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Save Money on Inkjet Printer Ink

Learn how to get around cartridge expiration dates, buy cheaper ink, and make cartridges last longer.


I'm not happy with the inflated cost of inkjet cartridges. I also despise the games inkjet manufacturers play to get you to replace cartridges that may still have inside.

Two issues: First, the sleazy way inkjet printer manufacturers trick users into dumping still-good cartridges. Second, the absolutely outrageous cost of those inkjet cartridges.

This week I'm passing along a few work-arounds, an alternative for high-cost cartridges, and a bunch of useful articles that'll tell you how to squeeze more out of your printer.

My Cartridge Won't Work
A couple of months ago George Siegel, a buddy of mine, e-mailed to complain about an old HP Business Inkjet 2230:

I bought it maybe three years ago for a specific project, but ended up leaving it in the box for 18 to 24 months," he said. "When I finally installed it at home, the black ink cartridge died after about a week. I figured it was empty (undersized cartridge) and replaced it. Then about a week later the cyan cartridge died. I knew I hadn't done much color printing so I got suspicious.

I've had e-mail from readers who have refilled their inkjet cartridges encountering the same situation.

I'm guessing you've figured out what the problem was. Yep: The inkjet cartridges had expiration dates.

There have been lawsuits against HP about this (and no, I couldn't find anything recent). As I researched the issue, I saw an upsurge in 2005 of angry users complaining about expiration dates .

Dig This: Artist Chris Jordan has a dramatic--and utterly distressing--way of representing statistics pertaining to American life. [Thanks, Emru!]

Some Expiration Solutions
George's work-around was to reset his PC clock back a few years to see what would happen--and maybe fool the cartridge. It worked and he claims not to have had any problems since.

"Well okay, just one. If I forget to reset the PC clock back to normal time, any new e-mail I receive is buried two years down in my In Basket when using Thunderbird."

Other solutions I found on an array of sites while browsing the Internet range from removing the printer's battery, turning off the bidirectional parallel connection features, using Microsoft's printer drivers instead of those supplied by HP, or fiddling with HP's .ini configuration file.

Dig This: One solution for expired cartridges and not-so-hot HP printer support comes by way of Iraq .

Cheap(er) Inkjet Printer Cartridges
Here's the Bass International printer inventory: I have an old Epson T009 (my mother uses an Epson T007), an even older Brother 1450 laser (the one I use most often), and a Brother inkjet MFC-640CW all-in-one.

You wouldn't have guessed it (ha!), but I wouldn't dream of buying Epson cartridges. SoI did a lot of digging online for a reputable source for replacements. There are probably dozens of Internet stores, and you have your favorites. But I decided on a brick-and-mortar shop because I wanted to be able to wrap my hands around the neck of the store manager if my printer stopped working.

I tried and Office Depot, but their prices weren't low enough. (Costco, my first choice, didn't sell the cartridge I needed.) I choose Cartridge World for a couple of reasons: There's a store nearby in Pasadena and its prices beat the office supply stores.

For instance, at Staples, color cartridges for my Epson ran $25; Cartridge World charged $18. Black cartridges for the Epson were $8 cheaper than the chains. The savings on the cartridges for the Brother all-in-one were about the same as for the Epson.

I also liked that part of the deal was exchanging my old cartridge and putting it to good use. That's because instead of handing my empty cartridge to a recycling center, Cartridge World takes it as a trade-in on a new cartridge. If I didn't have an old cartridge to give them (they call it a "core"), my new replacement would cost an extra $4.

I've used three sets of Cartridge World refills so far, saved some money, and haven't had lick of trouble. The only problem, and this may be a showstopper for you, is that it's a walk-in store only. Check the Web site and maybe you'll get lucky with a store located near you.

Dig This: Whatever kind of mood you are in today, check out the Helsinki Complaints Choir . [Thanks to Eric Bender for this cool video.]

PC World's Smart Printer Advice
I never realized that besides the expiration hassles, roughly 60 percent of the ink in a cartridge is often thrown way. For details, " Study: Over Half of Inkjet Printer Ink is Thrown Away. " Just as valuable--and equally revealing--are the reader comments generated from the article.

PC World's Paul Jasper has a lot of advice in " How to Spend Less on Printing and Get Better Results. " Read it here. And Kirk Steers tells you how to " Get More Work From Your Inkjet for Less Money. "

If you're thinking of buying a printer, we have a cleverly-named article: " How to Buy a Printer ." Contemplating a multifunction machine? We have buying advice for those, too.

And if you're having inkjet or laser printer problems, take a look at FixYourOwnPrinter's forums before you call in a technician. Chances are good someone else has experienced the same problem and you might find a solution to yours.

Steve Bass writes PC World's monthly "Hassle-Free PC" column and is the author of PC Annoyances, 2nd Edition: How to Fix the Most Annoying Things About Your Personal Computer, available from O'Reilly . He also writes PC World's daily Tips & Tweaks blog . Sign up to have Steve's newsletter e-mailed to you each week. Comments or questions? Send Steve e-mail .

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