Should You Buy Third Party Printer Ink?

Does using third party ink have any real drawbacks?

Color Wheel
Manufacturers' inks look better and last longer. Getty

In the thirty-plus years I’ve been working with information technology products, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say something to effect that printer makers sell printers at little or a loss in profit, only to make a killing on the ink to make them go. The problem is that this is usually uttered with a negative intonation, making it sound as if this practice of making a profit on the consumables to make your printer work is somehow unseemly.

Well then, what about, say, Keurig coffee makers, razorblade makers, and oh so many companies that sell refill or replacements for their products? The real question is (well there’s actually two): do the third party ink tanks perform as well, in terms of print quality and page yield, as the OEM cartridges do, and will the third-party inks, as some printer manufacturers have claimed, hurt your printer?

Do replacement cartridges void your guarantee?

I believed for the longest time that that was true, that using third party cartridges would void the manufacturer’s warrantee. Come to find out, not only is this not true, but in the United States voiding a warrantee for using ink manufactured by a company other than the printer maker is illegal. The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (15 U.S.C.A. 2302) forbids the conditioning of a warranty upon the purchase of any product or service "which is identified by brand, trade or corporate name.”

In other words, using non OEM inks doesn’t provide sufficient means for voiding the guarantee. Even so, some printer makers, during the installation process, provide software that warns, when non OEM inks are detected, of possible damage to the printer. The truth is that if indeed the ink damages the printer (and that can be proven), the warrantee might be voided, but probably not.


The real issue is, how much hassle are you willing to go through to get your warranty honored?

What about print quality?

Over the years I’ve met many a third party ink user who swears by the print quality. Not that I have printed with a lot of third party inks, but I have used a few. My experience is that when it comes to integral, detailed prints, the OEM inks produce superior detailed and colorful photos, as well as accurately colored graphics-laden business documents. I’ve also seen much fewer banded gradations and color inconsistencies.

If high quality prints are more important to you than cost (within reason, of course), than by all means use the manufacturers’ inks. They have been tested and retested, and improved, again and again. In fact, some high-end photo printers, such as the SureColor P600, as well as Canon’s Pixma Pro-1 and Pixma Pro-100 professional photo printers, wouldn't function nearly as well without Canon's tried and tested Lucia inks.

Third party inks have higher page yields

One of the benefits of third party inks is that the tanks often contain more ink than OEM model tanks do. In several of the tests I’ve seem, they sometimes contain twice as much ink. When you combine the low prices with the cartridges’ higher yields, you get some incredible costs per page, or CPP.

Manufacturers’ Inks resist fading longer

Canon, Epson, HP, Brother and most other major printer makers hawk their own inks. These companies research, test, and improve the inks they make regularly. As a result, the inks themselves hold up to degradation due to ozone and ultraviolet fade better than most third party inks, often lasting years longer.

The end

The bottom line here is that manufacturers’ inks typically churn out higher quality prints, sometimes much higher, and third party inks generally have higher yields, thereby improving the cost per page. Which one works best for you depends on what you’re printing.