Printer ink cartridges are like razor blades. The hardware that holds them goes for peanuts, but refills are priced for champagne budgets.
Take my Canon MX410 printer, for example. It set me back $78, pretty cheap for a multi-function printer. But a pair of ink cartridges, one black and one color, cost around $45, more than half the cost of the printer.
Like everyone else, I’m always looking to save a buck and accordingly shopped around for refillable-ink cartridge alternatives, despite the stern warnings from Canon (and other printer manufacturers) which claim I’d cause irreversible damage to the printer by using anything other than its branded ink. There was a time the major office supply chains carried generic ink replacements, but thanks to some legal shenanigans, they now only serve name brands. You can still find cartridge refill and recycling services on the web, but the quality, depending on your printer, is untested and varies widely.
But it makes sense, both economically and environmentally. According to Inkguides a comparison shopping and information website for third-party ink products, U.S. citizens toss more than 375 million empty toner and ink cartridges into the garbage every year, most of which wind up in landfills. They’re slow to decompose, too, taking between 450 and 1,000 years to break down, depending on the polymers and plastics used.
I tested some cartridges from Silo Ink, a company which claims up to an 80 percent savings over brand-name ink cartridges, and whose cartridges are compatible with over 100 different printers. Of course, you don’t see that “80 percent savings” until you’ve reloaded the Silo cartridge up to 10 times with the company’s refill bottles.
The initial cost for the refillable cartridges and bottled ink for my printer was $90. That’s equal to the cost of two sets of Canon ink, but I’d ostensibly get at least eight times the output with Silo Ink. Additional refill bottles, good for 10 refills each, cost about $15 per bottle after the initial purchase.
The Silo Ink cartridges snap into the printer the same as the Canon ones, and after printing a dozen black text pages (alternating between “standard” and “draft”), there was no noticeable difference in quality between the Canon ink or Silo Ink pages. Color photos, however, suffered. I printed some colorful city shots on glossy photo paper, and the Silo output was slightly muddy with muted colors and less-than-sharp contrast levels.
While most people could tolerate the slight loss of color vibrancy given Silo’s eye-opening price savings, the refill process was, for me, a deal-breaker. Once the Silo ink cartridges run through their load, you refill them with the needle-tipped refill bottles. Simple enough — open the pop-top plug to expose a tiny air vent, stick the bottle tip into the refill hole, and pour. But what a friggin’ mess. The fine people at Silo Ink supply a pair of plastic film gloves because they know what’s coming. I didn’t use them, and I have rainbow fingers to prove it. But gloves couldn’t have prevented the christening of my Silo rainbow-spotted jeans, or the patch of Rorschach carpet. The next refill will be over the sink in the garage.
There’s another quirk. The Canon cartridges can tell the printer how much ink remains inside, and the printer will convey that information to you. The Silo cartridges are not detected by the printer, so the only way to tell how much ink is left in the cartridge is to remove it every so often and take an educated guess.
But the print yields (the number of pages printed from one cartridge) proved equal to or better than Canon’s inks. So, yes the cost savings is admirable.
In all, I’d say the financial savings make Silo’s cartridges worthwhile, but color reproduction suffers (though black quality is about the same), and refilling the things can be very messy if you’re not careful. If you’re willing to live with those hassles — say, if you only require your printer to be functional, and not exact — check them out.