First off, you should know that there are basically two types of printers: ink jet & laser. These printers take either ink (liquid) or toner (powder). These two categories of printers make up the very large majority of the printer market out there and chances are you are using one of them. A few other printer types use consumables called solid ink, thermal, or ribbons. In this guide, we’ll only be discussing ink cartridges.
There are three main types of ink cartridges; OEM (original equipment manufacturer), compatible, and remanufactured. All printer models have an OEM available for them and most also have a compatible or remanufactured product that exists. Some may even have all three options.
OEM cartridges are manufactured by the printer companies themselves and are generally the most expensive type. It is not rare for a set of OEM cartridges to cost more than the printer itself and the big printer companies have continued with this model since they began. Better known as the “razor & blades” model, the company will sell you a printer very cheap knowing that the real money is made when you need to refill your printer. This is similar to razor companies that often give away the razor for free and charge you a ton when you need blade replacements. Generally, OEM cartridges are the most dependable with the best quality. This should not be surprising because who knows better about the printers than the companies who make them?
A Compatible cartridges is an ink or toner cartridge designed to work with a particular printer, but which was not manufactured by the company that manufactures the printer in which the cartridge is intended to be used. These cartridges are produced using mostly new or all new parts and components. Because of this, compatible cartridges are almost always found at discounted rates vs. the OEM. This is because they are generic and not “name brand.” Think of compatible cartridges just like generic drugs or aftermarket auto parts, they are generally manufactured to the same specifications which results in equivalent quality. These reliable alternatives are guaranteed to perform as well as the original by the manufacturer and usually cost a fraction of what the OEM costs.
Remanufactured cartridges are another type of cartridge you can use that is a more eco-friendly solution. “Remanufactured” is just a fancy way of saying “recycled” and this type of cartridges is a previously used product that has been tested, taken apart, cleaned, refilled, put back together, and tested again. There are many companies that remanufacture cartridges so the quality of these cartridges does vary, but for the most part they work just as well as the OEM and you should get the same amount of prints. Most inkjet cartridges can be refilled several times as long as they have not been damaged or left out of the printer to dry up for long periods of time.
Ink printers have a critical chip called a printhead that is responsible for getting the appropriate amounts of ink onto the page. The printhead is either integrated into the printer itself or it may actually take form as part of the ink cartridge. If the printhead is integrated with the cartridge and the printhead fails, you can easily replace the cartridge (and printhead) with a LD Products replacement. If the printhead is located inside the printer and fails, you are likely better off buying a new printer rather than paying a technician to come repair it.
The printhead is capable of delivering very precise amounts of ink onto the paper. These precise droplets of ink are sometimes as exact as 1 picoliter (a trillionth of a liter) of ink! This should give you an idea of the complexity of the printhead and why it is so important. Color inkjet cartridges usually have four colors – black, cyan (blue), magenta (red), & yellow. When these four colors are combined in the right mixtures they can make about 26,000,000,000 colors. Yes, that is 26 billion colors that can be made from just red, blue, yellow & black. Some higher end machines may use up to seven or eight different cartridges to get high quality prints.
OEM and remanufactured cartridges should last you up to two years if stored properly. Compatible cartridges can reach the three year mark under well stored conditions. Cartridges should be kept in their sealed packet, in a room with steady temperature, and out of direct sunlight. When an ink cartridge goes empty (dry) in your printer, do not continue to run the print process. Running the machine with an empty cartridge will cause damage to the printer. It is always better to replace the cartridge right before the cartridge goes completely empty so that the risk of damaging the print head is reduced.