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 user 2008-07-01 at 11:05:02 am Views: 51
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    Cheap ink: Will it cost you?
    replacement ink from a third-party vendor can save you big bucks. But
    will you pay with lousy-looking prints that fade in no time? We did
    months of testing to find out Razor-blade makers sell consumers the
    shaver at low prices and then make a killing selling replacement
    blades. Printer manufacturers do the same thing — selling their
    printers on the cheap and then making bank on expensive consumables
    like ink. It’s a time-tested practice that’s inspired a lively
    aftermarket of cheap ink from third-party suppliers.The printer makers
    – the original equipment manufacturers, or OEMs — claim that their
    ink is worth the premium prices they charge for it. OEM ink, they say,
    creates images that are more accurate and color-rich and longer-lived.
    Third-party suppliers, on the other hand, say that their inks are just
    as good but cost a lot less. For example, HP charges $18 for a black
    ink cartridge for its Photosmart C5180 printer, but the same cartridge
    remanufactured by Cartridge World costs only $8.75.Who’s telling the
    truth? To find out, PC World teamed up with the Rochester Institute of
    Technology, a respected research university known for its top-notch
    laboratory for testing imaging products. Using popular ink jet printers
    from Canon, Epson, Hewlett-Packard, Kodak and Lexmark, we ran
    side-by-side tests of brand-name and third-party inks to compare image
    quality and fade resistance. We also tracked how many pages each
    cartridge churned out before running dry.Our tests show that all of the
    third-party inks in our test group yielded more prints per cartridge –
    on top of costing less — but that, with some notable exceptions, the
    printer manufacturers’ ink we evaluated usually produced better-quality
    prints and proved more resistant to fading. Of course, our conclusions
    apply only to the printers we tested. We couldn’t test all of the
    printers that are available (partly because you can’t get third-party
    ink for all of them), so we picked a set of mainstream ink-jet printers
    from recognized brands as a way of taking a snapshot view of the ink

    The image quality face-off
    The PC World Test Center
    created a number of different text and image printouts, pitting
    manufacturers’ inks against third-party inks in five different
    printers. Image samples included a motion shot of cars on a racetrack,
    a close-up of a butterfly, a photo of a group of people with different
    skin tones and a black-and-white photo of a boat. For text we created
    Word document samples on plain paper; for line art we designed a test
    document with closely grouped vertical and horizontal lines. Judges
    then rated the pages for qualities such as color accuracy and vibrancy,
    sharpness of text and of line art, and contrast levels in grayscale
    images.In most matchups, brand-name inks outperformed third-party
    alternatives, but there were a few instances in which third-party inks
    fared just as well as the brand-name inks did. For example, in
    evaluations of output from the HP Photosmart C5180 printer, inks from
    third-party challengers Cartridge World and LD Products earned scores
    identical to those awarded to HP’s own ink, including an overall rating
    of Good, on almost all of our tests. Both the HP and the third-party
    inks printed color glossies quite well but were just so-so at producing
    color images on plain paper.However, after RIT technicians submitted
    their fade and yield results — and returned the printers they had
    tested to us — they became concerned that some of the HP-brand ink
    might have remained in the HP 5180 printer when it was printing test
    images using third-party ink, because the printer has unusual, long ink
    tubes that connect the cartridges with the printer nozzles. RIT
    therefore recommended that we omit the HP and HP-compatible inks from
    the fade test results.We subsequently conducted our own tests to
    determine how much ink could have remained in the HP printer’s tubes.
    To do so, we swapped the cyan and magenta inks (in a set of aftermarket
    cartridges) and printed a color composition. The image quality changed
    dramatically with the eighth print, indicating that the swapped ink had
    flushed the HP ink; if any difference in image quality were to occur,
    it would have to happen after the machine had printed eight pages. We
    then printed 20 pages from each set of cartridges — HP’s ink and three
    aftermarket inks — and saw no change in print quality, a result
    tending to support our earlier conclusion that the print quality of the
    third-party ink was equal to that of the HP ink.In output from an Epson
    CX5000 printer, Epson’s and LD Products’ inks performed well overall,
    though the Epson ink scored higher for its color glossies and grayscale
    prints. Our judges didn’t care for the line-art output from either
    vendor’s ink, however; one judge commented: “Blech! Lots of overlapping
    lines. Horrible diagonals — jagged and feathery.Tested in a Canon
    Pixma MP830 printer, Canon ink produced samples that looked
    particularly sharp in our plain text, color glossy and grayscale print
    tests. A third-party competitor, TrueStar, was no slouch either,
    receiving an overall score of Good. The TrueStar ink excelled at color
    glossies but fell far short of Canon ink at printing on plain paper,
    whether the content consisted of color images, grayscale images, or
    text.Lexmark’s house brand of ink (tested in a Lexmark X3470 printer)
    earned a Good overall score, and its color glossy output snagged the
    only superior rating our judges awarded. Meanwhile, the inks from
    Cartridge World, and Walgreens earned lower marks
    overall: For color glossies, the third-party inks earned scores of Good
    or Very Good (below the ratings for Lexmark’s own ink), and their
    grayscale output received a grade of Poor. Our panel criticized the
    third-party inks for banding (abrupt changes between shades of the same
    color) and for odd,

    Third-party ink yields were higher
    On the
    other hand, printing with the third-party cartridges in our tests will
    save you anywhere from 3% to nearly 70% per page, depending on what
    kind of printing you’re doing. For example, a set of remanufactured
    Epson Stylus CX5000 color cartridges (cyan, magenta and yellow) from printed nearly 70% more pages than the Epson ink, at a
    cost of about 9 cents per page of color printing and 2.6 cents per page
    for black. In contrast, Epson’s ink cost 30 cents per page of color
    printing and about 10 cents per page for black. Epson’s Web site says
    that a set of its color cartridges for the CX5000 should print about
    350 pages, but the Epson cartridges we tested averaged only about 190
    pages. In contrast 123Inkjets’ remanufactured color cartridges averaged
    just over 320 pages.Third-party ink cartridges outlasted HP ink
    cartridges by an even greater margin. 123Inkjets’ black cartridge for
    the HP Photosmart C5180 printed at a cost-per-page of 0.6 cents, while
    its brand-name HP counterpart printed at 2.2 cents per page. The
    123Inkjets cartridge yielded 72% more pages than the HP before needing
    replacement. 123Inkjet’s color cartridges (cyan, magenta and yellow)
    did even better, yielding an average of 99% more pages than the HP
    cartridges. Cartridge World cartridges, which cost less than HP’s OEM
    versions on all counts, produced impressive page yield numbers, too:
    Its black, cyan and magenta cartridges generated about 70% more pages
    than the HP cartridges, and its yellow cartridge churned out 80%
    more.The overall disparity between Canon inks and Cartridge World inks
    was smaller. Both cartridge sets produced reasonably good page yields
    and costs per page for black and color prints. For high-quality photo
    prints, however, the Cartridge World cartridges were a bargain,
    printing at 17 cents per page versus the Canon ink’s 26 cents per page.

    Manufacturers’ inks aged gracefully
    factors determine how well a color print withstands the effects of
    aging. Heat, light and pollution play major roles, as do the inks’
    chemical composition and the type of paper they’re printed on. To test
    the inks’ resistance to these sources of image fading, RIT technicians
    placed print samples in an image-durability chamber, which speeds up
    the aging process by exposing the prints to concentrated levels of
    ozone and ultraviolet light. In the end, all of the inks tested
    suffered some loss of optical density, but the OEM inks generally
    resisted fading better than their third-party competitors did.In RIT’s
    study, Epson’s inks, on average, showed by far the greatest resistance
    to fading. Test prints created using Epson ink lost only 0.5% of image
    density in the ultraviolet light test, and only about 1.6% of image
    density in the ozone exposure test. So slight a degree of degradation
    is hard for the human eye to detect. Images created using
    Epson-compatible 123Inkjet inks, the lone Epson competitor tested by
    RIT, lost an average of 36% of their image density under UV exposure
    and 29% under ozone exposureThe Kodak inks (tested with a Kodak
    Easyshare 5300 printer) averaged 5% fade after 80 hours in the UV
    chamber, while fading only 1.45% under ozone exposure. (At the time of
    our testing, no compatible third-party ink had yet emerged to compete
    with Kodak’s ink; LD Products has since brought out cartridges for the
    5300.)The Canon brand ink faded 28% under exposure to ozone and 10%
    under UV light. Canon-compatible Cartridge World inks faded about twice
    that much — roughly 66% in the ozone test and 22% in the UV test.In
    RIT’s UV test, the Lexmark ink proved far more fade-resistant than the
    Walgreens ink and marginally better on average than the Cartridge World
    and inks. None of the Lexmark or compatible inks faded
    substantially in the ozone test. Canon supplies — particularly the
    black and green inks — faded noticeably, but Cartridge World ink faded
    even more in all colors except black.

    And now a Kodak moment…
    asserts that its cartridges have more going for them than a low price:
    It says prints made with its inks are as vivid, colorful and accurate
    as those made with any other manufacturers’ inks on the market. We
    confirmed Kodak’s claims on both counts: Kodak inks were as economical
    as the third-party inks, selling at $10 for black and $15 for color
    cartridges, the same price as cartridge refills at Walgreens. The Kodak
    inks’ cost per page is fairly good, too, at 2 cents for black printing,
    8 cents for color and 12 cents for photo. Kodak inks earned scores on a
    par with those of the other manufacturers’ inks in our print-quality
    tests, and they rated especially highly in color glossy print jobs. And
    Kodak inks were second only to Epson in resisting ozone and UV
    light.Printer vendors say that their ink cartridges are more reliable
    and pose fewer technical problems in their own printers than
    third-party products do. Most third-party ink sellers remanufacture
    (that is, they buy, clean and refill) used brand-name cartridges or
    resell cartridges that they buy from another manufacturer.Our research
    tended to corroborate the printer manufacturers’ claims. In the RIT
    tests, brand-name cartridges consistently installed and ran without a
    hitch, whereas some third-party supplies worked poorly or not at
    all.For instance, a few Walgreens and cartridges designed
    for the Lexmark X3470 printer suffered from color mixing (in which ink
    from one cartridge leaks into another inside the printer) and from
    print-quality defects. Supposedly compatible Cartridge World cartridges
    – 40 of them, in fact — failed to work in the Epson Stylus CX5000
    printer and could not be tested. (The Epson unit’s ink-replacement
    software utility reported, “The installed ink cartridge is incompatible
    with this printer” but didn’t provide details.) And two of 20
    Lexmark-compatible cartridges from Cartridge World arrived at RIT with
    ink leaking into the packaging prior to installation.These reliability
    problems are not entirely the fault of the third-party ink sellers.
    Some manufacturers put microchips in their cartridges and printers,
    thus making it harder for third-party suppliers to design compatible
    supplies. “They’ll put in a chip to keep third parties from being able
    to reverse-engineer” the product, says IDC printer analyst Keith
    Kmetz.For instance, Canon ink cartridges include a computer chip that
    thwarts third-party competitors. “Nobody’s been able to replicate it,
    figure it out, figure out how to reset it, get around it,” says Steven
    Eaton, store manager of Cartridge World in Folsom, California. “Printer
    manufacturers roll out new printers every six to eight months, and it’s
    a struggle to keep up with all the new technologies,” Eaton
    says.Vendors also use scare tactics to discredit third-party products.
    “We see vendors saying your warranty could be affected if you’re not
    using their genuine supplies,” says IDC’s Kmetz.”Usage [of a
    third-party ink cartridge] alone does not void the warranty,” says
    Tricia Judge, executive director of the International Imaging
    Technology Council, a trade group for toner and ink suppliers. The only
    way the warranty can be voided, according to Judge, is if a third-party
    product damages the printer. And if you’re dealing with a legitimate
    aftermarket vendor, “they’re going to repair or replace the printer for
    you if their cartridge damages it.”

    The bottom line on printer inks
    on your printer, you may be able to find cheaper, third-party inks that
    perform as well as or better than the brand-name stuff. In our study we
    found that third-party ink cartridges usually cost less and often
    yielded more prints than their manufacturer-made rivals. On the other
    hand, in most cases, we confirmed the printer manufacturers’ claims
    that their own inks produce better-looking images.Deciding between
    brand-name and third-party alternatives depends in part on how you plan
    to use your prints. If you want high-quality color photos that future
    generations will be able to enjoy, then OEM inks are usually a better
    choice.Many of us, however, don’t need the best ink supplies that money
    can buy. If your prints tend to be for one-time-only office
    presentations, text documents for school, or temporary color images
    (such as plain-paper photos), inks from third-party suppliers may be a
    reasonable cost-saving option. And over the lifetime of your printer,
    cost savings from buying third-party inks can be considerable.

    Where and how to buy cheap ink
    aftermarket for printer ink can be a tricky place to shop. Third-party
    cartridges cost less than the manufacturers’ brands — which is why
    people buy them. But it can be a lot harder to tell whether a
    third-party vendor sells high-quality ink products.One time-tested
    method is to shop at an established retailer (online or
    brick-and-mortar) that guarantees the quality of its products. Obvious
    examples include office supply chains such as 123Inkjets, Cartridge
    World, Office Depot, Office Max and Staples, all of which carry
    third-party ink cartridges.But finding third-party ink for your
    specific printer model can be a challenge, particularly if your unit is
    very new, very old or not very popular. Before driving around town to
    find the right cartridge, do a little homework online. At today’s
    insane gas prices, you could end up spending $20 on fuel just to save
    $10 on an ink cartridge.Like the online arms of other major retailers, has an ink and toner finder. Click the link for to find a
    decent assortment of third-party supplies for Brother, Canon and
    Lexmark printers. If you find compatible ink, you can buy it online or
    check with your local outlet to see whether it has the product in
    stock.If you’re dealing with a vendor that you haven’t used before, ask
    questions. A reputable online ink retailer will provide names and
    contact information for the ink manufacturers that it buys its supplies
    from.When shopping for remanufactured cartridges, ask the third-party
    supplier how thoroughly it inspects used cartridges before refilling
    them. “Do they look for cracks? Do they test the electrical
    characteristics of the cartridge? A cartridge can look fine but have a
    broken electrical component, and then it won’t work,” says Tricia Judge
    of the International Imaging Technology Council. The vendor should also
    test the cartridge after the refill, Judge adds.

    How we tested the longevity of inks
    photographs fade over time, as sunlight and pollution take their toll.
    But to determine whether printer manufacturers’ inks last longer than
    those of third-party suppliers, researchers need to condense years of
    image fading into just a few days. How do they do it?Technicians in the
    Imaging Products Laboratory at the Rochester Institute of Technology
    (RIT) place color prints in environmental chambers where they can
    accelerate the prints’ exposure to ultraviolet light and ozone — the
    atmospheric pollutants responsible for sapping the color from graphics
    as years go by.For this feature, RIT tested print samples from
    manufacturers’ inks and from third-party aftermarket inks. Altogether,
    it tested 10 cartridges per color, per vendor.For the light-fastness
    tests, RIT technicians placed the print samples in a Xenon-arc chamber
    for 80 hours at 145 degrees Fahrenheit, exposing the samples to an
    increased level of ultraviolet light. In the chamber, brief bursts of
    high-intensity light mimic the effects of a low-intensity exposure over
    a period of many years.The laboratory also ran tests to determine how
    well a print resisted the effects of ozone or pollution in the real
    world. In this test, RIT researchers measured the image’s color values
    before and after a seven-day exposure to air containing five parts per
    million of ozone.