A decent computer printer nowadays runs about $100, but you'll spend that much again just to refill the ink two or three times. But with so many coupons, rewards offers and recycling options out there, buying ink cartridges doesn't have to be so painful. Here are some ways to save some green and stay in the black when buying printer ink.
Make it last
The easiest way to save a few bucks is to make the ink in the cartridge last longer.
If you don't need to print, don't. If you do need a paper copy of something, and it doesn't have to look pristine, you can save some ink by printing in draft mode or by grayscaling the colors.
Draft mode means the document is printed in low quality, which uses less ink.
Grayscaling prints the document in shades of gray and only uses black ink, rather than blending the colored ink to make black.
When you're finally down to your last drops of ink and need to get more, consider buying generic. Staples, OfficeMax and Office Depot sell ink cartridges under their own brand that are compatible with some common printers, and in most cases, cost a bit less.
Those suppliers also offer rewards programs for customers who bring in their old ink cartridges to be recycled, most of which can be "remanufactured" and resold for lower prices.
Staples offers $2 in Staples Rewards for each empty ink cartridge you bring in (maximum of 10 per month), as well as a 10 percent off coupon if you reach $10 on ink rewards in the same month.
OfficeMax will offer you $3 in rewards for Lexmark, HP and Dell cartridges (maximum of 20 per month), but will recycle cartridges of other brands.
Office Depot will offer $2 in rewards per cartridge (up to 10 per month) on qualifying purchases made within a certain time period.
Specialty shops like Cartridge World in Tampa or Omnicopy in St. Petersburg will fill your used cartridges for about 40 percent less than buying new. Walgreens also refills black and color cartridges for $13.
Cartridges that are compatible with Brother, Canon and HP printers are typically the easiest to refill because they don't have a chip in them that measures the ink levels, said Tampa Cartridge World owner Robert Bohacek.
Epson and Kodak cartridges have the chip, which causes problems because they have a hard time reading a new level when it is refilled, Bohacek said.
If you intend on having a cartridge refilled, immediately put it into an airtight, sealed plastic bag to keep the ink from drying out and ruining it.
At your own risk
You can also purchase an ink refill kit for about $18 and do it yourself at home. Just follow the instructions on the box and try not to make too much of a mess.
But be warned: A refilled cartridge doesn't come without risk.
Michael Vroom, master repair technician at Staples in St. Petersburg, said he usually recommends not using a refilled cartridge.
If you refill a cartridge from a kit, the ink tends to be more watery, he said. It takes more ink to print fewer pages, which means you don't always save money. If you aren't careful, refilling the cartridge can also damage the circuitry, which can render it useless or even damage your printer.
And if the refilled cartridge leaks? Well …
If you're going to recycle the cartridges, Vroom warns, leave it to the professionals. The opening is tiny and it can be difficult to fill properly without damaging the cartridge or making a mess.
"Be aware that it takes a steady hand and a careful hand," Vroom said. "If you have neither of those things, you have no business refilling one."