Cheap Ink: Will It Cost You?

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Third-Party Ink Yields Were Higher

On the other hand, printing with the third-party cartridges in our tests will save you anywhere from 3 percent to nearly 70 percent per page, depending on what kind of printing you're doing. For example, a set of remanufactured Epson Stylus CX5000 color cartridges (cyan, magenta, and yellow) from 123Inkjets.com printed nearly 70 percent more pages than the Epson ink, at a cost of about 9 cents per page of color printing, and 2.6 cents per page for black. In contrast, Epson's ink cost 30 cents per page of color printing and about 10 cents per page for black. Epson's Web site says that a set of its color cartridges for the CX5000 should print about 350 pages, but the Epson cartridges we tested averaged only about 190 pages. In contrast 123Inkjets' remanufactured color cartridges averaged just over 320 pages.

Third-party ink cartridges outlasted HP ink cartridges by an even greater margin. 123Inkjets' black cartridge for the HP Photosmart C5180 printed at a cost-per-page of 0.6 cent, while its brand-name HP counterpart printed at 2.2 cents per page. The 123Inkjets cartridge yielded 72 percent more pages than the HP before needing replacement. 123Inkjet's color cartridges (cyan, magenta, and yellow) did even better, yielding an average of 99 percent more pages than the HP cartridges. Cartridge World cartridges, which cost less than HP's OEM versions on all counts, produced impressive page yield numbers, too: Its black, cyan, and magenta cartridges generated about 70 percent more pages than the HP cartridges, and its yellow cartridge churned out 80 percent more.

The overall disparity between Canon inks and Cartridge World inks was smaller. Both cartridge sets produced reasonably good page yields and costs per page for black and color prints. For high-quality photo prints, however, the Cartridge World cartridges were a bargain, printing at 17 cents per page versus the Canon inks' 26 cents per page.

Third-Party Inks Printed More, Cost Less

Which printer inks--those made by printer manufacturers or those made by third-party ink sellers--delivered more bang for the buck? Using 13 competing cartridges in five printers, we calculated the cost of the ink needed to print a page of black-only, full-color, or high-quality photo printing. Though many third-party ink cartridges failed to work in our test printers, those that did printed more pages and cost substantially less than the brand-name rivals. See the companion charts, "Manufacturers' Inks Made Higher-Quality Prints" and "Manufacturers' Inks Resisted Fading Better," for the rest of the story.

PRINTER Ink Black-only printing1 Color printing2 Photo printing2
Canon Pixma MP830 Canon CLI-8 3.6 cents 11 cents 26 cents
Cartridge World 2.6 cents 7 cents 17 cents
Epson Stylus CX5000 Epson No. 69 9.6 cents 30 cents 59 cents
123Inkjets 2.6 cents 9 cents 16 cents
Cartridge World n/a3 n/a3 n/a3
HP Photosmart C5180 HP 02 2.2 cents 9 cents 32 cents
123Inkjets 0.6 cents 3 cents 11 cents
Cartridge World 1.3 cents 6 cents 17 cents
Lexmark X3470 Lexmark No. 1 16 cents4 16 cents 30 cents
Walgreens n/a5 15 cents 29 cents
Overstock.com 10 cents4 10 cents n/a6
Cartridge World 7 cents4 7 cents n/a6
Kodak Easyshare 53007 Kodak 1963149 2 cents 8 cents 12 cents
HOW WE TEST: All printers were evaluated following ASTM International testing standard F2555-06 "Standard Practice for Determining Page Yield of Ink Jet Printer Cartridges-Continuous Printing Method." Using an ASTM F1942 text document with 5 percent area coverage (all colors) as our definition of a printed page, we report the average page yield of three cartridge sets. n/a = Not available. FOOTNOTES: 1Black-only ink cost per page is derived by dividing the cost of one black cartridge by the number of pages it yielded. 2Color and photo printing ink costs per page are derived by dividing the cost of all ink colors (including black, whether in separate cartridges or all-in-one) by their average page yield. 3Cartridges failed to print when installed. 4Black ink and color inks (here contained within one cartridge) ran out simultaneously at the end of the test. 5The all-inks-in-one cartridge failed before the black ink ran out. 6Cartridges failed early with major print-quality defects (see "Brand-Name Cartridges Were More Reliable"). 7No aftermarket ink for the Kodak 5300 was available at the time of our testing. Source: Rochester Institute of Technology; ink prices from PC World research.
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