All Toner Cartridges are the Same, Right?

In the words of the Grinch, “Wrongo”.

It can be very confusing if you are shopping for a toner cartridge on the internet.  You might find prices ranging from $20 to $250 for the same cartridge.  You might also see words like “compatible”, “remanufactured”, or “OEM”.  There is a big difference.  But what does it all mean?

OEM (Original Equipment Manufactured) Cartridges

These are brand name cartridges and usually the most expensive cartridges on the market.  Some of the big brand names in the toner cartridge industry are: HP, Canon, Sharp, Xerox, or Lexmark.  This can be a little confusing, however, because Xerox for example offers remanufactured HP cartridges with their label.  These are not brand name cartridges.  OEM cartridges biggest advantage is that they do offer consistently high quality prints.  Hewlett Packard states that their rate of success is 97%.  So even HP has a 3% failure rate!  Once they are used, OEM cartridges can be recycling into remanufactured cartridges.  Most of these companies also offer in-house recycling programs.

Compatible Cartridges

In the aftermarket industry, these cartridges are also referred to as “Clones”.  Clone cartridges are molded overseas and made to fit inside of a printer but their mainly designed to be cheap.  They contain cheaper materials and plastics which usually results in poor print quality and print defects.  These cartridges can also damage the printer itself resulting in expensive repairs or replacement.  The clone industry often infringes on the Intellectual Property (IP) of brand name manufacturers.  In January of this year, Canon filed a lawsuit against 18 companies claiming IP infringement related to gears on aftermarket OPC drums.  This is one of many lawsuits that have been filed over the past couple of years.  Another disadvantage to using compatible cartridges is the negative environmental impact.  They cannot be recycled or remanufactured so these cartridges end up in the landfill.  Not to mention the resources that were originally used in producing the cartridge.  When shopping for cartridges, if the price is too good to be true it is probably a clone.

Remanufactured Cartridges

Remanufactured cartridges or “Remans”, start with a used OEM cartridge.  The used cartridge is disassembled, cleaned, worn parts are replaced with aftermarket components, and then refilled with aftermarket toner.  These cartridges are the most environmentally friendly option as the majority of the cartridge is reused and can usually be remanufactured several times.  They are generally sold at a 20% to 40% discount compared to an OEM making them a very affordable option.  A good, quality, remanufactured cartridge produces a high quality print.

As with most things in life, “You get what you pay for” also applies to toner cartridges.  It is worth doing some homework to make an informed decision.  There are more factors to consider than price alone.  Product quality, print quality, IP infringement, and environmental impact are factors that should be considered as well.


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