How Long Will Your Prints Last If You Use Refilled Ink Cartridges?

Print quality and fading with refilled cartridges.

Print quality and fading with refilled cartridges. Click to see a larger version.

Not long!

Of course it is tempting. If you have your ink cartridges refilled it will cost a lot less than buying new ink cartridges from the printer manufacturer. But is there a price to pay? You bet, a huge price.

First, right out of the printer the prints won’t look as good. Refilled cartridges just don’t have the same color quality as original equipment cartridges from the manufacturer. Second, they will fade right before your eyes. Well, maybe not quite that fast, but they will fade noticeably in just two short years.

This graphic from Wilhelm Imaging Research (an international expert on archival photo quality), shows the same digital photo printed with the same Hewlett-Packard (HP) printer using different inks and papers and aged over time. The new prints right out of the printer are in the left column with aging up to 15 years (right column). The top row was printed with original HP Vivera 57+ inks on HP paper, the middle row with cartridges refilled by Office Depot and printed on Office Depot paper, and bottom row with cartridges refilled by Staples and printed on Staples paper. Why didn’t they use HP paper for all three ink sets? You will usually get better image quality if your inks and paper come from the same manufacturer. It is a better test of the refilled ink cartriodges from Office Depot if they are used with Office Depot paper. The same for Staples.

You can see the HP ink and HP paper delivered the best image quality right out of the printer. In two years the prints made with inks and papers from Office Depot and Staples have faded significantly and it gets progressively worse over time. In fact, the 15 year HP print (upper right) looks better than the brand new prints made with inks and papers from Office Depot and Staples.

The lesson is clear. If print color quality and archival life span are important to you, buy the printer manufacturer’s inks and papers that are designed for your printer (this is true of Epson and Canon printers too). Don’t cheap out on refilled cartridges and office store papers.

Wilhelm Imaging Research does accelerated aging tests. Light and heat fade color prints (which is why NASA keeps their most important original photos in the dark at zero degrees). By using high temperatures and high intensity lights, Wilhelm Imaging Research can accelerate the fading process, showing the equivalent of years of fading under normal home conditions in a short period of time. There is a wealth of information at their site with a lot of articles you can download as PDF files.


Wilhelm Imaging Research