The Ink-O-Dem ink-refilling system has been on my mind for some time. As PCWorld’s Serial Refiller, I’ve been trying refilled and remanufactured black and tricolor cartridges for my HP Photosmart e-All-in-One, assessing their ease of use, output quality, and page yield. So far, all have been somewhat to significantly cheaper than the printer vendor's own cartridges; none, however, have matched the originals in output quality and ease of use, although some have come close.
Product: Ink-O-Dem inkjet refills: Black, $10; tricolor, $15 (plus sales tax). Prices and compatibility may vary by store. Vendor URL: Inkodem.com Worth trying? Yes Hassle factor: Low to medium Print quality compared with OEM ink: Satisfactory Yield (mixed set of samples): 126 pages Cost per page: 20 cents (HP-brand inks: 26 cents)
Based in McHenry, Illinois, Ink-O-Dem has installed on-site ink-refilling machines in thousands of stores nationwide, including Ace Hardware and Walgreens locations, as well as campus bookshops. You bring empty cartridges to the store, where an employee refills the tanks and returns them to you. (Contact the store first to confirm whether its machine supports your cartridges.) This is a step up from do-it-yourself refilling, letting someone else handle the messy part; trying Costco’s ink-refilling service, a similar procedure, was one of the easiest experiments of the seven I’ve done so far.
Ink-O-Dem’s small army of machines started supporting my printer model’s HP 60 cartridges only recently, and as of this writing most of the stores with the upgraded machines are located in the Midwest. As luck would have it, however, a store in San Jose, California--about 50 miles south of PCWorld’s headquarters in San Francisco--is testing the new machine. (We can't name the store, because Ink-O-Dem hasn't officially announced the store’s participation in this service.)
PCWorld senior editor Melissa Riofrio bought and drained two HP 60 cartridges, and then visited the store to have them refilled. The refill price was $10 for a black cartridge and $15 for a tricolor tank. The total price, $25 plus tax, is $10 cheaper than purchasing new black and color HP 60 cartridges from Hewlett-Packard. (HP also offers both cartridges in a pack for a small discount.) Your Ink-O-Dem cost may vary depending on the retailer you choose.
My Serial Refiller experiences are anecdotal: one printer, one set of cartridges, one chance for glory (or failure). They do not reflect how a third-party offering will perform with another printer, nor can they predict how it will perform over time. We also do not examine the archivability or durability of third-party products. But if you’ve been wondering whether refilled or remanufactured ink cartridges are worth the money and hassle, these experiences will give you a taste of what to expect.
A Leaky First Impression
The store was quiet when Melissa visited, so she waited just 20 minutes for the refill. (In contrast, my refill at Costco took an hour.) When Melissa retrieved the cartridges, she noticed that each had been given a little clip-on printhead cover. The cartridges were inside a small zipper-lock bag.
Because it was a very hot day, Melissa carried the cartridges with her, rather than leave them in the car, while she ran some more errands. Eventually she parked the car in a covered lot and left the cartridges in her backseat, thinking they would be okay in a motionless, cool car. But when she returned, the black cartridge had leaked some ink. The color cartridge seemed intact.
When I received the cartridges, I noticed black ink smudges inside the bag. Aside from the initial leaks, however, no additional ink seemed to have spilled out. Overall, the tanks were in good condition.
Smooth Sailing Despite Warnings
Installation went smoothly. I inserted the cartridges and ran the standard alignment procedure recommended by my HP printer.
I began printing. The printer's LCD screen posted the usual ominous warnings that accompany third-party ink refills, including 'Original HP ink depleted' and 'Alignment recommended'. The latter one puzzled me, as I had aligned the cartridges only minutes earlier. The prints looked normal, however, so I ignored the messages and soldiered on.
Decent Output Quality
As for print quality, Ink-O-Dem's inks performed adequately. To the cartridges’ credit, the output had no ink blotches or other visible problems. The text and images were crisp and clear, and perfectly acceptable for everyday home and business use--comparable, in fact, to the printouts from the Costco refills I tried. Viewing these pages side by side with HP's output, however, I thought the differences were obvious: Ink-O-Dem's grayscale images had a slightly greenish tint, and its colors and textures weren't quite as realistic.
I'm quibbling here, of course. Fine details might matter a lot to the most discerning users, but less so to average folk who simply want decent print output for less. If you're in the latter group, Ink-O-Dem's inks are acceptable.
When I dribbled water across an Ink-O-Dem page, the expected streaking and color bleeding occurred. The resulting mess was no worse than what I saw with HP’s inks, however.
Cheaper Than HP, Pricier Than Costco
Page yield was pretty good: I printed 126 pages with the Ink-O-Dem refills before seeing streaks in images and text. The original HP cartridges printed 134 pages before streaks appeared, while the Costco-refilled cartridges lasted 148 pages.
The cost per page with Ink-O-Dem refills for my printer was 20 cents. That's nearly twice the price of Costco's refill service, which came out to 11 cents per page. With HP’s original cartridges, the price was 26 cents per page. As you can see, Ink-O-Dem falls about halfway between Costco and HP in the value category. Note, however, that Costco charges $50 or more for an annual membership, so it wouldn’t make sense to join solely to refill ink tanks unless you did so frequently.
Refilling with Ink-O-Dem was problem-free overall. At the prices we paid in the store we tried, however, it did not provide compelling savings over HP’s own inks, especially in light of the similarly easy--but significantly cheaper--experience I had at Costco.