For the last five to six weeks, I’ve been taking part in the HP Ink Challenge. In the program, I was tasked with comparing HP 60XL inks with refilled inks. To do that, HP sent me some printing supplies, including two identical printers (Photosmart D110a). One printer was set up with HP ink, the other printer with refilled ink. Over a six week period, I had to print out a set of photos on both printers and compare the results. Bottom line: refilled ink can be significantly cheaper than HP ink. However, it’s a hit or miss situation. If you’re lucky, the refilled cartridges will work fine. If not, you’ll end up with bad prints and wasting a lot of time.
The Refilled Experience – cheaper, but takes more time
In week one, I took two mostly empty HP ink cartridges to Costco to have them refilled. HP didn’t tell me to take them to Costco. I could’ve had them refilled anywhere I wanted — like Walgreen or Office Max. Walgreen is a lot closer (compared to Costco), but they don’t refill 60XL cartridges. Office Max can refill 60XL cartridges, but the nearest Office Max is about ten miles away. That’s why I chose Costco (four to five miles away).
Costco charged the same price for both the color and black/white cartridges. the cost was $10 to refill each cartridge. That’s a pretty big saving compared to the real HP inks. I forgot to write down how much Costco charged for the real thing, but Amazon charges $32.49 for the HP 60XL black ink cartridge and $32.99 for the HP 60XL Tri-color ink cartridge.
To refill the cartridges at Costco, you go to the photo center section. You fill out an envelope and place your cartridges in them. You can wait around for them if you like, but they’ll tell you the refill won’t be ready for another hour. I already wasted 30+ minutes driving there and waiting in line. I didn’t have time to hang around for another hour so I left and came back to pick them up later in the day (another 30+ minutes). This is something to keep in mind: you’re better off buying the real HP cartridges off the shelf if you’re short on time.
Every Week Photos Tests – black and white photos don’t look the same
HP had me print out three photos to compared the HP ink with the refilled inks. I was suppose to print out the same three photos every week and compared the sets over a six week period. However, I was only able to do this for the first three weeks (more on this later). I also printed a bunch of personal photos with both the HP ink and the refilled inks. In my case, the color photos were very similar for both the HP 60XL ink and the refilled ink. If I examined the photos closely, I could see more details and texture in the photos with small granular items (like gravel). In addition, I noticed slight banding problems with the refilled ink when I ran a quality printout test in the third week. Other people in the test group noticed problems with the refill inks right away. The colors were off, there were banding problems, and some testers noticed the prints started fading the more they printed.
While my color photos looked similar with both inks, there was a big difference in the black and white prints. In the photos below, the HP ink photo is on the left and the refilled ink photo is on the right.
As you can see, the refilled ink photo has a bluish tint to it. Keep in mind the photos above are scanned images of the printed photos. When I view the photos directly, the HP photo was warmer than the one scanned in, and the refilled ink photo wasn’t as blue as the scanned image.
Water test – HP paper outperforms Kodak paper
As part of the testing, I conducted two water tests: splashing and dunking. In the water splash test, I sprinkled two sets of photos with water. One set of photos was with HP ink on HP paper and the other set was with refilled ink on Kodak paper. Both sets of photos had water spots problem when I let the water dried by itself. In addition to water spots, the refilled ink photo on Kodak paper had crinkle problems. However, I didn’t have water spots on either sets of photos when I used a towel to dry the water. Unlike the HP ink photos on HP paper, I did have faint water streaks on the refilled ink photos on Kodak paper.
In the dunk tests, I completely submerged the photos in a bowl of water and then I let them air dry. The HP ink/paper combo performed the best. At first glance, I didn’t see any water damage. However, if I examined them closely I could some minor water streaks and smearing. The refilled ink/Kodak paper combo, on the other hand, had obvious problems. They had noticeable smears and the paper looked like they were crumbled.
Note: In the water tests, Kodak Premium Photo Paper was used with the refilled ink at the request of HP (all the other tests were on HP paper). Their theory is that someone that will use refilled ink probably won’t use HP Advanced Photo Paper. There are cheaper photo paper than Kodak, but they would most likely perform even worst than the Kodak paper. I’m actually surprised the HP paper outperformed the Kodak paper because Kodak has been in the photo paper business a lot longer than HP has.
Fade Test – no difference
About a month ago, I placed two identical photos (one with HP ink, one with refilled ink) on my south-facing window. Half of each photo was covered with photo paper. The covered side was protected from the sun while the uncovered side was exposed to the sun. The purpose of this test is to see how the sun damages and causes the photos to fade. However, I live in Oregon. We don’t see the sun for ten months out of the year. Right now we’re in the gloomy rain season. As a result, neither of the photos I placed on my window suffered from sun damage. However, both the covered and uncovered side on the refilled ink photo is lighter than the one with HP ink. I don’t remember the refilled ink photo appearing lighter than the HP ink photo when I began this test a month ago. It appears the refilled ink photo fades more over time.
Incompatible Print Cartridges Error
After the third week, I got an incompatible print cartridges error on the printer with the refilled ink. Because of the error, I could no longer print. I powered the printer off and on several times, but that didn’t take care of the problem. I also tried popping out the cartridges, shaking them, and then reinserting the cartridges. That didn’t help either. I even tried cleaning the contacts on the printer and the ink cartridge. I still got the same error message. I finally went back to Costco and told them about my problem. The photo lab tech gave me a postcard and told me to go to the website (inkjet411.com) listed on the card. I visited the website and tried all the things listed. None of the suggestions helped. I told Costco the tips didn’t work. The photo tech told me she also had the same problem with her refills. She indicated the only thing I could do now was to buy the genuine HP inks. However, she didn’t admit the problem was with their refilled service. Instead, she said it’s a printer problem. I didn’t really think the problem was the printer so I went home and swapped the cartridges on the two printers. The refilled ink didn’t work on my other printer either, and the HP ink worked just fine on the printer that had problems previously.
On another note, I should point out that with refilled cartridges, the printer couldn’t tell me how much ink I have left. One of the things I wondered about was if I was out of ink and if that was what was causing the printer error. While at Costco, I asked the tech if I could just have the cartridges refilled. She said I could, but I would still get the same error.
Using refilled ink is a hit or miss situation. If you’re lucky, the refilled cartridges will work just fine. That’s great and you might even save a bundle. I say might because several testers reported that their refilled inks had run out even though their cartridges with genuine HP inks were still going on strong. The costs of refilled ink varies a lot. Some testers indicated their refilled ink was only about $5 cheaper than genuine HP ink. In my case, the refilled inks were about a third of the cost of genuine HP 60XL inks. In theory, I could refill the cartridges three times for the cost of HP ink. However, if you’re unlucky like some of the testers in the program, you’ll end up with cartridges with banding problems and prints with color problems. Or, as in my case, you could up end wasting a lot of time. I spent two weeks (not full time) trying to get my refilled cartridges to work again without success. If time is currency, like in the new In Time movie, I would be dead.