Your toner refilling questions answered

How do I know it will work?

What's your track record as a company?

I bought some refill toner from another company and it was c**p. Will yours be any better?

How many times can I refill my cartridge?

Are all toners the same?

Will I get the same number of prints?

Will the quality be as good?

What's a starter kit?

Does a starter kit include toner?

Won't my drum wear out?

What about the waste toner?

What's the downside?

Is it safe?

How long does delivery take?

How do I know it will work?

printer lab test bed

Part of our printer test bed. You can see the Epson C1100, HP2600n, Oki C3300, Magicolor 2530DL and OKI C5600. Other machines, crowding out the photographer, didn't make it into the frame

In 1992, we knew it would work because we were running a small factory re-manufacturing thousands of laser printer cartridges on a commercial basis. In those days, though, there were only three products and they were all just black toner.

To cope with product development and quality control across an expanding range of printers, in 2005 we opened an enlarged 900 sq ft test lab. Our first step in developing a major new product is to buy that laser printer. We look to "get under the skin" of the printer and the cartridges over tens of thousands of test prints until we figure out how refilling it "ticks". Bulk batches of toner can be tested before we bottle it in our own bottling plant. 20 years of experience means we kind of know where to look for answers quickly, but the sheer spade-work involved needs 3 people working in a lab designed to our own spec.

test prints and microscope

On the 26th October 2006, we released our full line-up of colour refills for the Epson Aculaser C1100 after running 37,552 test prints. To our initial frustration, two other internet shop fronts had already seemed to be selling the refill about nine months before that date. We bought some toner from one of those shop fronts. The other proved impossible to order from (it wasn't in the UK). We were curious, we've been doing this for 15 years, we've got the machine, a lab, we can't find a toner that works, what was going on? Well, amigos, not only did our internet purchase not work, it also compromised our first machine by polluting the integral developer roller system. As a matter of fact, we knew how to repair it, but the average laser printer owner would have been stumped - as many were.

test laser printers racked

Laser printers queueing to get into the our lab to make the ultimate sacrifice

Number of bottles of our Epson C1100 refill we sold in the first five months after release? 643.
Number of complaints? Zero, of course.
After nearly 38,000 test prints, we knew whether or not it worked.
Isn't something like our approach the only professional way to to run a business like this? Ah hem, er, well, you would think wouldn't you?

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What's your track record?

1992: were running a small factory remanufacturing HP LaserJet II, IIP and IBM 4019 cartridges
1992: invented and sold first world's first D.I.Y. refill kit for the HP LaserJet II SX cartridge
1996: invented new method of refilling single-skinned toner cartridges and coined its name, "melt & pour"
1997: sold first HP 4 refill bottle featuring 8 micron toner particle size
1998: developed first ever colour toner refill kit for the Canon CLBP360PS
2000: after buying LaserJet 4000 refill kit and three bottles, a customer is so impressed that they, er, start their own "me too" company
2002: sold first ever Samsung ML-1210 refill bottle and put "unplug and pour" into internet vocabulary
2005: opened enlarged 900 sq ft applications and quality control lab
2006: released Epson C1100 refill after 37,552 test prints in lab. Zero complaints about product.
2007: 16th April. Total of 26 laser printers present in lab complex including Lexmark C522, Oki C3300, Oki C5600.
2007: OKI C5600/C5800 and Lexmark C522 full product line-ups released. Machines still working on production in lab.
2008: Released black, cyan and yellow refills for OKI C3300, but failed magenta in the quality control lab, finally releasing it on 16th April.

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How many times can I refill a cartridge?

With some exceptions as explained here, we hereby put our corporate neck on the chopping block and say the rule of thumb is three straight refills - and maybe then some. To be exact, it depends which cartridge you've got.

Some will tolerate more than the triple-whammy. Others are a bit iffy about three refills. A minority are even iffy about 2 refills. If a cartridge is known to rarely offer 3 refills, we point out that fact in its Starter Kit.

In our embryonic melt and pour tests in 1996, a HP LaserJet 5L/6L cartridge printed perfectly until half way through the seventh refill. In 2003, while developing the HP1010/1012/1015 refill, we refilled and ran it out 4 times. Then we all got fed up of watching it print. It was pressed into service printing out all our receipts and delivery notes for the next two years. Our record for refilling an Epson C1100 cartridge is fourteen times, because it lacks all the design features that tend to make refilling life shorter in other cartridges.

On the other side of the equation, we're recommending just 1 refill of the Samsung CLP-500 colour cartridges and the same goes for the Konica Minolta Magicolor 5430. Research is ongoing to see if this performance can be improved, but we don't control the underlying design of any laser printer that's made.

You've got to expect manufacturing variations within a certain model. Like light bulbs, some cartridges inexplicably give up the ghost early while others perform above and beyond the self-serving claims of even our literature. The Starter Kit for a given cartridge goes into detail about the number of refills that can be expected based on our empirical research (a.k.a. trial and error) in the lab.

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Are all toners the same?

Hmmm. We wish. We really do wish.

This is a bit like asking, "Are all cars the same?". Conceptually, they all get the same job done in same way. But practically, what we've got is thousands of incompatible cars from different manufacturers. A distributor from the latest mid-range Ford won't work in the latest mid-range Fiat. That same Ford distributor probably only works in a narrowly defined set of Ford models delimited by date of manufacture. I.e. not all Fords. It's the same kind of thing with laser printer toner.

True, you can put the same petrol in a lot of different cars, but this is more analogous to mains electricity in the case of laser printers. Click on a few colour laser printers listed on our web site. It won't be long before you find quite a few that are "under development". If we had one distributor that would fit in any car, we wouldn't have so many products under development, we wouldn't need a fully equipped lab with three people working in it and life would be a lot simpler.

Most of the poor customer experiences seen, now that there's a whole toner refill market out there, are caused by a naive "next in the family" approach. Internet shop-fronts with questionable toner background and presumably no research resources assumed the Epson C1100 would run on Epson C900 toner, that the Magicolor 3100 would run on Magicolor 2300 toner and so on. Interestingly, in both these cases, they do work for about 400 pages or so until the incoming toner actually gets through all the tubes and enters the developer chamber. At that point, if the invading toner isn't the right one, your refill is headed south - and it's probably taking your laser printer with it.

Now, do you want to buy your toner refill from a company that has actually checked out the toner and the refill method over at least three refills in their own lab? Or from me-too-on-those-toner-refills dot com?

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Will I get the same number of prints?

Other things being equal, the weight of toner powder determines the volume of output. We weigh the toner in original cartridges and mimic them. The weight of toner in one of our bottles has to be right for that cartridge. Too little would lead to low yield and a dissatisfied you. Too much leads to overfilling, spillage and developer roller leak problems. Some manufacturers insist on confusing everyone except their own teckies by offering cartridges of different yields for the same laser printer. For technical reasons, we sometimes mimic the lower yield, but if we can, the higher. These issues are stated in the price list if and when they apply.

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Will the quality be as good?

We swig from our own medicine bottle. In fact, we'd be just about bankrupt if we didn't print with cartridges we refill ourselves. Most of our instruction booklets and catalogues - all of them in colour these days - are printed during final "soak testing" of a soon-to-be-released product.

But we're the site that levels with you, aren't we? So:
In the vast majority of cases we have a toner offering which is indistinguishable on the page from the original.

In a minority of cases we have a toner offering which is indistinguishable for most practical applications, but which might not satisfy very exacting standards of half-tone segregation, overall lustre and the exact pantone continuity of the original toner.
We only ever test toners on bog-standard A4 copier paper and cannot guarantee their performance on other substrates such as labels, card, acetate etc.

In cases of genuine dissatisfaction, we'll let you draw the line on quality. We'll seek to understand where you're drawing that line, then we'll ask you to return any toner bottles you haven't used yet and then refund your money for everything you weren't satisfied with. (Obviously, if you went through 10 bottles of something before deciding you didn't like the quality, you'd have to accept the consumption of the first 9)

Any unused product can be returned for refund unconditionally within six months of purchase. These practices are in addition to your statutory rights.

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What's a Starter Kit?

It's a dedicated kick-start for your success in refilling a particular cartridge. It takes you from zero to hero and makes sure you get it right - first time.

It has step-by-step, photographic instructions for that cartridge and no other, a bottle of toner, the melting tool (if applicable) and any bits and pieces special to your cartridge (if applicable). It will include a replacement chip if needed.

Once you know how to do your cartridge you don't need another starter kit. Just keep refilling with bottles of toner (and perhaps more chips, if applicable).

As you can see from the number of "if applicables", each cartridge has to be approached on its merits. Relax. We've already done the work and distilled it into the Starter Kit for you.

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Does a Starter Kit include toner?

Yes. Yes. And thrice I say unto thee, yes.

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Drums eventually take a beating

The OPC drum is a rotating cylinder where the toner image is formed before it's forced to jump across onto your piece of paper. No drum is everlasting, but it can be surprising how long they'll go on. In that now legendary 1996 soak test with a HP 5L/6L cartridge, the OPC was still going strong after eleven refills. (Something else went wrong half way through refill number seven, but it wasn't the OPC drum).

In a lot of machines, the drum unit is replaced independently of the toner unit and so drum life isn't a factor at all in refilling. The Starter Kit for your cartridge goes into more detail about life-limiting factors for your cartridge. See also "how many times can I refill?".

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Waste not, want not

Waste toner generation inside a laser printer is a pretty technical issue dealt with in a variety of ways by laser printer manufacturers. Formerly a sacred cow of the toner re-manufacturing industry, who said it would be our downfall. Now just a nerd's footnote that we ourselves were largely responsible for writing.

We analyse the waste issue for every laser printer we design a refill product for. We develop the right way to deal with the waste - if one's needed - and include that in the Starter Kit's instructions.

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What's the downside?

It's normally more hassle than just buying a new cartridge.

There's a learning curve - minor - but you still have to go up it.

You have to spend 10 minutes reading our instructions. There's often a make or break issue that will lead to a disappointing result if you get it wrong.

Over the long run, it's less reliable than buying new cartridges in the sense that refilled cartridges are, by and large, more likely to develop wear-and-tear related problems (although it's only really significant in "unitary design" cartridges where toner, developer section, OPC drum and waste collection all happen in a single unit).

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Is it safe?

For those cartridges that need a hole made in them, "melt and pour" is by far the easiest way to go. As with the combustion of any organic substance (such as petrol or tobacco), a cocktail of gases can be produced, some of which are harmful or at least irritant. You need to be in a well ventilated space.

Office folklore seems to have linked black toner with cancer at some time. As far as we're aware, there's no evidence to support this. On the contrary, a two year long bio assay using a typical toner clearly showed no carcinogenicity. Carbon black, an ingredient of many black toners, was re-evaluated as group 2B by the IARC following, in our opinion, unrealistic and inhumane experiments on some luckless rats breathing immense amounts of free carbon black, not toner.

Despite continuous use in offices the world over since Xerox sold the first 914 photocopier in 1959, we know of no case of toner being linked to any disease process in humans.

We think refilling toner cartridges in the ways we talk about is safe for the average adult exercising due care. But we might be wrong. You have to decide for yourself. Whatever you decide, there's no come back on us. The next bit says that the way lawyers do and we haven't used smaller print:

All information offered is believed to be true and is offered for consideration in good faith. However, we give no warranties, neither explicit nor implicit as to the completeness or accuracy of any information offered nor the ultimate safety of refilling toner cartridges in any manner described or suggested nor the ultimate safety or hazardousness of products supplied by us. There are several foreseeable risks of personal injury if someone were to refill a laser printer cartridge in the ways we talk about. There may be other risks which can't reasonably be foreseen by us. The onus is on the purchaser to evaluate all possible risk, including the possible incompleteness or inaccuracy of currently available information, and by proceeding to use the refill product or products, the purchaser thereby assumes all risk of peril or injury howsoever arising.

If you decide not to use the product, just return it and we'll cheerfully refund your money.

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How long does delivery take?

We're not a flimsy internet "veneer shop" that sells everything short and delivers some time in the next 28 days.

We've got a dedicated warehouse, up to three month's depth of stock for bigger "movers" and our own bottling facility.

Except in rare cases of out-of-stock due to international non-availability, every order placed before 2pm on a working day goes out through our doors at 4pm the same day.

For full details on delivery methods and guaranteed next day delivery options see delivery details page

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