Infrastructure // PC & Servers
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10/13/2006
02:31 PM
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Printer Ink--The New Black Gold

I don't know about you, but every time that "ink low" warning comes up on my printer driver, my day gets a little bleaker. Ink and toner cartridges (known as "consumables"--probably because printers eat 'em up like candy) are one of those expenses that few of us can avoid. You have a printer? You need ink. And the printer manufacturers are happy and eager to sell you some--in fact, one of the reasons so many printers have dropped in price lately is that consumables are the great cash cow of the

I don't know about you, but every time that "ink low" warning comes up on my printer driver, my day gets a little bleaker. Ink and toner cartridges (known as "consumables"--probably because printers eat 'em up like candy) are one of those expenses that few of us can avoid. You have a printer? You need ink. And the printer manufacturers are happy and eager to sell you some--in fact, one of the reasons so many printers have dropped in price lately is that consumables are the great cash cow of the printer industry.Of course, there are hundreds of alternative sources for ink out there, some of which are perfectly legit, some of which are a bit shady, and a few of which are outright nuts. For example, there's the Lyson Continuous Ink System, which pumps a continuous stream of ink into your Epson or Canon printers via an assembly that sits outside the printer. If you're a little put off by that, there are a bunch of kits that let you inject ink into your existing cartridges--none of which I've ever had the cojones to try on any of my printers (I was nervous about both the safety of my printer and the safety of my clothing). And there are a wide range of third-party ink providers that will ship their own versions of your printer cartridges (or manufacturer cartridges that they've refilled) for a nice discount. My favorite one of those has got to be the LaserMonks, if just for the name...

Most of these companies (although not all) have been below the radar of the printer manufacturers because they're too small or not audacious enough. Oh, there was the occasional flurry of lawsuits, mostly involving patent violations--just enough to make sure that these companies toe the line, and that the majority of printer users stick with name-brand cartridges. As do I--not just because it's a lot easier to walk over to Staples and pick up a new cartridge, but also because I ruined the print head of at least one Canon printer by buying inexpensive and less-than-great-quality cartridges from an online vendor.

However, third-party cartridges have now surfaced from their underground lairs, and stores such as Walgreens and Staples are offering either cartridge refill services or less-expensive third-party cartridges. It appears that the printer manufacturers are tolerating these new enterprises, perhaps because they have good relationships with many of these stores, and perhaps because these larger businesses can also afford a team of high-priced lawyers.

It's a fascinating story. You can read all about it in the article "Special Report: The Cartridge Wars." And let us know how you feel about the high price of ink--have you tried some of the new sources such as Cartridge World or the services at Walgreens? Have you been getting your black gold from some small, third-party Web company? Or are you satisfied with using name-brand cartridges that may be pricey, but can also be trusted? Your comments, as always, are welcome.

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