*NEWS*PC WORLD MAG:CHEAP INK PROBED

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*NEWS*PC WORLD MAG:CHEAP INK PROBED

 user 2005-04-06 at 11:28:00 am Views: 185
  • #8657
    Cheap Ink Probed
     
    Our tests show third-party ink cartridges for
    brand-name printers can produce quality prints, but they’ll fade fast. Part two
    of a series.
    PC World magazine

    “Lowest ink jet prices!” “Three ink jet cartridges for the
    price of one!” “Save up to 80 percent!” With brand-name ink cartridges running
    $30 or more, the temptation to buy third-party cartridges at substantial
    discounts, either online or in stores, is understandable. But how do these
    inexpensive inks stand up next to their pricey printer- manufacturer
    counterparts?

    javascript imgClickHandler' /news/graphics/111767-2109p022-1b.jpg ','Permanence expert Henry Wilhelm, print sample in hand. Behind: a new Atlas Ci4000 xenon arc unit that Wilhelm Imaging Research uses to test print longevity.',''

    To find out, PC World purchased inks for three
    popular printers–Canon’s S900, Epson’s Stylus C82, and Hewlett-Packard’s
    DeskJet 3820–from several different sellers and compared their print quality
    and yield with those of the printer vendor’s inks. Additionally, Henry Wilhelm
    at Wilhelm Imaging Research, a leading authority on photo longevity, tested most
    of the inks for permanence–the durability of the printed image when it is on
    display and exposed to light. We found that third-party inks can save you money,
    and that some produce prints on a par with the output of printer vendor inks.
    But we also encountered third-party inks that produced poor-quality prints and
    clogged up printheads. The impact of generic inks on printer warranties is
    ambiguous. And if you frequently print photographs, you should steer clear of
    these inks: The prints might look fine, but Wilhelm reported that none of the
    clone inks he tested came close to matching the permanence of brand-name inks.
    He rated the best of the aftermarket inks to last only five years (see the
    chart).

    The Ink Economy

    These days, you can get a capable ink jet printer for a
    mere $50, and a great one for $150. But brand-name inks are expensive,
    especially if you print in color: A single photo can cost 50 cents or more, not
    including the price of paper. Jim Forrest, who edits the Hard Copy Supplies
    Journal
    at market research firm Lyra Research, says the world’s ink jet
    printers will guzzle $21 billion worth of ink this year.

    Third-party vendors have already grabbed more than 16
    percent of cartridge sales, Forrest says, and that percentage is growing.
    Printer vendors contend that third-party inks can cause myriad problems–some of
    which, they say, may surface only after prolonged use of the generics–ranging
    from poor print quality and durability to printer damage. Third-party vendors
    counter that printer companies simply want to scare consumers out of straying
    from the branded inks, which the third-parties claim are overpriced in order to
    subsidize the artificially inexpensive printers.

    To test the quality of our clone inks, we used them to
    print images on several grades of paper and then rated each image as either
    comparable to, somewhat worse than, or significantly worse than images made
    using the printer manufacturer’s ink.

    In general, most of the third-party inks printed text on
    plain paper as decently as the printer manufacturers’ cartridges did (see our
    chart of detailed test results for print quality). Results weren’t as good for
    high-resolution shots on the printer vendors’ long-lasting photo papers, but
    four out of the nine aftermarket brands we tested–Amazon Imaging’s ink for the
    Canon, G&G’s ink for the Epson, and Carrot Ink’s cartridge and InkTec’s
    cartridge-refill kit for the HP–yielded prints of comparable quality to those
    made with printer manufacturer inks. Of the clones, only the OA100 inks for the
    Canon produced photos significantly worse than those made with a brand-name
    ink.

    But some inks, even those that made good-looking pictures,
    didn’t always work well. All three aftermarket black inks for the Epson
    C82–OA100 (purchased from PrintPal), G&G (from Computer Friends), and the
    no-name ink whose package had only a rainbow logo (also from Computer
    Friends)–plugged up the printhead nozzles so quickly and consistently that we
    had to abort some of our tests. But the color inks from these three companies
    all worked well in the Epson printer. (We bought a fourth brand of aftermarket
    ink, Print-Rite, for the C82 but dropped it from our tests, as the printer
    wouldn’t install any of the cartridges.)

    Clogs and Messes

    Several OA100 cartridges purchased from PrintPal, most
    notably the black and cyan, frequently plugged the nozzles on the Canon S900′s
    printhead, causing wide blank stripes in documents.

    The HP DeskJet 3820′s cartridges integrate the printhead
    and ink supply in one unit that can’t be replicated legally, so third-party
    vendors simply refill used 3820 cartridges. A Printek cartridge we bought from
    PrintPal had no ink in the magenta tank, but we were able to complete our
    quality and yield tests with other cartridges. Wilhelm was unable to print all
    four colors satisfactorily with any of the Printek cartridges from PrintPal, but
    was able to test the same brand of cartridges from another vendor, Top Inkjet.

    We also tried refilling our own HP cartridges with an
    InkTec kit that we bought from Print Country. What a mess! It dripped ink
    everywhere, but when we finally refilled our cartridges the ink made
    decent-quality prints. At Wilhelm Imaging Research, however, the prints produced
    using the kit were so poor in quality that Wilhelm did not test them for
    permanence.

    And it was in permanence that third-party inks fell short.
    For example, Wilhelm projected prints made with Epson’s C82 inks (colored with
    pigments instead of less-durable organic dyes) on Epson’s most stable (with
    these inks) paper to last 92 years when displayed, while rating none of the
    prints with generic inks on the same paper to last more than a year. The HP and
    Canon inks are dye-based, so their advantage over third-party inks was somewhat
    less but still substantial. (Newer HP printers use inks that Wilhelm, in other
    tests, has found to be far more stable than HP’s inks for the 3820.)

    Money Savers?

    Prices for the aftermarket inks we
    tested varied greatly, and in some cases the clones cost almost as much as the
    printer-vendor brands. For example, Canon-brand inks for the S900 (which uses
    six separate ink tanks) sell for a street price of about $12 each, while the
    OA100-compatible inks that clogged the printhead cost only $5 each from
    PrintPal. Amazon Imaging (no relation to Amazon.com) black cartridges, however,
    cost $11 (color, $10) at Buy.com.

    In general, third-party inks for the Canon and Epson
    printers produced about as many color pages as the printer manufacturer’s inks
    (see our chart of detailed test results for print yield), though there were some
    variances.

    The situation was different with HP’s 3820, which uses two
    cartridges (one black, the other with three colors). HP sells 19ml and 38ml
    versions of the color cartridge (street-priced at $35 and $50, respectively).
    The low-yield HP color cartridge ran out of cyan after 380 pages (ending the
    cartridge’s useful life); the Carrot Ink and Printek cartridges approached
    double that yield before running out of magenta.

    Do-it-yourself refill kits offer the greatest savings, if
    you’re willing to brave the messy refill process. The InkTec refill kits for HP
    cartridges contained more than three times as much ink as a cartridge, and they
    cost only $10 for black and $14 for color.

    Behind the Prints

    Why did printer makers’ products usually deliver better
    results than their generic counterparts? Printer vendors say they’ve invested
    heavily in developing inks, papers, cartridges, and printheads that work
    together. For example, John Stoffel, HP’s ink jet technology manager, says
    third-party vendors can’t fine-tune fluidity so that their inks spray properly
    onto the paper.

    Often, aftermarket retailers buy prepackaged inks from
    manufacturers–many of them in China–which makes it difficult for the retailers
    to know exactly what they’re getting. But some third-party ink companies do
    exercise direct control over their products. Gary Miller, Amazon Imaging’s sales
    vice president, says his company makes its inks and uses cartridges made of
    polypropylene, a high-quality material that printer vendors use, instead of
    cheaper plastics that can damage the ink if it’s stored for several months.

    Ink Ambiguities

    Buying third-party ink online can be frustrating. Some
    retailers’ Web sites don’t identify products by name, only by printer or
    cartridge compatibility, so getting a steady supply of an ink you like can be a
    challenge. Computer Friends, whose generic inks are unidentified on its Web
    site, sent us G&G ink to fill most of our initial order for Epson
    C82-compatible ink but completed the order later with a different brand. (The
    company fulfilled our request for a specific ink brand, however.)

    Another murky issue relates to warranties. All the
    manufacturers’ warranties for the printers we used state explicitly that they
    don’t cover damage caused by other vendors’ ink. But third-party vendors say the
    federal Magnusson-Moss Warranty Improvement Act forbids companies from dictating
    customers’ choice of aftermarket products.

    Ron Katz, a patent attorney with the firm Manatt, Phelps,
    & Phillips who has litigated on behalf of aftermarket vendors, says that
    “mere use of a third-party cartridge does not void the warranty if the cartridge
    does not cause the damage.”

    Tricia Judge, executive director of the International
    Imaging Technology Council, an association of aftermarket vendors, says that if
    a generic cartridge does damage your printer, reputable third-party ink sellers
    will repair the printer. However, none of the generic-ink sellers’ warranties
    for the products we tested addressed this situation.

    The IITC is working with the American Society for Testing
    and Materials to develop tests of yield, image density, and ink fastness. It has
    also partnered with the imaging lab operated by the Rochester Institute of
    Technology’s National Center for Remanufacturing and Resource Recovery to test
    and certify products. Judge says she expects the program to result in a
    certification sticker on boxes for the inks that meet basic standards. Printer
    vendors seem receptive to the idea of quality-control testing: “We are all for
    standards,” says Pradeep Jotwani, vice president of HP’s Imaging and Printing
    Group.

    Worth the Risks?

    In the meantime, judging from our experience, finding a
    reasonably priced substitute for brand-name ink can be a risky business. If top
    quality and print longevity aren’t of paramount importance, you can save money
    using no-name inks–but you may have to spend a lot of time cleaning clogged
    printheads. Still, some users may find the savings justify the hassles.

    If print quality–and especially durability–are a top
    concern, however, you’re better off playing it safe by gritting your teeth and
    shelling out for brand-name inks.

    Test Report: Third-Party Inks Save Money but Give Up
    Permanence (chart)




    Printer: Canon S900
    (uses six cartridges)
    Ink Text (black), plain
    paper
    Text (black), coated
    paper
    Black-and-white photo,
    plain paper
    Black-and-white photo,
    coated paper
    Black-and-white photo,
    manufacturer’s glossy photo paper
    Color photo, plain
    paper
    Color photo, coated
    paper
    Color photo,
    manufacturer’s glossy photo paper
    Amazon Imaging Comparable Comparable Comparable Somewhat worse Somewhat worse Comparable Comparable Comparable
    Carrot Ink Comparable Comparable Comparable Comparable Somewhat worse Somewhat worse Comparable Somewhat worse
    OA100 Comparable Comparable Comparable Comparable Significantly worse Comparable Comparable Significantly
    worse
    Printer: Epson Stylus
    C82 (uses four cartridges)
    Ink Text (black), plain
    paper
    Text (black), coated
    paper
    Black-and-white photo,
    plain paper
    Black-and-white photo,
    coated paper
    Black-and-white photo,
    manufacturer’s glossy photo paper
    Color photo, plain
    paper
    Color photo, coated
    paper
    Color photo,
    manufacturer’s glossy photo paper
    G&G Somewhat worse Comparable Somewhat worse Comparable Comparable Somewhat worse Comparable Comparable
    OA100 Somewhat worse Comparable Significantly worse Comparable Comparable Significantly worse Comparable Somewhat worse
    Rainbow
    logo1
    Comparable Somewhat worse Significantly worse Significantly worse Comparable Significantly worse Significantly worse Somewhat worse
    Printer:
    HP DeskJet
    3820 (uses two cartridges)
    Ink Text (black), plain
    paper
    Text (black), coated
    paper
    Black-and-white photo,
    plain paper
    Black-and-white photo,
    coated paper
    Black-and-white photo,
    manufacturer’s glossy photo paper
    Color photo, plain
    paper
    Color photo, coated
    paper
    Color photo,
    manufacturer’s glossy photo paper
    Carrot Ink Comparable Comparable Somewhat worse Comparable Comparable Comparable Somewhat
    worse/Significantly worse
    Comparable
    InkTec (refill kit) Comparable Comparable Comparable Comparable Somewhat worse Comparable Comparable Comparable
    PrintTek Comparable Comparable Significantly worse Comparable Somewhat worse Significantly worse Comparable Somewhat
    worse

    This chart shows how the
    output quality of third-party inks compares with that of printer manufacturer’s
    inks.
    1This ink came in a white box with nothing on it except for
    a rainbow logo.



    Printer: Canon S900
    (uses six cartridges)1
    Ink brand Number of pages produced
    per cartridge, black1
    Number of pages produced
    per cartridge, color1
    Number of pages produced
    per cartridge, average for color1
    Amazon Imaging
    740
    Cyan 1060, magenta 380,
    yellow 600
    680
    Carrot Ink
    900
    Cyan 1020, magenta 380,
    yellow 600
    667
    OA100 (PrintPal)
    800
    Cyan 1100, magenta 380,
    yellow 580
    687
    Canon
    820
    Cyan 1000, magenta
    340, yellow 620
    653
    Printer: Epson Stylus
    C82 (uses four cartridges)
    Ink brand Number of pages produced
    per cartridge, black1
    Number of pages produced
    per cartridge, color1
    Number of pages produced
    per cartridge, average for color1
    G&G
    800
    Cyan 1880, magenta 500,
    yellow 480
    953
    OA100 (PrintPal)
    1100
    Cyan 2060, magenta 560,
    yellow 540
    1053
    Rainbow
    logo2
    900
    Cyan 1840, magenta 500,
    yellow 480
    940
    Epson
    1160
    Cyan 2000, magenta
    540, yellow 800
    1113
    Printer: HP DeskJet 3820
    (uses two cartridges)3
    Ink brand Number of pages produced
    per cartridge, black1
    Number of pages produced
    per cartridge, color1
    Number of pages produced
    per cartridge, average for color1
    Carrot Ink
    1640
    760 (magenta
    depleted)
    Not applicable
    PrintTek (PrintPal)
    860
    700 (magenta
    depleted)
    Not applicable
    HP
    480
    380 (cyan
    depleted)
    Not applicable

    Generics for the HP 3820 print twice as many pages. Canon and
    Epson clones produce about as many prints as the printer manufacturers’
    inks.
    1Calculations based on 5 percent coverage per color per
    page. For the Canon printer, our test prints used only four of the six ink
    tanks. 2This ink came in a white box with nothing on it except for a
    rainbow logo. 3HP color cartridges contain all three colors; yield is
    the number of pages printed before the first color runs out.