Ink jets: Why individual color cartridges aren't necessarily more efficient -- or less expensive

HP's C5180 All-in-One ink jet printer uses individual cartridges for each ink color. Kodak's 5300 bundles all colors into a single cartridge. So is the HP more efficient? Not necessarily, I discovered in my Ink Wars review this week.

Can you get more prints even when the printer says you're out of ink? I did. You might be able to as well.

Readers who posted comments to the story chimed in on both of these points.

Cartridge configurations

While replacing individual HP color cartridges at $9.99 a pop is cheaper than replacing an entire Kodak multi-color cartridge for $14.99, the savings only come if you're printing images that use a lot of one color, such as multiple copies of a sunflower. That didn't happen when I ran a test suite of every day photos through the machine. Once the first color ran out, I printed only a few more prints before two more gave up the ghost (see the conclusion of the story for details).

This sentiment was echoed by James Johnson, who remarked:

Using separate color ink cartridges only makes sense if you are repetitively printing the same graphic, as in a company logo. With rare exceptions, separate color cartridges may cost you more if your color output is primarily photographs...I USED to be in the separate color ink cartridge camp. Then I started to notice (as also noted in the article) that when one color ran out, the others soon followed. I was wasting time (and often paper - each tank change requires a priming/cleaning cycle and perhaps an alignment cycle) by changing the tanks separately; not to mention the extra storage space for reserve stock.

Squeezing out more ink

An anonymous reader commented on my observation that by opening and closing the Kodak printer I was able to get more prints even after the printer indicated that the cartridge was empty:

For the printer I have, all it takes is removing the cartridge, replacing it, and it's ready to print again. Often I can do this multiple times before the cartridge is actually empty, as indicated by missing print on printouts. If I replaced the cartridge as the software indicates, I would have gone through 3 cartridges or more in the same time period.

You can read the rest of this reader's comment, entitled Rackets abound, here.

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