Inkjets: Reducing your costs

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Updated: 16th April 2008

If you've bought or are thinking about buying an Inkjet printer you were probably attracted by the low price of the printer, the fact that you can print your photos at home, or some other *ping* that just ticked a box in your head.

Once you've bought that printer though, chances are your experience has soured as soon as you came to buy new cartridges.... " HOW MUCH?!"
...Realising just how expensive Epson, Canon, etc... branded cartridges are is not an experience for the faint hearted. Not good and certainly not cheap!

But, you're on ebay so you'll have quickly realised that there are cheaper ways to get hold of your cartridges... However, it's worth noting that there are other methods of keeping your printing costs lower.

1. Generic Ink cartridges
You'll have seen them all over ebay if you've looked and there are plenty... Just remember to find a seller with good quality inks and keep in mind that cheap cartridges can result in other costs (printhead clogging, leaking, mess, etc...) later.

2. Refilling ink cartridges
Some printers, (eg: Epson, Canon) allow you to refill the cartridges but remember to check for things like:
- chips that keep tack of ink levels
Epson cartridges can be reset with a chip resetter, whereas new Canon printers (eg: iP4200) require a commercial refiller to reset them. You can still refill them but your ink monitor will be disabled.
- the amount of refills a cartridge can take...
For example many HP printer cartridges include the printhead on the cartridge so they can only be refilled a limited number of times before the head dies.

2a. Refillable cartridges
Some traders/companies have special cartridges that are specifically designed to be refilled. These are generally easier to work with and often have recommended inks.. Remember to look on the web and not just eBay to get information on inks, compatability, etc...

3. Continuous Ink Supply kits/systems
These kits are available in a number of forms and tend to be available for Canon and Epson printers as well as some HP units. CIS kits basically feed ink from external bottles/reservoirs, through flexible tubing, to specially adapted or designed cartridges. These systems are really only viable for people who print regularly and in volume. There are also a number of poor quality kits on the market so you should do some research before purchasing any and bear in mind that some technical ability is required to install and get it working.

4. Photo printing - Do it at the store.
Convenience aside, there just isn't any point in getting your photos printed on a photo printer at home unless you're in a rush and need a copy for a friend or it's just a one off. Instead, companies such as Boots, Jessops, etc... all offer much cheaper photo printing with better fade resistance, and quality than you can hope to get from all but the most expensive photo printers. So, if you have a few dozen photos from your summer holiday it's well worth taking the memory card to one of the stores and getting them printed there and saving your printer ink (and money!)

All these options (except Jessops obviously) are available on ebay... In all cases though it's important to cast around the wider web rather than relying solely on feedback comments of ebay sellers. Remember that ebay feedback is usually left within a couple of days whilst many of the problems that can crop up, won't appear until weeks or months later. So, make sure that support is responsive and helpful before you buy.

Waste ink pads and the dreaded "Service required" message (Epsons)
Finally for the more technically minded who are confident enough, you can also modify some printers to redirect their waste ink flow into an external tank.

Before you read on, you are warned that this sort of approach will invalidate your warranty with your printer company. I don't care if someone can sue McDonalds for making it easy to be overweight.. If you pick up the screwdriver then it's your own fault... Learn to live with the responsibility.

The reason for this waste ink is simple... All inkjets have to push ink through their nozzles to stop them from clogging with dry ink so, understandably the designers have allowed for waste ink to be directed into large, super absorbant padding installed in the base of the printer. Long story short, after a while these pads will be soaking wet with waste ink so the "service required" is replacement of the pads.

I could go on for hours about how printer designs make pad replacement a royal pain in the patookis (that's the posterior folks) but you get the idea. Far better that you simply redirect the waste flow into an external container and then dispose of it properly**, saving your waste ink pads.

You can find the directions for this sort of operation on the web with a little help from Google (eBay guide rules state no external links so use the keywords: "waste ink mod epson") and there are kits that help too.

You're also going to need some way of resetting the waste ink counter on your printer... Again, spending some time Googling will help you locate utilities
(keywords: "SSC, Epson, utility")

Just to reiterate though... This sort of thing is for the printer user who likes to tinker and who doesn't mind making a mistake. If you're at all nervous, contact Epson for a local service center and get them to do the work for you (it won't be cheap though!)

** Waste ink disposal : It's recently been pointed out that it's illegal to dispose of ink by pouring it down the drains so it's something you should be talking to your local council/authority about how to dispose of it properly.
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