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Printer Buying Guide when using with Third Party Cartridges

Printer Buying Guide when using with Third Party Cartridges

Printer Comparison

A question that I’m asked on an almost daily basis is ‘which printer has the cheapest running costs’ so I thought it was probably time to write an article on the subject.

I’m going to shy away from recommending any specific printers as I am unable to anticipate your particular requirements. I want the advice given to remain relevant even after an individual machine has been discontinued. As such, please consider this guide to be advice in principle which can be applied to almost any printer which you may consider buying.

This article has been written on the assumption that you will be using third party cartridges, whether compatible or remanufactured. I am planning on writing a similar article in the coming weeks for users that prefer to stick to use OEM ink so if you do prefer to use manufacturers original cartridges then please hold out for the follow-up.

The below advice has been given based on the price at which my company retails specific cartridges. It is safe to assume that prices are pretty consistent across the industry and as such the guide should be accurate irrespective of your chosen ink supplier. Finally, this article doesn’t talk about refilling your own cartridges as the technical considerations for each cartridge would make an all-encompassing guide next to impossible.

Now that’s out the way, let us examine the factors which will determine your ongoing running costs:


Canon PrintheadPrinthead – Inside the cartridge or inside the printer?
This is probably the single most important factor when it comes to the potential running costs of your new printer.

Most manufacturers offer two distinctly different styles of printer; those that have the bulk of the printing technology inside the printer and those that have this technology inside the cartridge. As a rule of thumb the more expensive printer models tend to have the printer head inside the printer whereas entry level models tend to have the printer head inside the cartridge.

The quickest way to determine which technology your prospective printer utilises is to look at how many cartridges it takes. Almost certainly, and with very few exceptions, if the printer takes four or more cartridges then the printhead will be inside the printer whereas if it takes just two then the printhead will more than likely be inside the cartridge. It is true that in the past there have been printers which use two cartridges but still have the printer head inside the printer; specifically, all Kodak printers, some Epson and the occasional Lexmark models spring to mind. At the time of writing however simply counting the number of cartridges the machine uses provides a good degree of accuracy.
This is such an important consideration when it comes to running costs because whether the printer has a printhead inside the machine itself determines what sort of cartridge it is that you’re going to have to buy.
Cartridges which have an integral printhead are incredibly tightly copyrighted as the printer head is such a unique component that it is difficult to reverse engineer and produce an alternative legally. The result is that the only option for producing a cheaper cartridge is to procure large stocks of empty units and then clean out, refill and test each one individually. This is a very labour intensive and expensive process which typically results in a high cost per unit. The act of recycling the cartridge also results in a slightly higher failure rate due to the inherent fact that components are being reused.

If the printer has an integrated printhead then typically the cartridges that you need to use will be infinitely simpler. Due to the ink distribution being performed by the printer rather than the cartridge, these machines often require simple ink tanks in order to function. In most instances these cartridges are internally nothing more than a plastic container filled with ink and a sponge which is used to prevent the ink from escaping. While still tightly copyrighted the simplicity of the design means there are many cartridge manufacturers who create a compatible cartridge which still functions correctly despite differing slightly in size and shape. As you can imagine producing such a simple compatible cartridge is a lot less costly that procuring, refilling and testing vast batches of used cartridges which have a printer head present.

This is subject to change as technology changes but I have produced a list of which manufacturers tend to use which technology inside their printers which is correct at the time of writing:

Brother – All Brother printers typically have the printhead inside the printer
Epson –Epson printers also typically have the printhead inside the printer.
Canon – Entry level two cartridge Canon printers typically have the printer head inside the cartridge. Machines further up the range (ordinarily these have five or more cartridges) tend to have the printhead inside the printer.
Dell and Lexmark – Lexmark inkjet printers (and those rebranded as Dell) are no longer manufactured but these machines typically had the printhead inside the cartridge with later models occasionally having the printhead inside the printer.
HP – Two cartridge HP printers typically have the printhead inside the cartridge. Machines further up the range (typically with four or more cartridges) tend to have the printhead inside the printer.
Advent and Kodak – Kodak inkjet printers (and those rebranded as Advent) are no longer manufactured but these machines typically had the printer head inside the printer.


What next?
Taking in to account the above advice you should hopefully be able to narrow your selection down to a few models from perhaps a couple of manufacturers. Furthermore, you are now hopefully looking for a machine which has the printhead inside the printer itself.

While one could argue that there is the risk that if the printhead fails then you have to buy a whole new machine rather than simply purchasing a new cartridge, the money saved over the life of the printer still tends to make this option more appealing.

Now it’s time to check out another couple of points which should influence your decision

hp-firmware-150x150Firmware Issues
This is a trickier point to clarify prior to purchase because every machine differs but in terms of running costs it is an important consideration which requires addressing. Recent tactics employed by printer manufacturers have resulted in periodic updates being pushed to a printer that may force it to reject cartridges that were previously working correctly. Companies that spring to mind who have employed this strategy recently include Brother and HP with the tactic varying depending on the type of cartridge used.

As an example, HP in the past have chosen to reject cartridges that were manufactured before a specific date. While this may not sound like an issue for retailers who stock rotate this single action potentially prevents huge numbers of empty cartridges from being used for remanufacturing. Typically, by the time a cartridge has been used and sent back for remanufacturing, it is fairly well aged and while it would still be a suitable candidate for reuse this causes a problem if the printer has decided by way of an update that this otherwise perfectly healthy cartridge should be disposed of.
In contrast, Brother have recently rolled out numerous updates which can cause a printer to reject a current generation of compatible cartridge even if it was previously working without incident. This leads to a potentially annoying situation where the printer is working perfectly but it then updates itself and subsequently reports all cartridges present as being defective. Even replacing the cartridges won’t solve the issue unless you change to an updated compatible or an original cartridge.

Besides Googling the cartridge or printer number followed by the words ‘firmware update’ we would recommend contacting your cartridge supplier before purchasing the printer as they will typically be able to tell you whether they have had reported problems. Ultimately it is in their best interests to do so, especially if they can recommend an alternative that they know you will experience no issues with.



PaperCost per page
Finally, find out what cartridges the printer takes then check out the page yield and the price of the cartridge from your favoured cartridge supplier. Most will break this down to a cost per page but if not simply divide the price of the cartridge by the number of pages produced in order to work this figure out for yourself.

Sometimes you may find that by spending a small amount extra on the printer you will end up with a machine with higher yield cartridges that cost less per page. This is because typically those that spend more on a printer do a larger amount of printing and so need a lower cost per page.

The investment may well pay for itself over the life of the printer but do the maths based on your anticipated usage.



While I haven’t recommended a specific printer hopefully the above will allow you to create a shortlist of machines that will represent a low cost of ownership. Once you have this list be sure to pick one that has the features you require and reflects the style and quantity of work that you will be wanting to produce.

Again a guide for those wishing to use original cartridges will follow but to recap I would consider the following important when shopping for an inkjet printer that you wish to use in conjunction with third party cartridges:

  • Choose a printer which has the printhead integrated in to the cartridge rather than the printer. This will not only mean that you can potentially benefit from cheaper ink tanks but such printers typically have a separate cartridge for each colour so you will only ever be replacing the colour that has run out.
  • Choose a printer which is accommodating of third party ink. Seek advice from the Internet and your cartridge supplier in order to potentially avoid machines which employ tactics such as firmware updating to prevent the use of compatible or remanufactured products.
  • Pay attention to the page yield and cartridge cost. Sometimes spending a little more on a printer can pay dividends as more expensive machines often utilise larger cartridges which don’t suffer a higher purchase price.

About the author

Chris is the director of Refresh eCommerce and founded the company in 1999. He has worked with computers and printers all of his working life and has in-depth technical knowledge on a variety of subjects.

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  1. C Stonehouse

    Very good advice. I have had excellent service from Refresh for at least 10 years.
    I have used various printers – now running 2 Cannon.
    All with third party carts – with no problem.

    1. Ian

      Have you checked this recently… my canon was fine till they updated the drivers. Sadly I spent a lot of money on cartridges because I live in the country and didn't want to run out. Now none of them work any more and they were all perfectly fine before.

  2. Mike Johnson

    Nice one Chris.
    I stumbled across this by accident and wish I had read it ages ago.

  3. John Potsey

    I have to say that was "Excellent" advice Chris
    I recently purchased a new machine namely a canon MG 4250 & although i found it wasn't as user friendly as my previous HP who is ink is astronomically more than even the most expensive Scotch Malt which by the way i'm a fan off
    The fact that one can refill or use remanufactured cartridges more than compensated for having to indulge in a learning curve about it capabilities
    In essence the Canon appears to do many more tasks than its rivals

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