*NEWS*STINK OVER INK CARTRIDGES

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*NEWS*STINK OVER INK CARTRIDGES

 user 2006-09-04 at 11:19:00 am Views: 73
  • #16378

    Stink over ink cartridges
    Printer cartridges can be ridiculously expensive but there are cheaper alternatives.
    You
    can almost feel Kevin Cobley’s blood pressure rising when he talks
    about the cost of inkjet printer cartridges. “I think the whole thing
    is a scam,” he says. “Someone needs to do something about it.”Cobley, a
    regular home printer user, gets riled enough to fire off regular emails
    and letters on the topic to politicians.He also refuses to buy
    “genuine” cartridges for his Canon printer, opting instead to refill
    his cartridges himself with a third-party ink and, he says, save
    hundreds of dollars a year.”The refills print photographs beautifully,”
    he says. “Any of the stories they [manufacturers] tell you about dodgy
    cartridges is a lot of tripe.”And Cobley, from Katoomba, is far from
    alone in his irritation. If there is one topic above all others
    guaranteed to provoke responses from readers of Icon’s weekly
    Troubleshooter column, it’s the whole issue of inkjet cartridges and
    alleged “dirty tricks” by printer manufacturers.At the heart of the
    disquiet is the printer industry’s tactic of selling printers
    relatively cheaply, then relying on subsequent sales of replacement
    cartridges to bolster the bottom line.It’s a business model perfected
    by razor manufacturers, who still tend to sell the shaving device at a
    knockdown price then hit you hard for replacement blades.A good example
    is Lexmark’s basic Z617 inkjet printer, which is an absolute steal at
    about $44. But when the time comes to buy a replacement colour ink
    cartridge, be prepared to part with up to $53. A generic replacement
    cartridge can be purchased for less than $40 and the savings are even
    greater if you choose to refill the cartridge yourself or take it to
    one of the many specialist refilling stores.The Lexmark example is at
    the extreme end of the scale, but it is still common for a full set of
    replacement cartridges to cost more than a quarter of the original
    price of the printer. For instance, a full set of cartridges for
    Epson’s $199 Epson Stylus Photo R250 costs $57.96, while a set of
    generic cartridges can be had for $35.80.All this creates a perception
    of poor value, in turn encouraging printer and ink manufacturers to
    spend a lot of time and money persuading users that genuine inks are,
    in fact, worth the expense.And the stakes are high. Last year,
    according to IT industry analyst IDC Australia, about 20 million inkjet
    cartridges were sold in Australia, worth about $600 million. Of that
    total, 77 per cent were “genuine” cartridges, about 13 per cent were
    compatibles and the remainder were counterfeits or so-called “parallel
    imports”.These figures do not take into account the likes of Kevin
    Cobley who chose to refill their own.Interestingly, compatibles claimed
    17 per cent of the market the previous year. However, according to IDC
    analyst Katarzyna Czubak, the 2005 figure is probably a temporary
    decline and reflects the introduction of a new generation of printers
    and the time taken by third-party manufacturers to produce new
    compatible cartridges.”I would say that is a short-term shrinking of
    the compatible market,” Czubak says. “As [third-party manufacturers]
    come up with a solution for, say, Canon’s new cartridges, these
    shipments should spike. Also, we would have to wait for the printers to
    age a little because end users tend to try to get original supplies for
    their brand-new printers just in case.”Robin Kenyon is a veteran of
    this mini “arms race” between printer manufacturers and the third-party
    cartridge makers. Kenyon is managing director of Calidad, which claims
    to be Australia’s No. 1 seller of compatibles and refill kits.”It’s
    been like this for as long as I have known it,” he says. “We started
    doing ink products in 1990. Our first ribbon product was a golfball
    typewriter ribbon in 1975 and the same activities and discussions were
    as energetic in those days as they are today.”[Printer technology] is
    changing all the time – it’s a cat-and-mouse game. Ironically, that’s
    what those who are in it enjoy. It would really be rather dull if it
    were all the same and we would not have the kind of niche business that
    we have if everybody was able to mass-produce those cartridges.”As soon
    as a new printer is released onto the market, Kenyon and his team snap
    it up and start analysing what is different about it and the ink it is
    designed to use. Samples are sent back and forth between the
    researchers in Sydney and the factories in China until they are
    satisfied they have “cracked” the new printer.For the printer
    manufacturers’ part, they say there is only one reason for the constant
    changes in ink formulation and cartridge design – producing a better
    product for the consumer.”A tremendous amount of time and money goes
    into developing the printers we now have and we’re continuously
    improving in terms of quality, speed and more functions,” says a
    spokesman for Canon Australia, K. C. Lu. “At the end of the day we just
    want to provide a consistent quality and reliability to consumers.”And
    if that process makes life difficult for the third-party manufacturers
    along the way, hey, all’s fair in love and business.A recent problem
    for third-party manufactures has been the introduction of onboard chips
    on new printer cartridges, which tell users the cartridge is due to be
    replaced or that it has been incorrectly fitted.The chips are also very
    difficult for the third-party manufacturers to “crack” as they can
    report to the printer whether a replacement cartridge is genuine or
    whether it has been refilled. The latest generation of Canon cartridges
    is proving particularly difficult for the compatible manufacturers to
    crack.”The question I have is whether this chip technology is helping
    the average punter,” says David Campbell, chairman of the Australasian
    Cartridge Remanufacturers Association.”My feeling is that the answer is
    no. As far as the average punter goes, there is probably no great
    benefit. They are protecting their patch but I question whether the
    introduction of chips is achieving all it’s supposed to do.”There’s no
    doubt the technology behind the modern inkjet printer is truly
    gobsmacking. Lu says some of Canon’s newest printers eject ink droplets
    as small as one picolitre, or one trillionth of a litre, at a rate of
    up to 150 million droplets a second.”It’s really high-tech stuff,” he
    adds.Lu is very measured when asked whether Canon customers shouldn’t
    use third-party cartridges and inks in their printers.”Canon’s policy
    is to let customers choose,” he says. “If they want to use third-party
    ink, they can do that but our focus is to educate customers in terms of
    the benefits of using genuine ink.Internal Canon research shows about
    80 per cent of its customers use Canon inks, proving “Australian
    consumers need that reliability and consistent quality”, Lu
    says.Getting a good handle on the issue of print quality is far from
    easy, if not impossible. Claims and counterclaims fly thick and fast
    from the well-resourced marketing arms of companies such as Epson,
    Canon and HP, while the compatible manufacturers are not shy of making
    sometimes extravagant claims about their own products.And, to a large
    extent, quality is in the eye of the beholder – an eye to which small,
    incremental improvements in quality may not be apparent. Put another
    way, the quality of output demanded by a professional photographer is a
    long way from what is acceptable to a 14-year-old printing a school
    project.However, quality becomes irrelevant if, by using compatible
    cartridges, you risk damaging your precious printer and voiding the
    warranty in the process. All the printer manufacturers point out that
    there is a risk with third-party cartridges.For instance, Epson’s
    standard warranty says “if you use non-Genuine Consumables, software,
    replacement parts or accessories, you may damage your Product and may
    void your warranty”.A casual reading may give the impression that
    simply using a compatible cartridge will void your warranty. However,
    the legal situation is clear – it may void your warranty if there is a
    problem. But the printer manufacturers must first prove the ink or
    cartridge is the culprit before they can escape their obligations.
    Customers have their obligations as well – for example, they can void
    their warranty if they drop the printer.Campbell says there are very
    few failures among cartridges supplied by ACRA members; he admits there
    can be quality problems with some overseas manufactured products. But
    he adds: “We also get a percentage of failures among the original
    manufacturers’ products.”The legalities are clear but the rest of the
    genuine versus non-genuine debate is far from clear. In fact, it is
    impossible to give a conclusive answer on which works better.If, like
    Kevin Cobley, by playing with different paper and inks you’ve found a
    set-up that produces prints you are happy with and that also saves you
    a packet, then stick with what you’ve got. If, however, using
    non-genuine consumables bothers you or you believe genuine cartridges
    get a better result, it may be worth shelling out the extra
    dough.Ultimately you need to trust your own eyes and not be too swayed
    by the marketing hype from either side.How efficient are they?Printer
    manufacturers hate telling you how much ink there is in their
    cartridges.For instance, we asked Canon, Epson and HP to choose a
    printer worth about $200, then give details of the cartridge capacity,
    cost etc.It took a lot of cajoling before Canon and HP would reveal the
    amount of ink in their cartridges and Epson refused point-blank to
    divulge the information.All three said their reluctance was because
    they didn’t want to confuse customers – they much prefer to talk about
    the number of average pages you could expect to get out of a particular
    cartridge.In some ways, this is not unreasonable, yet the yield per
    page calculation is far easier to manipulate due to the many variables
    on which it is based, such as page coverage.How else would you explain
    the fact the manufacturers themselves fiercely dispute each other’s
    figures?For instance, Canon ripped into HP in June over the latter’s
    “fuel efficient printing” campaign, reportedly calling it “pure
    gimmick” and alleging it was based on tests done on obsolete
    products.Meanwhile, Epson continues to claim on its site that its
    printers are the cheapest to use on a page yield basis – and then in
    the small print it says, “In the absence of ISO standards, Epson
    encourages users to consider independent third party data and to use
    manufacturers’ data primarily as a comparison between printers.”Is
    there any wonder users are confused – and the manufacturers perhaps
    prefer it like that? NG InfofilL”Compatibles” come in several forms.
    Cartridges can be refilled with compatible ink either at home or over
    the counter at a specialist refilling store. Then there are
    “remanufactured” cartridges – original cartridges that have been reused
    and refilled. Finally there are the true compatibles that are made from
    scratch.