Discount Toner Cartridges - A Real Bargain?

Category: Printing

Discount toner cartridges for your laser printer, photocopier, or fax machine offer tempting savings over the manufacturer's cartridges. But are discount toner cartridges just as good? Let's look at some of the pros and cons of those inexpensive toner cartridge deals...

Should You Buy Discount Toner Cartridges?

Before you start counting the money you'll save on those cheap no-name replacement toner cartridges, consider these questions. Will they print as many copies? Do they leave streaks or spots in your printouts? Will they leak, damaging your expensive device? Will they work at all in your late-model device?

Printer manufacturers make most of their profits off toner cartridges, just as safety razor vendors make most of their money from sales of replacement blades. So manufacturers go to great lengths to protect their monopoly on replacement toner cartridges. But that hasn't stopped discount toner cartridge makers.

Recycling is the key to making affordable toner cartridges. Third-party remanufacturers take in empty toner cartridges (often paying consumers for them), clean them, replace worn parts, and refill them with dry toner. This recycling is good for the environment and excellent for your pocketbook; a recycled toner cartridge can cost as little as 20 per cent of a new OEM (original equipment manufacturer) cartridge's street price.
discount toner cartridges

OEMs have tried legal means to stop refurbishing of their empty toner cartridges. Lately, they've tried adding programmable microchips to toner cartridges and charging recyclers with unauthorized circumvention of copy-protection under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The chips are programmed to detect toner levels and tell the printer that a toner cartridge is "empty". Then the printer will refuse to print from the "empty" cartridge. (Incidentally, it is not uncommon for such a chip to read "empty" when up to 15 per cent of the cartridge's toner still remains.) Recyclers have to hack the chip to reset it to "full" when they refill a cartridge. That is the DMCA violation that OEMs have tried to claim; fortunately for consumers, it has not worked in many cases. But some toner cartridges are not available through recyclers for this reason.

Dirty Tricks?

Making it hard to open, refill, and properly reseal a toner cartridge is another OEM trick to discourage competition. The plugs that fill the hole through which toner powder is poured may be designed to go in once and not come out without destroying the fitting. Recyclers find various ways around such barriers, with varying effectiveness. If a refilled toner cartridge leaks it will create a mess in your printer that is difficult to clean up, at the least. At worst, it can damage the printer beyond repair.

All discount toner cartridge makers offer a guarantee, but it typically covers only the replacement cost of the recycled cartridge. Damage to the printer is your problem.

Exceptionally cheap toner cartridges may not be properly refurbished. The care with which a recycler cleans the toner cartridge can have a large impact on printout quality. Uneven dispensing of toner through blocked nozzles can leave white streaks through text or dump blotches of grey or black on your pages. A good refurbishment job includes replacement of several springs in the cartridge that control toner distribution. Ask a discount toner cartridge supplier what is done to bring the used cartridge up to original OEM specs.

My advice is to do your homework before buying a discount toner cartridge. Search online forums to see if others have successfully used third-party cartridges with your specific printer, copier or fax machine. Look for cartridge suppliers that have an excellent online reputation, and don't forget that there may be a local business that offers cartridge refills. Dealing with a real person who has knowledge and experience in this field might save you time and trouble in the long run.

Have you purchased a discount toner cartridge? Post a comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Discount Toner Cartridges - A Real Bargain?"

(See all 21 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

25 Feb 2011

I have used discount and/or refilled my cartridges for many years, more than I can count. I mainly do this with my Canon i850 printer but also have done it with my HP H450 printer without a problem. Now and then I have gotten a cartridge that didn't last as long as I thought it should, but all have performed well, never leaked, printed good copy and have been tremendously more economical than the overpriced cartridges or tanks that the manufacturers sell. I'll continue, and I will only buy printers that allow me to be able to do this, not ones with a chip in them.

Posted by:

26 Feb 2011

Hi Bob,
Re you article on printer cartridges. The Printer companies should be ashamed of themselves. I can buy their printer that includes cartriges cheaper than buying the replacement cartriges, which I sometimes do and throw away the printer. Like cars I can use any make of petrol, I am not tied to any brand, so should the printer companies work The DMCA lost their case. Printer companies should design/sell printers and leave the ink cartridge over to the ink suppliers. BTW I am not a retailer of any thing. Just a volunteer to teach Seniors how to use their computer. Thanks again for your very imformatve articles. Cees

Posted by:

26 Feb 2011

Good subject, are their any refill company proven good value in New Zealand? Cheers Arthur.

Posted by:

01 Mar 2011

I have used cartridge world for many years and with hundreds of different printers and never had a problem. i saved 30-40%

Posted by:

02 Mar 2011

Just curious about the type of ink refillers use. I am supposedly getting a good grade of pigmented ink, not dye ink from the vendor, and would not want to trade it for dye-based inks.

Posted by:

dave kulas
02 Mar 2011

I have been using COMPATIBLE toner cartridges for a Canon Copier ( PC430 ) and a Brother Printer ( HL-21 )for several years .. all bought from and have had NO problems

Posted by:

03 Mar 2011

New toner cartridges for my brother TN-540 cost around $70 at a retail store. I bought a nifty refill kit online for under $12 and it will refill the cartridge twice. I have no complaints as the kit included instructions ( easy, but necessary) and a warning that cartridges like mine should not be refilled more than twice. Not sure why.
I have no problems as the print quality is excellent.

Posted by:

Stan Koper
04 Mar 2011

I have had good luck with Innovera's recycled cartridges for my HP 4200 laser printer, and I'll find out how good they are when replace the current toner cartridge in my Optra T630. I have had some difficulties with remanufactured cartridges, one source on eBay sent a cartridge for an earlier Optra Rt+ which leaked toner, then trying to fix the issue, sent me another, which also leaked, and another ditto, we gave up after four cartridges. My source for the current Innovera's is Concord Supplies, which has decent prices. But the first Innovera cartridge I bought was from a local business that had some surplus ones. I should have bought all three.

Posted by:

07 Mar 2011

I have always been skeptical of turning to 3rd party ink systems. Any comment on how these inks perform when printing on typical paper versus high gloss (i.e. photos)?

Posted by:

09 Mar 2011

I had an HP black ink cartridge refilled at a Walgreen drugstore. After about a week of usage it would no longer print. I subsequently read that HP uses a computer chip with a drop dead date stamp which 'turns off the cartridge' on a specific date from when it was manufactured.

Posted by:

11 Mar 2011

I have been using compatible toner cartridges for my HP printers from and have not had any problems. I use them both at home and at my place of employment.

Posted by:

Stephen Vandivere
11 Mar 2011

I, too, especially as an environmentalist, am offended that it should be cheaper to buy a new printer than to replace a toner cartridge, especially to replace cartridge and drum. I have been using for several years. They sell refill kits, tool kits, refurbished and loaded cartridges, and empty used cartridges.

My first experience was both bad and good. I did not get good results from the refill, but after an e-mail substantive dialog (no canned answers), I ended up with the company providing free a new refill kit and empty used cartridge. Results were perfect. That was for a Brother monochrome printer. On the other hand, the results for my Canon photocopier were perfect, though for it I had to use the toolkit to drill a hole to refill the cartridge, per clear instructions, and use the provided plug to seal the hole.

One criterion for choosing any new printer will now be that provides refill kits. I have become a loyal customer.

Posted by:

11 Mar 2011

I'm with dave kulas in that I look for compatible cartridges. We've been using the same company for a few years now and never had any issues that they did not take care of immediately.

This came to mind when thinking about discount toner - be VERY wary of anyone calling and offering to send you a "free" toner to "test" out (you may think that one free toner could help save some money...wrong). They get all the company info from you and then send a bill later to accounts payable for that "free" toner. Sometimes even double or triple the retail price. Google a phrase like toner scam or similar and you should have a bunch of results. They got my desktop support guy hook, line, and sinker last year.

Posted by:

Steve McAlister
13 Mar 2011

I'm considering adding a laser printer to my office and wasn't surprised to learn that some manufacturers are adding microchips to laser cartridges that will not allow an 'empty' cartridge to print; however, I was dismayed to learn that some manufacturers are trying to use copyright laws to prevent recyclers from 'refilling' these cartridges. I would never buy a product that used such a sleazy approach to protecting it's profits - can someone post a list of manufacturers who are engaged in this despicable practice?

Posted by:

Di Sturgess
16 Mar 2011

From personal experience over several years, can say the cartridges I have received from North Devon Ink ( have caused me no problems whatever.

Posted by:

L Becker
24 Mar 2011

Like Stephen Vandivere (see his comment above), I use I have been using them for about 10 years for replacement cartridges and toner refills for my HP LaserJet 1100. Not only have I been happy with their products, but their customer service is the best I've ever encountered, regardless of type of business. It's a real stand-up company and one of the very few with which it's actually a pleasure to do business.

Posted by:

03 Nov 2011

I purchased recycled cartridges online from Megatoners. Never again.after inserting the cartridges, my printer went beserk giving me error messages telling me that the cartridge is empty. One has to be careful who they ae dealing with. I went back to purchase original Lexmark cartridges. I am just grateful that my printer did not get damaged.

Posted by:

L Bernett
07 Nov 2011

I have had good luck with refurbished toner cartridges. As far as ink cartridges, I've lost printers. I will not buy refurbished in cartridges.

Posted by:

07 Dec 2011

For me toners from have worked really well. I have become their regular buyer.

Posted by:

17 Feb 2012

I've had bad experiences with compatible toner cartridges.

Between 1997 and 2009 I used a HP Laserjet 5L and used OEM cartridges. These usually lasted for 2 years. In 2009 I bought a compatible cartridge and that only lasted for 6 months.

I now have a Lexmark E350d. I replaced the first cartridge with OEM model which lasted about a year. I bought a compatible replacement when that ran out. My experience with was not good; the toner did not seem to stick to the page properly and a wadge of toner stuck to the photoconducter drum causing regular blank spots on the page. I replaced that cartridge after just a few months with the OEM version. I also have to replace the photoconducter.

So far as ink cartridges are concerned, I've had no problems over 15 years of usage.

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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Discount Toner Cartridges - A Real Bargain? (Posted: 25 Feb 2011)
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