All the Ink That’s Fit to Print

Paulo Rebêlo
Wired News
March 2002

In the United States, printer companies reap most of their profits by selling ink cartridges rather than the printers themselves. That’s not necessarily true in Brazil, where remanufactured ink cartridges sell for less than half the price of the original.

Despite efforts by big companies to convince consumers that retread cartridges might damage their printers, Brazilians continue flocking to the refills, apparently figuring that the risk is offset by the printers’ relatively inexpensive cost.

These “reconditioned” cartridges, as they are often called, are neither illegal nor considered pirated, as long as they are labeled as being refilled. And with the costs of printers going down while the prices of new cartridges continues rising, reconditioned cartridges are becoming more and more popular.

An average printer, such as a HP 840C, costs about $140 in Brazil. A 640C model goes for $115, about the same price of an Epson C40UX.

Black ink cartridges cost around $35 each, and a color one can go for around $45, depending on the model. In other words, a couple of black-ink cartridges with a color one thrown in cost as much as a new printer. Remanufactured cartridges, meanwhile, run between $10 and $20.

The printer companies aren’t fighting the remanufactured market. “Since we don’t agree with monopolists attitudes, we try to live in harmony with the non-original cartridges,” said Hewlett-Packard Brazil in a statement.

Nevertheless, HP, Epson, Canon, Lexmark and other printer companies continue their publicity campaign.

“Reconditioned cartridges can cause a bad print quality and damage the printer, said Luis Fernando Tedesco, HP Brazil’s product manager. “We don’t force consumers to use our cartridges, but if we detect failures or damages in our printer caused by the reconditioned (cartridges), then the consumer loses his warranty and will have to pay … (for) our work.”

Most problems associated with the retreads involve the spilling of ink, either onto the paper or into the printer itself, which runs the risk of damaging internal circuits. Leaks occur because of the way the cartridges are refurbished, with the new ink being injected, using pressure, through a very thin needle.

“Many times, this process generates air bubbles inside the cartridge that may cause the ink to spill a little while printing. Also, the bubbles can corrupt the cartridge’s inside pressure,” said Luciano Piquet, an engineer and computer technician from João Pessoa, who invented a different way to refill cartridges based on a vacuum process.

Piquet’s machine, called Ink3000, takes all the air out of the cartridge and then fills it with ink using tubes and compression. “The cartridge gets refilled in two minutes with a 100 percent guarantee that it won’t ever spill ink. Other machines still use the injection process, and that can really cause problems,” Piquet said.

In some situations — such as refilling the more recent HP color cartridges that come with a protection sponge to avoid the mixing of different inks — Ink3000 uses a different process, which is based only on gravity. This process seeks to avoid creating air bubbles; it does not inject the ink, but lets it “fall down” in a soft way through a tube in the cartridge.

Piquet is selling his machine nationwide and exporting it to companies in Europe and United States.