The Benefits Of Cartridge-Free Printing

By: Christine Persaud

November 20, 2023

To say that refillable ink printers, which offer cartridge-free printing, are a game-changer would be an understatement. I have been using a refillable ink printer for years, and I would never go back. There are many reasons why, but before getting into those, let’s look at what these machines are and how they work.

What is Cartridge-free Printing?

Cartridge-free printers, otherwise known as refillable ink printers, are available from brands like Epson, Canon, and HP. Rather than use replaceable ink cartridges, they have ink reservoirs. Refill the reservoirs with ink from bottles of each colour, then print away as you normally would.

The advantage is that the ink reservoirs only need to be refilled infrequently, based on how often and how much you print. But they cost about the same as a new ink cartridge. The price of the actual printer hardware is typically much more, with a starting price of about $260, which seems like a lot considering you can get an entry-level printer nowadays for as low as $60. But the benefits and reduction in recurring fees pay for itself in the long run.

I had been using my refillable ink printer, an older-model Epson EcoTank model, for at least two years before I needed to buy ink refills. This was during a time when I was printing at least 100 pages per month in both black & white and colour. Over the five-plus years that I have owned this model, I have only purchased ink refill bottles two-to-three times. (Admittedly, my printing needs have dropped by about half). Since most of these printers come with a starter supply of ink in the box, it’s realistic that you’ll see a full 24 months pass before you need to buy ink at all.  Enter our contest to WIN Epson Ecotank ET-2850 Wireless Colour All-in-One Cartridge-Free Supertank Printer.

The Benefits of Cartridge-Free Printing

There are many advantages to cartridge-free printing that justify the higher upfront cost of the printer hardware itself.

Save Money

As noted, while cartridge-free printers tend to cost more than their ink cartridge-based counterparts, you save money in the long run. Razor blades are the example often used to explain the popular recurring revenue model, and printers arguably follow the same format: the hardware is sold at a low cost but the consumables are what generate the real profits.

This isn’t the case with cartridge-free printers. They come with full bottles of ink in the box that afford up to two years of printing from the get-go. Once it’s time to invest in replacement bottles, a set rivals the cost of a new ink cartridge or two. Do the math and only having to replenish the supply every two years or so versus several times per year adds up to significant savings. The printer will pay for itself after just the first year.


Save Time

It’s not only about cost savings but also time saving. Have you ever been in the thick of printing only to realize you’re out of ink? Maybe it’s a student on a deadline, burning the midnight oil to finish a report that’s due to next day only to run out of ink halfway through. Or a home-based business owner or small business running out at the worst possible time, just when a client is about to come in for a meeting. Tax time? Running out of ink right in the middle of printing all your documentation or a copy of your tax return can really set you back.

While you could theoretically buy extra ink cartridges and keep them on standby, realistically, not many people do this at home. However, having a single set of refill ink bottles in the hopper when any of the colour tanks are running low is simpler. And because the ink needs to be refilled far less often, the chances of you running out at the worst time possible are drastically reduced.

No Late-Night Rushing to the Store

This, in turn, means there’s no late-night rushes to the local store to grab a replacement cartridge. For those who tend to work off hours, this might mean driving around to find a spot that’s still open and has the specific ink cartridge you need. What’s more, the overall need for fewer refill bottles means spending less on gas to get to the store to buy them in the first place, or less on delivery charges to have them sent direct to your home.

They Often Come in AIO Designs

Most cartridge-free printers come in all-in-one designs which means they also scan and copy while still maintaining a compact, desktop size. You can make copies and scans with ease, useful for small and home-based businesses as well as students. Even if you use these features infrequently, having them baked into the machine makes them a worthwhile investment.

Easy Ink Refills

Sometimes, replacing ink cartridges can be a daunting process. You need to figure out the exact printer make and model and find the compatible cartridge. This means running down the list of compatible models on a label to find the right one. Replacing it often requires opening the machine and figuring out the removal and insertion process. It’s often not complicated, but for some, it can be intimidating to do on your own.

Cartridge-free printers have simple ink reservoirs, one for each colour. Open the bottle, pour the ink inside, and that’s it. They are often positioned in easy-to-reach spots like on the side or even at the front of the machine so there’s nothing to open but a lid. And since there are fewer cartridge-free printers on the market than standard ink cartridge-based ones, finding the right ink bottle set is much simpler.

Better For the Environment

While the ink might still come in plastic bottles, since you are buying them less often, you’re using fewer of them. Ink cartridges, meanwhile, come in boxes, plastic wrap, and then must be discarded responsibly once they are replaced. There are printer cartridge recycling programs, but the reality is that a lot of Canadians likely just toss an old cartridge in the garbage, and they end up in landfills. Since the printer hardware itself is more expensive, it’s built to last versus entry-level “throwaway” printers that need to be replaced after a few years.

Cartridge-Free Printing is the Way to Go

As someone who has been using a cartridge-free/refillable ink printer for the last 6+ years, I can confidently say that they are worth it. Over time, I have found that I need to run a printer head clean every so often if the printer is left idle for too long. But aside from that, the model I have works as new.

For the model I have, a set of ink bottles costs about $100 for all four, which sounds like a lot. But when you consider buying a $30 ink cartridge replacement 5-6 times a year, it works out to be the same, or even less, depending on your printing needs. That isn’t even factoring in the hassle to buzz ratio.

Bottom line: after jumping on the cartridge-free/refillable ink printing bandwagon, I would never go back.

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