Disadvantages to Refill Cartridges

By Carol Finch

The ink in refill cartridges may not print at a high quality.
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Printer manufacturers tend to sell printers as loss leaders, making their profits from selling ink cartridges. The high cost of buying new ink for printers encourages some users to use refill cartridges as an alternative. Some buy their own ink refill kits, while others use third-party suppliers who fill cartridges for them. This may be a cheaper solution than buying new cartridges, but it comes with a few potential disadvantages.

Refilling Mess and Mistakes

If you buy a kit to do your own refills, you may find the experience messy, time-consuming and hard to get right. Printer inks, outside of a containing cartridge, will stain if you don't handle them carefully. It can also be hard to fill cartridges correctly -- this often leads to overfilling and problems with air bubbles in the cartridge. In addition, if you have to widen holes or make them in order to inject ink into a cartridge, you risk it leaking inside the printer. This affects print quality and may damage the machine itself. You may not have these problems if you have cartridges refilled by a specialty service, but they may still cause other problems.

Ink and Print Quality

The ink used in refill kits and by third-party suppliers is usually of a lower grade than that used by the printer's manufacturer. This can affect print quality, especially if you are printing high-resolution photos or important business documents. In some cases, a refilled cartridge may not print reliably; it may miss out colors, mix them up, or print streaks and blobs on the page. These inks may also fade more quickly over time.

Cartridge Issues

Printer cartridges work on a single use, and refilling them to use them multiple times may cause problems. The print heads, nozzles and foam inside cartridges degrade with use, leading to possible further problems with print quality. In some cases, refilled cartridges simply fail or only work for a limited number of print operations. A 2011 study by Buyers Laboratory Inc. compared new Hewlett-Packard cartridges with various third-party refills. HP commissioned this study, but it still showed some of the issues that can happen with refill cartridges. The refills that were tested had a 72 percent average failure rate, and the HP cartridges gave a 133 percent higher print yield.

Printer Problems

Leaks from a refill cartridge can damage the printer itself, and it may need repair or replacement. Clogged nozzles and degraded print heads can cause print alignment errors, or you may have problems with your printer accepting refills. Some manufacturers set their printers to read chips on a cartridge to work out how much ink it contains; however, some printers may not be able to identify a refill, and you may see a series of error messages and low/empty ink warnings whenever you try to print. In some cases, a printer will simply refuse to accept a refill cartridge.