Should You Use Genuine Or Compatible Ink Cartridges?

The question of whether to use genuine or compatible ink cartridges in a printer is always the subject of much debate. Let’s examine the case for using genuine ink cartridges.

Why Use Genuine Ink Cartridges? Manufacturers have a lot to gain from selling us their own ink cartridges. The price of inkjet printers is kept artificially low (like a loss leader) simply to get their branded printer in our homes – it’s the ink cartridges where they make the real money.

Manufacturers give three main reasons for using their genuine ink – the following points are taken from Epson’s and Brother’s full views on the subject:

1. Specially formulated to consistently produce photo quality prints. Note the emphasis on photo quality – the quality of standard text and graphics is likely to be too similar to notice any difference.

Independent tests usually find that genuine inks may produce better quality photos although it may be hard for the average user to see much noticeable difference. It also depends which compatibles are tested – some are very good and some are very poor.

2. Guarantee the reliability of your printer and prolong its life. Poor quality compatible ink may clog print heads, leak or cause other damage to the print mechanism. In my experience this is more likely with cartridges that are refilled (rather than replaced) and with the cheapest of the cheap compatibles e.g. Fleabay specials that are priced too good to be true and have few user reviews.

3. Finally, the scare tactic – if damage is caused to the print head or other parts of the machine as a result of using other brands of ink, then any repairs required may not be covered under warranty.

Most inkjet warranties are for 12 months so this threat is only really relevant in the first year – outside the warranty period, any repairs by the manufacturer are likely to cost more than buying a new printer anyway. Cheap inkjet printers can usually be considered as disposable products if they break.

Why Use Compatible Ink Cartridges?

The case for compatibles is quite simple – price. I reviewed how to save ink when printing webpages a few days ago but, even so, ink is still very expensive. As an example, I recently bought a UK Epson Stylus SX235W All In One printer for £40. Epson’s genuine ink is generally well priced compared to competitors so let’s consider the options.

The cost of a genuine Epson ‘Fox’ multipack (16ml capacity) is £23. The double capacity Epson ‘Apple’ multipack is £35 for 32ml total capacity. Clearly the Apple pack at £35 is best value so I will use that for comparison.

The cost of a compatible multipack with 67ml total capacity (twice that of Epson’s Apple) is just £10 – a saving of £25 yet it has twice as much ink… Typically I would go through 4 standard multipacks (of the Apple capacity) every 3 months so, for me, the costs would be as follows:

One Year Costs – Compatible £20, Epson £140 – a saving of £120 = £10 per month. Effectively the ‘break even’ point is just 4 months – if the printer died then, I could buy a new one and be no worse off because I would have saved £40 already.

Of course it would be bad for the environment to change printer every 4 months but in reality many printers running compatible ink last for years, not months. E.g. my last office printer ran solely on decent quality (and reviewed) compatible inks for 6 years before it developed a fault and started to smudge the ink. 6 years is a long life for a cheap printer though – it could have worn out anyway even if using genuine ink…

Regardless, at £10 a month that would be over £700 ($1000) saved during its 6 year lifetime – money in my pocket, not the manufacturer’s.

Is It Worth The Risk?

From my own experience owning a computer repair business, if money is no object and you want to be 100% sure of quality (and warranty cover), it makes good sense to use only genuine ink cartridges from the manufacturer. However, for most of us, they cost so much that it is worth at least considering the merits of compatible ink:

1. Do you use more than 1 set of cartridges per year? If not, it’s probably not worth the risk – stick to genuine ink.

2. Do you regularly print a lot of high quality photos? If yes, you will likely get best results using genuine ink, but the costs will be very high as photos suck up ink like a sponge. Consider testing compatible ink to see if the quality is acceptable.

3. Are you prepared to clean the print heads or nozzles if required and perhaps return or throw away a new set of compatibles if they don’t work? If not, choose genuine ink – even well reviewed compatibles are likely to have more faulty cartridges than the genuine ones (but they cost so little it doesn’t really matter if the odd one doesn’t work).

Conclusion

Should you use genuine or compatible ink cartridges? The choice is yours but personally I haven’t had problems with compatibles and have saved hundreds over the years without noticing any significant loss of quality.

However you may be unlucky with compatible ink – there are certainly horror stories from people that have had a bad set ruin their printer so it is worth looking for good user reviews (and lots of them) e.g. Amazon reviews etc rather than just buying solely on price from unknown sources.