Inkjet printers are cool. In recent years, they have become very inexpensive, while at the same time, becoming high quality and very fast at printing. They come in various sizes and functions, with two to as many as eight ink cartridges needed. And therein lies the issue. Those damn ink cartridges always seem to run out of ink quickly. I will tell you about a new company, Silo Ink, that cuts the cost of ink considerably, but first, some background.
I started buying printers that had at least 4 separate color cartridges inside: Black, obviously, as well as yellow, cyan, and magenta. I did this because in two cartridge systems where there was one black and one “tri-color” cartridge (a single cartridge with all three inks in it), when one of the three colors goes empty, you end up throwing away all the unused ink of the other two colors. Wasteful. At least, the theory goes, with separate cartridges, you only need to replace the empty one. Big problem though, they are typically sold in packs of all three colors anyway, making it difficult to buy just the color you want! Wasteful again, and kind of defeats the purpose of separate cartridges.
Besides wasting ink, the other thing I hate about cartridges is throwing away so much plastic, and in some cases, where the print head is integral to the cartridge, the electronics and print heads get tossed as well. The whole idea of cartridge replacement just seems wasteful. To save money, you can often buy multiple cartridges at Costco, but frankly, you often have to buy two or three cartridges that just sit on a shelf, and they are not cheap, and you still throw them away.
And I looked into refill services from places like Costco or Cartridge World (for example), and while I have used them, and they worked well in my printer, they were not that much cheaper than buying a new cartridge, and you often have to wait some time for refills, or come back later to pick them up. Not very convenient with multiple trips to the store, so I decided to try refilling myself.
At Macworld in the past, I used to see several companies selling refill kits, offering big bottles of ink for your printer along with some contraptions to fill the cartridges. And yes, I bought a few in the past. Almost everyone one of them required you to crack open or drill a small hole in your empty cartridge, and then to use a hypodermic with a special needle to fill the cartridge through that hole, and then “reseal” the cartridge. This resealing thing was always the big gotcha.
In refilling, no matter how careful, you always end up with ink all over your hands, the desk, the bathroom counter, just to name a few places. Also, in several cases, I ended up with a printer flooded with one or more of the inks as it simply drained right out the bottom of the refilled cartridge into the printer. Needless to say, that stopped the printer from working as well! (It took there hours to clean the printer, and I had to toss all the other cartridges because the leaking ink also ran up inside all those cartridges too!)
What was not clear with these kits of the past, is that the cartridge needed to be properly “sealed” after filling so that the air does not get into the tank and let the ink just run out the bottom. Strange, nothing in the instructions about that issue. Strangely too, cartridges also needs to breath properly so that the ink can come out when needed, but drilling a hole into the tank of an empty cartridge allows air to enter which lets the ink reservoir simply drain out. Wish they told me that! When I told one company about the issue, they said, “Oh, we forgot to include the sealing stickers in your kit” and sent me some. They did not offer to replace the damaged cartridges. The stickers covered the hole, but did not work well at all, and a few days later, my printer was again flooded with ink again. A second call to their support, and they said, “Oh, don’t use those stickers, they don’t work. You need to use wax or something like it.” Again, they refused to replace another set of six cartridges that were destroyed, nor the half ream of paper needed to clean my print heads. Eventually I discovered Museum Wax as a way to close the hole, but what a pain and mess. I stopped using their products, not worth the hassles. (Their inks were great, but lousy customer service. That company was called Think4inc, just in case you wondered.)
Lastly, all inks are not created equal, and some can truly mess up your printer. While every manufacturer will tell you that only they have the right ink for their printer, that aside, inks designed for a one printer should NEVER be used in another, even if the same manufacturer, unless they list as being compatible. Each printer (not just manufacturer, but printer) has its own formula, and if you use the wrong one, it will ruin the print head of the inkjet printer, and you will be the proud owner of a boat anchor, requiring a new print head to fix it, IF that will fix it at all.
And you should know, that some printer manufacturers might void your warranty if you do not use “genuine” inks from the manufacturer. Let’s be blunt here: Printer companies do not make their money selling the printer; they make it on the ink refills. A full set of inks for my HP All-In-One printer, for example, cost almost as much as the printer itself! So they will say and do what they can to prevent you from refilling cartridges. In fact, some printers will not let you replace a used (refilled) cartridge back in the printer, but there are software programs on the net that will reset this restriction, as in this example.
So when I was walking around Macworld/iWorld this year in January, I saw a new company selling refill kits for printers, Silo Ink. OK, what makes these guys any different, and was I headed for disappointment again? I am happy to say these guys ARE different, and I am quite pleased with the results. My first thought was finally, true innovation in home refills for inkjet printers.
Silo Ink takes the next step in refills by supplying you a new set of refill cartridges to replace your originals, rather than trying to reuse an old cartridge. The replacement cartridges have a small rubber plug on the top for refilling, and a separate breathing hole as well. When it is time to refill, place the cartridge on some tissue (to collect any drippings) and simply open the small rubber plug. On the ink bottles, remove the plastic cap from the very nicely pointed spout, tip it into the open hole on the cartridge, and squeeze in the ink. The replacement cartridges are translucent, so you can see the ink level as you fill them up, which is a nice touch. Both the cartridges and the bottles are plainly labeled, so even if you are refilling in the dark, you should be able to get the right ink into the right cartridge. And when the ink in the cartridge is used up, you just repeat the process again on the reusable, refillable cartridges.
They even include a set of plastic gloves in the box to keep the ink off your hands, but I did not need to use them. I managed to fill all 4 cartridges without getting a single drop of ink on my hands or desk, and since there was no apparatus to wash up when finished, no mess in the bathroom either. I was sold!
Silo Ink makes refill kits for many printers (they claim compatible with over 300 printers now – no way to really know if that is true), and are adding new ones all the time, so if you do not see your model, request it. They also claim you save 80% vs other ink, but I think that comparison is to new cartridges, and not other refills. They also claim you can refill your cartridge up to ten times per bottle. Maybe true on some smaller cartridges, but on my larger HP cartridges, looks more like two or three.
As for price, the kit containing a four color set of cartridges (already filled) and refill bottles for each color (enough for at least two refills) for my HP printer was $100, with free shipping in the US. The ink refill bottles alone are $60, also with free shipping (any total over $60). Compared to the retail cost of a new black large capacity cartridge for my printer, $40, and each of the three colors at $27, a full set of new refills cost about $120 retail. So this is a good deal for sure, and at least 66% cheaper for me assuming 3 full refills. But, I did find cheaper knock-off cartridges for as little as $18 each, meaning a full set could be as cheap as $72, but Silo is still a better deal, you get at least 3 full refills for these large cartridges, and you don’t take chances with after market pre-filled cartridges.
I also trust their ink. They have a lab where they formulate inks for each printer, and do real world color matching and print quality tests. They fully guarantee their product, and will gladly accept returns for a full refund if not happy, Can’t say that about the other refill companies I tried.
But what about quality? The image above is the same photo printed with HP’s own line of inks, which are excellent, and Silo Ink inks for the other, and then scanned using an HP Photosmart Premium scanner. (Click on it to open, and click again to make it larger.) Can you tell which is which? I could not. The OEM ink is on the right, and Silo’s ink is on the left. I saw several photo comparisons at Macworld as well, and I could not pick out the Silo Ink product from the original inks. (Other comparisons are available on their website.)
And for simple jobs, especially since I print mostly in draft anyway to save ink, these inks look easily as good as the ones from HP.
Silo Ink also makes continuous ink “extension” systems for many printers as well. If you do a lot of printing, these are larger tanks that actually sit outside the printer and are connected via small tubes to the internal ink cartridges, refilling them on the fly, allowing you to print for a very long time without running out of ink. In addition, since the ink refill tanks are outside the printer, they can easily be refilled when necessary without stopping the printer or removing the internal cartridges, giving a true non-stop “continuous” ink solution.
I like their overall plan: help reduce waste, and save money as well. They will even recycle and refill the empty ink bottles, meaning much less waste overall. There is a blog and forum on their website for more info, as well as how to videos to help you the first time (although, this really is quite simple), and an easy product selector based on printer model. And if you switch printers, you can return your old Silo Ink cartridges to get a 50% discount on your new refill system. All products have a lifetime warranty. They seem to stand behind their products.
I’ll be buying a system for both my printers. (I tested this set on my HP, but they have a kit for my 6 ink Canon printer too!)
MyMac rating: 10 out of 10. Still trying to find a problem here! If you have one, please let me know.