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A Look Inside the Toner Cartridge Remanufacturing Process


The purpose of this paper is to provide unbiased information which will enable end-users and purchasers of replacement toner cartridges to evaluate and make informed decisions regarding the purchases they make.

It should first be said that while there are several industry trade associations, there have not been to date, any industry standards developed regarding the processes, terminology or testing procedures that a consumer can rely on for direction.

The current standards are those, the printer manufactures establish for their own products and retain as proprietary information. Aside from page yields, the printer manufactures have never released test standards to the aftermarket. Therefore, any advertising claim made stating a product meets or exceeds OEM specifications, while not necessarily false, simply can’t be proven because the OEM specifications are not available.

The only way an aftermarket manufacturer can establish any type of standard is to purchase several OEM products of each model and run tests to establish benchmarks for those criteria they feel consumers deem important i.e. print density, resolution and page yields. When these have been established they will adopt them as their own standards for quality assurance purposes.

Industry Terminology

From its infancy, the industry has used a number of different terms to describe and market its products, which has only led to additional confusion in the mind of the consumer.

Recharged cartridges: This was an early industry term that really meant nothing other than to add a mystique to the cartridge business. It seemed to imply that it was plugged into some sort of electrical apparatus that would rejuvenate it.

Recycled cartridges: A term still used by many in the industry that can mean a number of different things. It can mean a cartridge that has been crushed, melted down and comes back as a wastebasket, storage container or some other plastic product. It can also denote a cartridge that has been remanufactured for use as a toner cartridge again.

Remanufactured cartridges: A spent cartridge that has been remanufactured and made usable again by some unspecified process. The process is unspecified because every manufacturer uses different processes based on what they are technologically capable of and what they are willing to spend in costs and accept as defective rates. Because there are no industry standards these processes can vary widely. It can involved nothing more than drilling a hole in the toner hopper, refilling it, taping it over and sending it out again. Or, it can be a very involved and thorough process that calls for replacing either some or all of the parts subject to wear and thereby producing a product that is essentially new.

Compatible cartridges:  A nebulous term that can run the gamut from a poorly remanufactured cartridge, to a new replacement cartridge that has all the characteristics of the OEM, using all new materials.  The term was introduced into the marketplace by Xerox and has been adopted by many others, since though it has no meaning as far as manufacturing is concerned and is used more as a marketing term.

Performance Standards

There are many ways to measure performance and many different components and processes that affect that performance. Most companies that remanufacture toner cartridges today produce a product that incorporates certain performance standards that their customer base demands.

Most of today’s performance standards revolve around yields, print density and defective rates, all balanced against cost. If a company’s customer base is primarily a high volume text producer, such as a statement printer for a credit card company; their standards are going to be driven to print yields, meaning they will be satisfied with cartridges that may not print high quality graphics, but good text, excellent yields and marginal costs. An advertising agency on the other hand is less concerned with page yields and demands excellent print quality and is willing to pay extra to obtain that quality.

The manufacturer has to know what drives his customer base and respond accordingly. If  the customers are willing to accept slightly lower quality and changing out a defective cartridge isn’t a problem, they will want the most economical cartridge they can find in the marketplace. For those that look closely at soft costs, this isn’t something they want, and won’t tolerate defectives. Fortunately today the aftermarket has available to it virtually every component that makes up a toner cartridge allowing it to produce cartridges that will rival an OEM in all respects.

Hewlett-Packard set the standard when they developed products that would perform consistently in any environment producing good quality printing, low defective rate, and good yields. The aftermarket would do well to emulate their strategy

Information on Processes

There are as many ways to remanufacture a toner cartridge as there are companies doing it, there are some things that are givens. The main one is that virtually anything done with any component is going to affect the cartridge performance in one way or another. Listed below are the primary components in a toner cartridge with the options available in the remanufacturing process and the effects it will have on performance.

The core: This is the empty cartridge. It can either be a “virgin” (used only the original cycle) or a “non-virgin” used any number of cycles.

Using only virgin cores provides a much better platform to begin the process from. It will have little wear on all its components, both those that can be replaced with new aftermarket parts and those that can’t. Virgin cores contribute greatly to lowering a company’s defective rate and are likely to appear better to the user aesthetically.

The use of virgin cores will add substantially to the manufacturing cost of the product, a part of which is offset by the benefit of less handling of defectives.

OPC (Drum): The OPC is the spine of the cartridge and probably has the greatest impact on print quality, defective rates, page yields and cost of any component making up a cartridge. The rest of the cartridge will be no better than the OPC.

The OPC from a virgin core can be simply cleaned and reused. Since the OPC has experienced some wear during its original cycle, some print degradation is likely to occur and the mid-cycle failure rate is going to be much higher.  By reusing the OPC in this manner the cost of the cartridge can be drastically reduced but a substantial sacrifice will be made in “in-field” defective rates, which can run as high as 25% mid-cycle failures.

Re-coating a virgin OPC can be done that will add to the cost but will provide some print performance enhancement and will lower the “in-field” mid-cycle failures to near 10%. Many companies use re-coating as a compromise to simply re-using the OPC or replacing it with a new aftermarket piece.

Replacing the OPC with a new aftermarket unit will provide excellent print quality and reduce mid-cycle failures substantially. The replacement of the OPC with a new aftermarket unit will drive up the cost of the cartridge substantially and therefore is avoided by many of the volume producers. While the replacement of the OPC is an enhancement in nearly all areas, there is a possibility of lower page yields, something many manufactures overcome by simply adding more toner.

Primary Charge Roller (PCR): The PCR is responsible for putting an electronic charge on the OPC that causes unwanted toner to be repelled. This electronic charge is then “burned” through by the laser removing it only in areas that are to receive the toner that will make up the image to be printed. The PCR is subject to wear because it is driven by friction from the OPC. Like the OPC, there are several options available to the aftermarket.

The PCR can be reliably used an additional cycle with minimal if any print degradation or increased mid-cycle failures.

PCR’s can be re-coated to enhance their electrical properties and a number of companies use this process.

Replacement of the PCR is usually done only when there is obvious damage or by companies that use non-virgin cores. Replacement of this component will add a cost to the finished product causing most companies to opt for one of the other methods.

Wiper Blade: The purpose of the wiper blade is to remove excess toner from the OPC that was not transferred to the page during the printing process and deposit it into the waste-bin. It has no effect on page yields but can be a significant factor in mid-cycle failures. The wiper blade is subject to degradation from two sources. It rides on the OPC causing wear through friction to both the OPC and itself and is also subject to changes in flexibility caused by its exposure to ozone produced by the printing process. Many companies in an effort to keep costs down either don’t replace it or will use aftermarket processes that are supposed to “rejuvenate” the rubber on the blade to allow its use an additional cycle.

Developer-Roller (Mag-Sleeve): The mag-sleeve, through a combination of electrical charges and surface finish moves the toner from the hopper to the OPC. Its function is to meter the amount that’s transferred and control the evenness of the distribution across the length of the sleeve. As the sleeve wears, its surface loses its ability to pick up adequate toner to produce the proper print density. Page yields will likely increase but graphics printing will suffer. Since this component comes with a relatively high cost and accounts for very few if any mid-cycle failures, most companies will reuse a virgin mag-sleeve, either replacing or re-coating it as performance loss becomes noticeable.

Doctor Blade: The doctor blade is responsible for metering the proper amount of toner onto the mag-roller as it rotates. It works much like a squeegee through a combination of electrical charges and mechanical tension to provide a metered amount of toner, evenly distributed onto the mag-roller for transfer to the OPC, and eventually to the page. 

The doctor blade will nearly always perform through an additional cycle beyond the original.  When it fails, it usually shows up as light print yet is responsible for so few mid-cycle failures that most companies reuse the original, replacing only those with obvious need.

Toner: There are probably at least two dozen different toner manufacturers in the marketplace, with most being blenders. Toner sales are driven almost exclusively by price. The blending agents and tribo-electric charges used determine how a toner will perform under various conditions. Some will provide better density or less wear on components or better yields; each will perform differently with different components and environments. Each manufacture will select the toner they use based on the components they use and balanced against the cost. Most of the toners in the aftermarket today are designed to perform well in all environments. This has not always been the case.

When the aftermarket was in its infancy, it was believed to sell against the OEM’s that its cartridges had to print blacker to be better. Because of this OPC’s and toners were formulated “hotter”. While the cartridges produced at that time surely did print blacker, page yields dropped significantly and blasting became a problem. The bigger problem the aftermarket experienced was that a cartridge could be produced and work fine in a local market but as our businesses grew and we were shipping to other markets with different environments problems began to be experienced. A cartridge might work fine in California but when shipped to Florida ’s higher humidity it would fail miserably; or it might perform well during summer but when exposed to the drier air of winter would exhibit static bursts (a little circle) randomly on the page.

There are a number of other parts that can have an overall effect on quality and performance but the costs are negligible and are usually replaced as a part of most company’s processes, therefore they aren’t addressed here.


As can be seen here there are a number of components that have a direct bearing on yield, quality, mid-cycle failures and print quality and with each component it becomes a trade-off. There is virtually nothing that can be done to a cartridge that won’t have an impact on print quality, defective rate, page yields or cost. When a manufacturer modifies a process to enhance quality, it may come with a trade-off in yield or cost. In attempting to achieve higher yields, we may get it at a cost of print quality or higher price. In lowering costs, we may increase defective rates. The key for the manufacturer is to find the right balance that in the end, meets the customers’ expectations and will provide a better value than the OEM products which carry a much higher price.


By Denny McCarthy
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