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 user 2005-10-12 at 10:58:00 am Views: 56
  • #13908

    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
    had passed.
    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
    to light.
    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.