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Starter capacity ink cartridges for many printer brands come with a fraction of the ink available in full-sized ink cartridges. They are just for starting.

I notice that in HP, and probably other printer ads, that a "Starter Capacity" cartridge is included. Any info about what this ambiguous term really means? I know they make as much or more from the ink as they do from the printers.

In this excerpt from Answercast #75, I look at the smaller ink cartridges that usually come with inkjet printers. They are often called "Starter Capacity."

Starter capacity ink cartridges

Yes. Actually it's an improvement! The fact that it says "Starter Capacity" is an improvement over what I've experienced in the past.

The bottom line is that the cartridges that come with the printers are typically small in the sense that they may physically look the same size but they may have less than a quarter of the amount of ink that a full cartridge would have. They're called, "Starter."

They're just meant to be there - so that when you get your printer, you can print something (at least for a little while). They fully expect you to then run out and get replacement cartridges, full cartridges, that will last a lot longer than these starter cartridges will.

Ink is expensive

The bottom line is exactly as you've identified it. Printers are so cheap these days that in order to actually make money, in order for the companies to even be profitable bothering to make these printers, they have to make their revenue from somewhere - and where they do it is printer ink.

The ink is usually, typically somewhat pricey, but you're kind of stuck. You need it.

Quality of manufacturer's cartridges

There are cartridge refill situations and third-party cartridge vendors.

I've used one (123Inkjets, I think it is) or a couple of others. The problem there is that sometimes third-party cartridges and refilled cartridges don't work or don't work as well. The print quality sometimes suffers.

I know that I tried it repeatedly across a couple of different printers. I finally gave up and just went with the actual print cartridges (or now in my case these days, the laser printer toner cartridges) from the manufacturer themselves.

It is more expensive, but it definitely (for me at least) has resulted in significantly higher quality printing and fewer problems.

Check your printer

There's also another possibility. You actually need to check your paperwork on your printer when you get it to see if using a third-party cartridge or a refilled cartridge might void your warranty. As hard as it might be to believe, some manufacturers are really insistent that you get your printer cartridges from them and only from them.

So that's what's going on. The starter capacity cartridge is really just a cartridge that doesn't have as much ink as a full one does. It's meant simply as a starter. It's really a way to get you the printer cheap; and then have you turn around and spend more money on more cartridges.

Article C6091 - December 2, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

Ken B
December 2, 2012 12:23 PM

I understand that the courts (in the U.S., anyway) have ruled that using third-party ink cartridges cannot void a warranty, unless they can prove that it was the third-party ink that caused whatever problem you are having.

Another issue that we ran into some years ago are ink cartridges that have an "expiration date". Some years ago, we bought several ink cartridges on sale, and put the extras in our storage cabinet. Since we don't use that much ink, by the time we got to the last cartridge, the printer refused to use the freshly-opened ink cartridge, claiming it had expired. Yes, the box had an expiration date on it, but nothing anywhere stated that the printer would refuse to print with that cartridge after that date. (Fortunately, being computer geeks, we patched the printer driver so that it no longer told the printer what today's date was.) I do not know if they do that any more, but I do know that the manufacturers do put chips into their ink cartridges to do things such as identify them as "genuine", and to let the printer monitor how much ink is left.

December 4, 2012 8:42 AM

The cost of an ink cartridge is not just the ink, it's also the cost of the circuitry in the cartridge that sprays out the tiny jet of ink. (but it still seems like the cartridges are a bit overpriced...)

Gary T
December 4, 2012 9:04 AM

HP still does that Ken B. Fortunately though, the printer will still use that cartridge after making you jump through a few button pushing hoops.

My beef is that the printer software will tell you that you need to replace cartridges while showing you that they are still close to half full. The average person would just go out and buy more instead of doing the extra button pushes to use all of the ink.

My other beef, at least with HP, is that when you choose to print in grey scale, the software asks you if you want " high quality " ( using the color cartridges to make black ) or " use the black cartridge only ". When I want to print in black only, I want the printer to do that with out having to be told each and every time.

Leo, I use all the time. The quality is just as good as the oem and they last even longer that the oem. I buy the remanufactured toner cartridges for my wifes business and she gets well over the advertised 2500 pages.

Loretta M
December 4, 2012 9:42 AM

Gary T. mentioned pushing all the extra buttons in order to to use up all the ink in the ink cartridge. I have no idea how to do that...would you tell me, please? Thanks much....

December 4, 2012 11:22 AM

Hi Leo, HP make a cartridge that ends with the
two letters XL. For example 564 XL. There is extra
ink in this cartridge. I got 1200 pages of print using a black cart.

December 4, 2012 1:53 PM

Not sure exactly what Gary T. meant, but on my printer all I have to do is just keep clicking to ignore the low ink message and keep printing. Be very careful though and keep your eye on the paper as it's printing... it will eventually run out and could ruin a big print job.

December 5, 2012 2:13 AM

Hi Leo, I live in Thailand and use a Brother DCP-125 with large ink tanks fitted for over 1.5 years I do a moderate amount of printing with no problems, and the tanks are still half full, the cost 1 thousend Baht ( 20 pounds ) and I can refill, I dont understand why other users dont do this or is it against the law in USA

Regards Tony

December 5, 2012 4:33 AM

In the office we have used 3rd-party and reconditioned cartridges for our printers in the past. Some have been OK, some have been disasterous.
Sometimes it is cheaper to buy a low-specification 'end of line' printer every time your current one runs out, than to buy new cartridges.

Gone are the days when you could print until the ink actually ran out. The cartridges are set to only print XXXX sheets, only print up to a certain date, and only print if they handshake correctly with the printer. Add to that the 'service' error messages (where there is no actual error, the manufacturers just want you to pay to have someone reset a software timer) and you have an industry that just wants to fleece it's customers, and give them no alternative.

December 5, 2012 8:14 AM

"Sometimes it is cheaper to buy a low-specification 'end of line' printer every time your current one runs out, than to buy new cartridges."

Unfortunately, I believe this is why the manufacturers are going to "starter" cartridges. The manufacturers fleece you on the price of ink cartridges, so consumers just buy new printers for the same price as the ink cartridges. The manufacturer makes less money.

So now they have starter cartridges which will run out much sooner, which they hope will annoy you buying a new printer all the time so you will buy their ink.

I have gone the refilled cartridge route in the past (both 3rd party refill or even buying the ink and refilling myself). I found that unless the person refilling (including myself) really knows how to clean the cartridge properly before refilling, that the quality will suffer with more and more refills. I find you still have to break down and buy a new cartridge periodically.

About 2 years ago I switched to a laser printer for all my black and white prints. While the toner cartridge is more expensive, it lasts so much longer than liquid ink, and the price per page is way cheaper.

Alex Dow
December 5, 2012 8:34 AM

Esley is correct about the HP XL Cartridges - BUT there is further confusion.

The XL Catridges are distinguished also by part of the packaging being coloured GREEN.

BUT HP also package three or four standard catridges as a multi-pack, which is also coloured GREEN.

So one has to be on the alert when selecting in store.

Regarding refilled catridges, I tried one recently.

Althogh from a reputable source, the printing of the Bar-Code on an airline Boarding Pass was so bad, that it would not have been readable on the airport equipment.

YET the conventional alpha-numeric printing was reasonable.

The refilled cartridge was virtually "new", only having printed about half-a-dozen typical typescript pages.

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