Filling Your Own Laser Toner Cartridges Guarantees Lower Cost

Anyone who has purchased inkjet or laser toner catridges for their computer’s printer has quickly learned that the real business manufacturers of printers are in is selling “consumables;” i.e. those items which must be replaced on a regular basis if you want to be able to use your printer.

It is commonly said among printer users that the manufacturers may as well give the printers away for free just so consumers will buy their inkjet or toner cartridges.

I recently was reminded of this painful fact when I purchased a Hewlitt-Packard Color Laserjet 2550L. It was on sale at one of those box-pushing retailers for $399 and as I output copy for desktop publishing, this printer seemed like the perfect purchase.

In truth, Hewlitt-Packard is to be commended, as the output from this inexpensive printer is truly beautiful. It will actually print the exact variation of any of the 14 million shades of color available using digital prepress software.

What’s more, there is now inexpensive gloss paper which prints perfectly in this printer to give your work an even more professional look.

I was as happy as a desktop publishing clam until the printer stopped dead. Looking in the manual for the meaning of the blinking light, it turned out that one of the four color toner cartridges had run out of toner after 400 copies. Additionally, HP color toner cartridges have a chip built into each cartridge which closes down the printer if one toner cartridge goes dry. This guarantees you have to run to the store and buy a cartridge to meet your deadlines.

Heading over to Office Depot, then Office Max, I was catapulted into the laser printer Twilight Zone. To replace the four color toner cartridges for my printer would cost $320! That means shelling out 80 percent of the cost of the printer each time the toner has to be replaced.

And how often is that? The toner cartridges are rated as producing 2,000 copies when installed new. However, that turns out to be true if the color used on a single page covers only 5 percent of the page. The purpose of graphics work is to use type, graphics, color and design in a complementary array of options to communicate ideas. And, believe me, 5 percent coverage is not going to allow any user to create the quality of work they hope to achieve.

Having the overwhelming feeling I was a chump, a very, very big chump, I was forced to fork down the $320 to get my job done on time. While only one cartridge had gone dry, I bought three other colors since it was a pretty good guess that the others would soon run out.

Determined that I should not again be a laser toner chump, I began scouring the internet for options to purchasing color laser cartridges at other than retail costs. In my wanderings, I discovered a number of alternatives.

First, I found “discounters” whose prices for the new HP color laser cartridges were the same as I had paid retail. Next I found companies selling remanufactured cartridges for about $10 less than retail. This meant, instead of spending 80 percent for the cost of the printer I would be spending 70 percent, and using a possibly inferior cartridge.

Finally, I came upon companies which sold bottles of powder toner along with instructions on refilling toner cartridges. While I was not excited about the prospect of opening a toner cartridge, I was less excited about turning over so much money each time I needed color toner.

The company I chose to order from is out of Florida. They sent me one bottle of toner for each of the four colors I needed, an attachable funnel for each bottle, and instructions on how to open up my particular model cartridge, refill it and close it again.

The price? With shipping, the four bottles, which are good for one complete fill-up of a cartridge, was $182.65. Now I had reduced my toner costs for the printer from 80 to 45 percent of the original cost of the printer.

The procedure for filling the cartridge was simple. Spread some newspaper on a table. Remove three screws from one end of the cartridge. Pull the top casing off. Remove a plastic plug, fill the cartridge through the supplied funnel, reclose the opening with the original plug, replace the top, screw it back together, and print.

The first cartridge took me twenty minutes to fill. The second one took five minutes.

As always, in the wild west of the computer business, there was an ambush waiting at the next turn. Remember that chip which HP places into its cartridges to guarantee your printer closes down if you run out of toner? Well, if that chip is tripped, it must be replaced for another ten dollars per cartridge.

However, if you refill the cartridge prior to running out of toner, it appears you can avoid having to replace the chip.

Also, it seems that manufacturers of printers cannot void their warranties if toner from another vendor is used in their machine. It appears the U.S. Justice Department’s Antitrust Division finds it much easier to protect consumers from manufacturers of computer printers, as opposed to oil companies, airline conglomerates, etc.

As a practical matter, I plan on opening up and refilling the cartridges after about 300 copies and will keep a notepad next to the printer to keep track of the number of copies I am running.

I do, however, have a confession to make. Though I have brought the price of toner down from $320 to $182, I am still feeling like I am being overcharged. My next internet search is to find the toner manufacturers or wholesalers who sell to companies like and buy directly from them. I am betting I can bring the cost of four cartridges down by half again.

When I find these vendors, I will gladly pass that information along.

Good luck and I wish much cheaper printing to all!

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