leak or produce substandard output long before the refill tanks run dry. Nevertheless, even if you have to buy a new OEM cartridge every now and then to resume refilling, you're still going to come out way ahead in cost. If syringes and ink-cartridge surgery don't make you squeamish, do-it-yourself refills such as the InkTec kit I used are a good buy.

Stay tuned for the next installment, where our serial refiller tries remanufactured cartridges from a major office-supply store.

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