INK CARTRIDGE WARS & VALUE FOR YOUR MONEY
INK CARTRIDGE WARS & VALUE FOR YOUR MONEY
2005-10-12 at 10:55:00 am #13953
Inkjet Wars:Value For Your Money
October 2005 A new vendor of off-brand inkjet ink seemingly pops up every day. Should
you buy the cheapest ink you can find for your particular printer? Or
is there is a better way to get both value and quality for your
The truth is that you may
be unhappy with some of the cheap inks that are being advertised as
“100% compatible.” Fortunately, I’ve found that you can save money
while still getting reliable results for your printed documents and
brand-name inkjet ink can cost three times as much as “compatible”
inks.Wilhelm Imaging Research, an independent testing lab, had proved
that inkjet prinouts can have real permanence. Wilhelm says HP and
Epson printers can produce prints that won’t noticeably fade even after
80 to 100 years — if you use these makers’ top-quality supplies.
Can other brands of ink and paper perform as well for less money? The
answer is yes — if you know exactly what you’re looking for.
Beating The Major Manufacturers To The Punch
One third-party ink manufacturer that has a long track record is MIS
Associates Inc. of Lake Orion, Michigan, which operates a Web site
named InkSupply.com. MIS claims several firsts in the industry,
including developing archival Epson-compatible inks for museum-quality
black-and-white photographic prints back in 1999. “We actually beat
Epson to market with archival inks by about a year,” says Marc Hornung,
general manager of MIS.
Unlike many other independent ink makers, MIS has a history of testing
its inks for permanence, contracting with outside labs for additional
testing, and publishing the results. Back in Sept. 1999, MIS released
its own data as well as figures from the neutral Rochester Institute of
Technology. At the time, these tests showed that MIS’s archival inks
faded much less than Epson’s brand-name inks when subjected to the
harsh lamps that are used to simulate decades of exposure to light.
Since those days, Epson has greatly improved its best inks. Hornung, to
his credit, has strong praise for his giant competitor. “Epson has just
completely blown away the industry with the permanence of their pigment
ink sets,” he says. This is borne out by recent Wilhelm tests, which
showed in a July 2005 PDF report that Epson’s PictureMate printers,
ink, and photo paper would suffer no perceptible fading until 104 years
Printers and supplies from other manufacturers can also produce good
results, but with a difference. “Canon and HP primarily use
pigment-based ink only in the Black position,” Hornung says. The
dye-based inks that are used for the various other inkjet colors can’t
match the permanence of pigments, he explains.
Printouts That Will Probably Outlive You
Faced with the new pigment-based inks from Epson, MIS went to work to
develop even more long-lasting formulations. In 2004, MIS replaced its
older, Quadtone inks with a special line called Ultra-Tone inks. The
company published new stress tests showing that its black and grey
Epson-compatible inks (used to produce museum-quality black-and-white
prints) faded only imperceptibly after a simulated 90 years of exposure
For companies that need to ensure their printouts will last for
decades, MIS produces several lines of Ultra-Tone inks for different
printers. The Easy B&W Ultra-Tone series can be used to produce
black-and-white images on, for example, Epson C86 printers (under $100
street) with no special software. The black and grey ink cartridges are
simply placed in the usual Black, Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow positions.
Quality black-and-white printouts are the result, instead of color
Different Ultra-Tone lines are produced for Epson’s newer 4-color,
6-color, and 7-color printers. These models can benefit from Photoshop
software or adjustments to the settings in the standard Epson printer
driver to produce an extended color range.
Price Wars Rage For Rock-Bottom Inks
For a man in such a competitive industry, Hornung is surprisingly open
when explaining the third-party ink market. A few years ago, there were
only a handful of specialized inkjet ink makers, he says. “I’d venture
to say there are now hundreds of different distributors.”
The globalization of ink sources is radically changing the market. “The
massive quantity of low-quality Chinese inks is severely impacting our
operations,” Hornung says. To change with the times, MIS now sells
brand-name inks as well as cheap imported inks alongside its own
high-quality product lines.
If you visit MIS’s Epson ink cartridge page, for example, you’ll see
the company selling everything from genuine, $11 Epson cartridges to
“aftermarket” (Chinese) cartridges as low as $5 each. Ultra-Tone ink
prices run slightly below Epson’s, in cases where an Ultra-Tone
cartridge is available for a given printer.
Aside from ink cartridges, MIS also competes by developing products
that major printer makers haven’t and probably never will. For example,
by far the least expensive method to operate an inkjet printer is to
use MIS’s Continuous Flow System. This contraption feeds a printer’s
ink cartridges using hoses into palm-sized bottles of liquid ink. This
method can cost as little as 1/10th the price of individual cartridges.
It’s also relatively clean and trouble-free, unlike kits that allow you
to “refill” spent cartridges.
MIS warns that the print nozzles in Epson printers tend to clog in dry
climates or when using inferior ink unless an least one print is made
every 24 hours. The company gives away free Autoprint software that
automatically produces a page of output daily so you don’t have to
Paper Makes A Difference In Printouts
When it comes to quality ink, even the most frugal independents can’t
charge very much less than the major manufacturers. “There are some
materials that go into high-quality inks that don’t have much
competition and the prices haven’t gone down,” Hornung says. MIS,
therefore, sells inks in all price ranges and lets the customer decide
which to choose.
It comes as a surprise to many consumers to learn that the paper you
select can have a huge effect on the quality of your inkjet printouts.
MIS executives are particularly impressed with a relatively new kind of
paper called Viastone.
“I can print using the poorest quality ink on the best quality paper,
which is Viastone, and submerge it in water and it won’t run at all,”
Hornung says. The material uses no wood fibers, consisting entirely of
mineral powders that are formed into sheets of paper, according to the
manufacturer’s Web site, Viastone.net.
For other quality papers, see MIS’s paper comparison and sample page
and read the test results for different papers that are shown for Epson
and HP printers in column 5 of Wilhelm’s home page.
Getting The Best Value For Your Money
Having said all of the above, what’s the bottom line to get the best
results for your buying dollar? My conclusions come down to the
• Quality inks and papers. To get accurate colors and lasting
printouts, buy the best inks and papers you can. Select products that
are offered by the manufacturer of your printer or by reputable
third-party makers, such as MIS, that publish independent permanence
tests. If you don’t look for trustworthy test results, the inks you buy
may produce off-color prints today and look faded tomorrow.
• Genuine products at bargain prices. If you do choose to buy
name-brand inks and papers, don’t buy them at list prices directly from
the manufacturer. I’ve found discounts of as much as 1/3 on genuine
printer manufacturer supplies at e-tailers like Amazon.com. If you see
the word “compatible” in the description, however, be aware that the
ink is only an imitation.
• Cheap ink when quality doesn’t matter. Perhaps your business prints
only internal memos that will be looked at once and immediately tossed.
If you use a dye-based printer, such as HP or Canon, you can buy the
cheapest ink you can find at MIS or other legitimate online sites. The
colors may be off, but who cares? In fact, with the price of inkjet
printers approaching zero, you should consider buying one printer to
churn out memos and another printer — with high-quality ink and paper
– to print documents that have to look good and stay looking good.
Until inkjet inks and papers are routinely tested by some government
agency, you can’t tell the good inks without checking with a private
test lab. If quality doesn’t count, you can buy whatever ink costs you
the least. If your documents are worth something, however, buy only
inks and papers with longevity ratings that are publicly posted at
Wilhelm, MIS, or elsewhere.