With a large number of households (and most small businesses) now owning and using at least one printer, the thorny issue of ink cartridges remains shrouded in mystery to the majority of users.

In recent years, all the top desktop printer manufacturers (including HP, Lexmark, Epson, Canon and Brother) have introduced smaller, faster machines that take up less space on the desktop, which is great.

The disadvantage, however, is that the ink cartridges inside the machines have generally become much smaller, contain less ink and therefore need to be replaced more frequently.

Going back just a few years to the late 1990s, and the printers produced might take a black inkjet containing 40ml or more of ink, the very common HP45 is an excellent example containing 42ml .

A tri-color cartridge will typically contain 30 ml or more, HP78A (38 ml) being an example of a widely used cartridge. Although HP examples have been used here, the other manufacturers also produced and sold larger-format printers.

In the late 21st century, the price of digital cameras and desktop printers was much lower. Printer makers realized there was a lot of profit to be made from selling printer supplies to a mass market that was growing (and still is) at a phenomenal pace.

Delivering printers at an incredibly attractive price was a short-term expense, but led to a long-term gain from highly profitable ongoing sales of cartridges and photo paper.

Having established this marketing method a few years ago, manufacturers have recently gradually reduced the amount of ink that comes with the printers from new and inside the cartridges that were later sold.

These days, a typical cartridge for a new printer contains less than 10 ml of ink, many only 5 ml. That’s 5 ml – a teaspoon.

Interestingly, many of the cartridges that come with only 5 ml of ink are exactly the same physical size as previous models supplied with much more fluid inside. The reduction simply means that cartridges need to be replaced more frequently, which keeps the boxes busy!

As printer manufacturers are overly aware, there is a huge market for non-branded printers from which they do not earn.

To combat this, they make frequent changes to model areas and even electronics within existing ranges in an effort to discourage the use of aftermarket goods.

The aftermarket (compatible or remanufactured) cartridges always contain more ink than original branded and can cost significantly less to buy.

Some would argue that the ink quality is not so good, but when comparing prints side by side, many would struggle to tell the difference.

Many ink cartridges (like most HP and Lexmark and some Canon models) can be recycled, even if the manufacturer labels them ‘Disposable only’.

A complete industry has emerged as recycling of this type of ink cartridge, known as remanufacturing. The empty cartridge is thoroughly cleaned, refilled with closely matched inks and tested to ensure quality.

Many of the remanufactured cartridges contain double or even up to three times the amount of ink offered in the same brand cartridge, giving the end user the choice of original branded products, or perhaps considering a recycled device at a lower price that will last much longer .

It’s not hard to see why re-making has grown in popularity.