‘Clone’ Third-Party Toner Cartridges: Good Deal or Not?

Third-party clone toner cartridge.

HP Inc. recently published new findings concerning third-party “clone” or “compatible” toner cartridges that are marketed as lower-cost alternatives to HP original toner cartridges. Among the findings from independent test labs such as Wirth Consulting are that clone cartridges deliver low-quality prints that create significant costs in reprints, high failure rates, negative environmental impact, safety risks, and greater printer-service costs.

Before taking a closer look at clone cartridges, first we’ll look at the different types of toner cartridges:

  • Original HP-branded ink and toner cartridges are developed by HP, sold through approved resellers, and can be verified by the printer when installed.
  • Compatible or clone cartridges are developed and assembled by a third-party reseller using no original HP technology or parts. These aren’t original HP cartridges, and while they may be marketed as HP compatible, they haven’t been designed to work with HP printers, nor have the toners been calibrated to optimally perform with HP printers. Clone “compatible” cartridges aren’t endorsed or managed by HP,  don;t meet HP’s manufacturing standards, and may even violate patents.
  • Remanufactured cartridges are empty HP cartridges that have been disassembled, refilled, and reassembled by a third-party. While they contain pieces of HP technology, the rebuilt cartridges are no longer calibrated or reconstructed to HP standards.
  • Counterfeit toner cartridges are newly built, refilled or remanufactured, and are illegally labeled as being manufactured by HP or other printer brands. They illegally infringe on brand names and trademarks.

Counterfeit HP ink cartridges.

Third-party clone toner cartridge.

According to findings from independent research labs:

  • Seventy-three percent of clone cartridges failed during use or right-out-of-the box.
  • Clone cartridges produced 41-percent fewer usable pages.
  • 50-percent of clone cartridges resulted in higher costs due to reprints, failures, and services.
  • Clone cartridges resulted in four-times the number of service calls.

Other concerns: clone cartridges may cause the HP printer to fail Blue Angel specifications; they may also pose unknown health and safety hazards, and can cause permanent damage to printers.

How to be sure you’re buying an HP Original toner cartridge? Look for the brand name on the package – if it says “compatible,” it’s probably a clone. If the packaging does say HP, look for the security tag to verify that it’s authentic. Other red flags include differences in plastic color, cartridge shape, or labels. Inferior print quality or a leaking cartridge are also red flags.

For a detailed look at Wirth Consulting’s testing of clone cartridges, see Should You Buy Third-Party Toner Cartridges for Your Laser Printer? Our Hands-On Test Report Provides the Answers.