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Published: 9/28/2006

Walgreens blazes local ink-refill trail

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Andrew Dauer, assistant manager of the Monroe Street Walgreens, refills a cartridge at the recently installed machine. Andrew Dauer, assistant manager of the Monroe Street Walgreens, refills a cartridge at the recently installed machine.
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Tubes plug into ports to deliver the ink colors. Tubes plug into ports to deliver the ink colors.
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For his work as a real estate agent, Keith Carpenter prints a lot of documents and spends more than $100 a month on ink cartridges.

So, when he visited a local Walgreens last week and noticed a machine that can refill ink cartridges in 10 minutes - and save customers up to 50 percent compared with the cost of a new cartridge - he decided to try it yesterday.

"I figured why not try it. And if it works, I'll certainly come here again," said Mr. Carpenter, who works for DiSalle Realty Co.

A Walgreens on Monroe Street and one on Reynolds Road last month became the first local stores for the chain to receive $40,000 cartridge refill machines.

The drugstore company plans to put them in 1,500 of its 5,000 stores.

But other retailers expect to add similar machines.

OfficeMax plans to have an ink-refill kiosk in at least one of its Toledo stores before year's end. Both Office Depot Inc. and Staples Inc. are test-marketing a similar service nationally. Other stores also could add the lower-cost service for computer printers.

The price of ink per milliliter from big printer manufacturers such Hewlett Packard has been rising 1 percent annually, according to Lyra Research, a consultantcy.

Plus, the amount of ink in cartridges has been decreasing, although manufacturers contend they have found new ways to maximize ink flow.

Some, though, question the quality of the replacement inks, especially for higher-end printing such as photographs.

Still, a lower cost is what caught Mr. Carpenter's eye. The chain offers to refill a variety of Hewlett Packard, Dell, Lexmark, Xerox, Canon, Epson, and Okidata cartridges.

The cost is about half that for new cartridges. For example, an HP black ink cartridge costs $33 at Best Buy but is refilled for $15 at Walgreens. An HP 17 color cartridge is $35 new, and $16.50 for a refill.

Walgreens had been recylcing ink cartridges, giving a customers who do so a discount for photo printing, and the refills are even cheaper, said company spokesman Tiffani Bruce.

The chain tested its machines, and customers liked the quality, she said. Hewlett-Packard threatened to sue the firm this year, contending the replacement inks infringed on its copyrighted ink formulas, she added.

"Our position is the quality of our ink is comparable to [that of original ink manufacturers]," Ms. Bruce said. "It obviously must be pretty good if it's so close that the manufacturer thinks there's some infringement."

Paul Zalecki, owner of Computer Renaissance on Monroe Street, said inks made by refill services are very good for people who do ordinary document printing jobs with their computers.

But tests by Consumer Reports and others have shown that refill inks fade quickly compared with inks made by large printer manufacturers.

"If you want to print plain old black or color on documents, refills are fine," Mr. Zalecki said. "But if you're going to print photos, the manufacturers' inks have been tested to last a large number of years. Secondary inks don't have much of a life span."

Contact Jon Chavez at:

jchavez@theblade.com

or 419-724-6128.



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