by Mike Burkett
roundup staff reporter
A few weeks ago, there was a computer printer sale at Wal-Mart. Customers could purchase a Lexmark inkjet printer complete with two packages of quality paper samples and what was touted as $80 worth of software.
Total purchase price: $35.
Meanwhile, shoppers could cross the aisle and pick up one of the same printer's ink cartridges.
Total purchase price: $28.
Why in the world would the manufacturer be so generous as to throw in a printer and all those extras for another lousy six bucks?
Generosity has nothing to do with it. It's the cartridge game a sort of variation on the classic, street-corner shell game played by all of the major printer manufacturers.
"They're giving away the printers so that you have no choice but to buy the cartridges," said Rosemary Reed, who with her husband, Gary, owns and operates Quality Plus Business Products in Payson. "They want the market. As long as you have no choice but to keep buying cartridges, they are going to make plenty of profit, even on a $35 printer."
Of course, there are some consumers who don't appreciate getting hooked into a marketing scheme like that, and Reed said it is those folks who are responsible for the ever-increasing popularity of inkjet refill kits, which allow them to refill their ink cartridges at a fraction of the cost the printer manufacturers would like them to pay for replacements.
The price of a replacement cartridge for the printer model that was on sale at Wal-Mart was $28. At Quality Plus, you can buy an double-dose ink refill kit for the same printer for about $13 ... or $6.50 per refill.
Total savings: $21.50 a pop.
And once you've bought the refill kit, Reed said, "I can sell you the individual ink bottles for $4 each. So that brings your savings up to $24."
The only reason any computer user might not take advantage of such savings, Reed guesses, is that they think you have to be some kind of high-tech Einstein in order to refill the cartridges.
"It's so easy that even kids can do it in about 10 minutes the first time, and much more quickly after that," she said. Each kit contains all required tools, cellophane gloves in the event of an ink spill ("It's pretty hard to make a mess, though") and easy-to-follow, illustrated directions specific for your printer.
According to the consensus of a number of kit-manufacturer Web sites, only time will tell how many times a cartridge can be refilled before it wears out. One site speculates that it could last through 10 refills or more.
Another kit-manufacturer's Web site said that "cartridges with the print head built in generally can be refilled 10 to 15 times or more. Cartridges without the print head in them, in theory, can be refilled infinitely, however other factors can affect this such as drying out."
Because the longer you can prolong the life of your cartridge, the greater your savings, here's a compilation of Internet tips to squeeze the most money and use out of your ink reservoir:
Never let a cartridge run dry. Cartridges with built-in print heads can burn out their resistors if run while dry.
Always keep an extra cartridge handy, and keep it full.
Get in the habit of topping off your cartridge instead of waiting until it runs out.
Don't touch the copper plate on print head cartridges.
Always refill your cartridge immediately upon running out of ink.
Another important point uncovered by some Internet research is that the use of refill-kit ink will not void the warranty on your printer.
But under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, and general principles of the Federal Trade Commission Act, a manufacturer may not require the use of any brand of ink (or any other article) unless the manufacturer provides the item free of charge under the terms of the warranty.