Testing the HP printer was difficult because HP takes an unusual approach toward diminishing ink supplies in its cartridges: The HP Photosmart C5280 multifunction printer we tested didn't shut down as ink levels approached exhaustion. With an OEM cartridge installed, the printer displayed warning messages as the ink level dropped, but it never forced us to replace the cartridge.
As a result, we continued printing until the pages began showing telltale signs of low ink, such as banded text. The HP printer will continue to print until the cartridge is completely dry--but since the print heads are part of the cartridge in HP's design, running out of ink does not damage other parts of the printer.
When using an aftermarket cartridge from LD Products, the C5280 failed to post any low-ink warnings--either on our test computer or on the printer console. Does that mean HP's warning system works only with house-brand cartridges? Not necessarily, but HP suggests that you are better off with its OEM cartridges. "Most aftermarket cartridges do not signal 'low-on-ink' alerts, giving customers no advance warning that ink is running low," wrote HP spokesperson Katie Neal in an e-mail message.
LD Products' Chafetz disagrees. He says that LD's Photosmart C5280-compatible products are actually refurbished and refilled HP cartridges. One possible explanation for the lack of a low-ink warning is that the printer wasn't reading the refurbished cartridge's chip code correctly, he says.
Chafetz says that the results from PC World's tests mark the first time that LD Products' technicians have heard of their cartridges' not posting a low-ink warning.
The Kodak Easyshare 5300 All-in-One was the only printer that lasted longer with an aftermarket cartridge than it did with the manufacturer's cartridge. Equipped with a Kodak cartridge, this printer shut down with 43 percent of the ink remaining. Its full quantity of ink weighed 16.857 grams, and its unused ink after shutdown weighed 7.272 grams.
Kodak doesn't dispute our findings, but the company argues that our results don't tell the whole story. Roderick Eslinger, Kodak technical marketing manager, says that Kodak's in-house tests in 2007 indicated that 65 percent of its cartridge ink was used for consumer printing, while 35 percent was used to "protect/maintain optimal Kodak printer performance and document quality." Eslinger says that the remaining ink is "already factored into our industry advertising claims for consumers, and that Kodak cartridges offer "low costs and high quality yields as compared to competitors."
With a G&G cartridge, the Kodak printer shut down with 36 percent of the ink remaining in the tank. The leftover ink weighed 5.360 grams. Kodak chose not to comment on the aftermarket results.