Are OEM ‘Compatible’ Ink Cartridges as Good as the Real Thing?

Press Release   •   Sep 21, 2010 00:04 BST

Bloomberg, the leading online financial news channel, recently reported on Canon’s legal claim against Ninestar Image International, a China-based duplicate Canon printer ink cartridges manufacturer, as well as a number of US cheap ink cartridges retailers, over the kinds of technology being used in their Canon compatible printer ink cartridges. That major OEM’s (Original Equipment Manufacturers) are unlikely to see their products and technologies being duplicated and take it lying down is perhaps unsurprising but the increasing scale of the OEM-compatible and remanufactured printer ink cartridges market today should perhaps bring the question of how much of a like-for-like replacement these types of products can offer a little closer to the forefront. As a major office equipment retailer Falcon were curious to find out what printer and copier users out there really thought about these OEM ‘alternative’ printer ink cartridges and whether there was anything resembling a consensus about the kind of printing standards one could expect. So here, you’ll find a basic introduction to the types of printer ink cartridges products on the market, a selection of the current views from writers and forum contributors online and also some attempt to shine a little more light into what is an incredibly murky area of ecommerce from the consumer’s standpoint.

The Basics: Printer Ink Cartridges Glossary of Terms

OEM Ink Cartridges - An OEM cartridge is one that is made by the Original Equipment Manufacturer, or OEM. If you own a Canon Laserjet printer, then your OEM cartridges will be Canon ink cartridges.

Compatible Toner Cartridge - A compatible toner cartridge is made by a 3rd party manufacturer, not the OEM and should be made up of all new compatible parts. It is a compatible toner cartridge which will come closest in quality to OEM/Canon ink cartridges.

Remanufactured Toner Cartridge - A remanufactured toner cartridge is when a remanufacturer takes an original OEM printer ink cartridge, disassembles it, tests and replaces any worn parts, replenishes it with toner and effectively ‘re-manufacturers’.

There are various different types of remanufactured cheap ink cartridges and the terms compatible and remanufactured are frequently interchanged. Some manufacturers will replace a few parts and still call the product a compatible toner/ink cartridge. Some will simply drill a hole, in an empty OEM printer ink cartridge, fill it with toner and call it remanufactured. The best way to ensure your ink cartridge more closely resembles its description is to buy from a reputable retailer and one which routinely provides a 100% satisfaction guarantee.

Some Consumer Perspectives Online

Searching for some opinions online, it was easy to find a number of forums discussing the issue of ‘OEM original cartridges Vs OEM compatible printer ink cartridges’. The forum ‘techguy’ seemed particularly instructive.

Of the four contributors to this forum, all agreed that in their own individual experiences OEM ‘compatible’ printer ink cartridges haven’t offered the same quality of output as they might have been able to expect from OEM originals, for instance Canon ink cartridges.
Besides quality of the print, printer/copier users highlighted the many other issues they had experienced when using anything other than the real thing. First and foremost were the warranty/guarantee implications of using a ‘compatible’ rather than an OEM original printer cartridge, ie Canon ink cartridges. Various contributors mentioned this and it is true that often, depending on where you buy OEM ‘compatible’ or remanufactured cheap ink cartridges, not only may the ink cartridge itself not be guaranteed (as this author himself has experienced) but by using one in your printer/copier/MFP, you’ll be potentially invalidating that product’s warranty/guarantee. Major office equipment manufacturers frequently state that the quality of consumables and toner used in their machines can have a profound impact not only on printing quality, but also on the longevity of a device and the cost of repairs over its lifetime. Hence many will automatically exclude devices from a warranty/guarantee which have at one time or another been used with non-OEM toner or consumables. In fact, justifying the manufacturers’ position on this, one ‘techguy’ forum contributor, explained that by using an OEM ‘compatible’ printer ink cartridge and not the genuine article, his printer became so ‘jammed up’ over a period of weeks, he was eventually forced to replace the device at his own expense.

Interestingly, there was one individual on the ‘techguy’ forum who claimed to be a reseller of his own brand of OEM ‘compatible’ printer ink cartridges. He stated that there are typically major differences, the toner being the main one. But he advised that if consumers purchase products with ISO 9002 certification they can rest-assured that these toner/printer ink cartridges have passed standardized testing requirements. However, even when these quality controls have been met, the gentleman had to concede that the standard of these OEM ‘compatible’ cartridges is typically around 25% lower than the OEM alternative, ie genuine Canon ink cartridges.

One of the benefits that is often touted in favour of these OEM ‘compatible’ and ‘remanufactured’ printer ink cartridges is that they are better for the environment. By refilling, these remanufactured ink cartridge companies are obviously re-using much of the cartridge. However, the overall benefit of this is perhaps a little less obvious when buying poor quality re-filled printer ink cartridges, which are next to useless to many consumers anyway. Either way, it seemed only fair to state a little of the other side of the argument, what OEM cartridge manufacturers are doing to minimise the environmental impact on their side.

Canon Ink Cartridges Recycling

Canon’s toner cartridge recycling programme is in fact a zero landfill programme in which every component of a used printer ink cartridge is reused (75%) or recycled (100%). All of the mechanical parts are meticulously cleaned and then inspected for quality to ensure suitability for reuse. Components unsuitable for reuse are recycled for use in the manufacture of other products, such as roof tiles. A further benefit of Canon’s toner ink cartridge recycling policy is that for every one of the used Canon printer ink cartridges collected, Canon makes a contribution to the World Wildlife Fund’s Freshwater Programme.

So, Canon Ink Cartridges or Cheap Ink Cartridges?

This author’s own view and the views of almost all online contributors sampled here provide a clear consensus. While some OEM ‘compatible’ and remanufactured printer ink cartridges are better than others, there are very few which would be able to match the quality of the genuine OEM product. As well as quality, warranty and guarantee implications should be borne in MIND by anyone whose device has been bought within the last few years. As for the ‘Recycled Vs New’ aspect of the debate, some would argue, and it would seem with justification, that the recycling side of the argument has perhaps become so noisy over the last few years, precisely because the quality of these more or less 100% ‘recycled’ ink cartridge products is so frequently bad; the manufacturers of these ink cartridges simply can’t win the argument on the basis of the quality of the product they produce. Plus, it’s clear that major manufacturers like Canon are really doing as much as they can to recycle and reuse empty cartridges and this is arguably a far more successful approach than reusing old Canon printer ink cartridges in the manufacturer of poor quality new ones – a product that many users will find entirely redundant. Either way, the choice is ultimately down to the individual consumer but from this author’s point of view, when you’ve paid for a quality piece of office machinery, why fill it with an ink catridge that immediately limits your device’s performance?