Toner cartridges fall into four basic categories:
- New original cartridges, of the same brand as the printer (sometimes known as genuine OEM cartridges)
- New compatible cartridges – new cartridges made from scratch by a third party manufacturer (also known as clone cartridges)
- Refilled cartridges – recycled cartridges which have been refilled with toner
- Remanufactured cartridges – recycled cartridges which have been cleaned, refilled with toner and had all worn parts replaced (seals, optical drum, doctor & wiper blades, pre-charge and magnetic rollers)
A significant problem with cartridges that are not new originals, is that sellers often do not make clear their provenance and indeed they may not actually know – suppliers change their practices, sometimes without notification. Thus claims of a “remanufactured cartridge” may be a simple refill (which sometimes works OK, but quality will be erratic). Another phrase often used is “replacement cartridge”, which could mean compatible, refilled or remanufactured.
Compatibles may be legally legitimate, or not. They may be well done, or not. What specifically is being done is often not declared and can change.
There are all sorts of reasons why original manufacturers can get their cartridges consistently right. They have the blueprints, patents and copyrights and they aren’t going to share that with others.
But there are reasons to think that Xerox can make a good job of remanufacturing cartridges for laser printers made by other brands such as HP and Brother. Xerox invented the copying process and the laser printer and they have continued a stream of innovation patents. They have the ability to get things right and their brand image to tarnish by getting it wrong.
Laser printer cartridges differ, but most are more than just a box filled with toner. Often they contain some critical parts of the print imaging mechanism.
Leaking seals, as well as poor blades & drums, can result in escaping toner, which subsequently upsets electrical contacts in the high voltage imaging areas resulting in image quality issues. Thorough internal cleaning is then required (possibly by an engineer).
Compatible cartridges also vary in quality. In an effort to avoid breaching any original manufacturers’ patents, alternate mechanisms could prove less effective or reliable.
Where a cartridge is available from the printer manufacturer in different capacities, it usually implies the drum and blades in the lower capacity cartridge have a life equivalent to the higher capacity, so these cartridges might be refilled at least once without replacing parts.
Some printers use separate drums and waste toner containers – in these instances refilling toner cartridges is a simpler affair.
Electrostatic properties of the toner is carefully matched to the process in the print engine. Generic toner (which most refillers use) rarely matches the properties of the printer manufacturers original toner, so this can result in poorer quality print, or escaping waste. In extreme cases, incorrect toner can have the wrong melting properties, resulting in expensive fuser damage.
This is most important in colour printers; re-filled toners are less likely to give trouble in mono printers. Diagnosing colour print problems can be difficult, even for experienced printer engineers.
As a possible bonus, refilled cartridges sometimes have more toner than the original cartridges. Although even this can have a downside – on a few occasions it results in damage to the drum motor.
As an example, at the time of writing (Sep 2016), a 2,800 page CC533A Magenta toner cartridge for the HP CP2025/CM2030 ranges in price (excluding VAT) from £83 down to £20:
New HP original – £83
Remanufactured (by Xerox) – £49
Compatible – £23
Cheaper refill – £20
If you want the best quality printed output and the least problems with maintaining your printer, stick with new originals. However they are (usually) the most expensive.
Well executed remanufactured cartridges (such as those from Xerox) are probably the next best thing.
If you have little knowledge of laser printer print processes and do not want to have to employ the services of a printer engineer (minimum call-out charge could be £150+vat, excluding parts), you are probably best avoiding compatible and refilled cartridges, particularly for colour machines.
Whilst you may feel reluctant to treat an old printer to a relatively expensive toner cartridge, you are replacing many of the most important parts, so you could be surprised by the new lease of life it attains!