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 user 2005-04-13 at 11:15:00 am Views: 46
  • #8813
    Ink war blurs consumers’ buying habits
    No-name ink cartridge industry taking big bite out of
    lucrative high-tech sectoR

    April , 2005

    Staples computer consultant Peter Crockford holds Staples
    brand recycled ink cartridges, which sell for about 20 per cent less than the
    similar HP brand.

    EDMONTON — Ink for printers costs twice as much, ounce for ounce, as your
    favourite eau de toilette spray.

    So don’t be surprised by the redrawing of the ink-war battlelines in one of
    the most lucrative technology sectors.

    As a maturing no-brand ink cartridge industry takes a bigger bite out of
    brand name inkmakers, companies like HP are aggressively defending their

    This leaves consumers wondering from whom should they be buying their ink

    Major printer manufacturers, such as HP, Epson, Lexmark and Canon, have made
    ink cartridge replacement a major revenue source. In some cases, printers sell
    for less than the cost of the replacement cartridges.

    And with more information to print than ever before, demand for ink is on the

    Ink-guzzling, multi-function print-fax-copy machines and pricey photo
    lab-quality printers with six or more colour cartridges are gaining in
    popularity, giving a boost to what started as a niche “garage” industry.

    What began with self-refill kits, this growing after-market segment is making
    its presence in many shopping malls and computer stores.

    There is much debate about the comparative quality of name-brand and
    after-market inks. Most published studies show a higher rate of failure with

    How well a refilled cartridge works depends largely on how long it has been
    empty and how many times it is re-used.

    Printer makers, such as HP and Lexmark claim their cartridges are not
    designed for repeated use.

    But customers at Island Ink Jet in have refilled cartridges several

    Brand name inks are also protected by numerous patents, so after-market
    competitors have to come up with their own formulas to manufacture inks which
    have similar characteristics.

    But the after-market ink industry claims its product is getting better.

    “Our ink quality is only three months behind what brand name printmakers
    make,” said Barry Polichek, quality assurance co-ordinator with Vancouver-based
    Island Ink-Jet Systems Inc.

    The firm has more than 212 outlets in Canada, the United States and

    “We stock more than 130 kinds of inks to best match a customer’s cartridge,”
    said Haivan Tran owner of an Island Ink-Jet franchise in the Wal-Mart store in
    St. Albert.

    Much criticism is aimed at the brand name inkmakers.

    “I think consumers are tired of being gouged by what I call the cartel, which
    is the major printer manufacturers,” Gerald Chamales, chairman and founder of
    Rhinotek, told

    Rhinotek is facing a lawsuit from HP accusing the inkjet cartridge refiller
    of falsely advertising its products as new.

    HP said it takes risks in coming up with inks which have an edge over generic
    products, and the generic manufacturers sometimes mislead the buyer into
    believing they are buying the real thing.

    “Ink is not a commodity business where you can go and find your suppliers to
    build a computer. You have to invent it and do a lot of work upfront,” said John
    Solomon, vice-president of HP Imaging, a printing supplies business.

    “It takes us three years to develop a new ink cartridge — that’s three years
    of no revenue and 50,000 hours of scientist and engineering labour.”

    Up front, the savings on ink costs seem impressive — almost half the price
    of brand inks.

    But brand name inkmakers, retail outlets and independent consumer reports
    suggest the savings may not be so dramatic.

    Cedric Tetzel, a London Drugs computer manager, said recent trends in printer
    usage support the use of the more expensive brand inks.

    “The refill market is a lot more attractive to people printing black faxes
    and documents,” said Tetzel, who offers a cartridge refill service in every
    London Drugs computer department.

    “But most of our customers printing high-quality colour photos stick with
    brand name ink for consistency of colour,” he said.

    Cedric said consumers also can buy special software, such as Ink Saver Print
    Software, to control ink consumption and quality.

    Solomon added that consumers can save on brand ink costs by adjusting their
    printer’s quality levels.

    “Even high-end, multi-ink colour HP printers offer the choice of switching to
    basic printing needs with less expensive cartridges,” he said.

    Consumers should also carefully check their printer warranty before switching
    to no-brand inks. Most printer warranties will not cover damage directly
    attributed to third-party inks. Some give the impression the entire warranty is

    Machines with built-in printer heads, such as Epson and Canon, are more prone
    to permanent problems caused by third-party inks, but their original cartridges
    are cheaper than HP and

    Lexmark models which have the print head built into every new cartridge.

    Tran said printers damaged as a result of faulty ink replacement cartridges
    are repaired in-house.

    Staples’ brand ink cartridges are recycled brand name cartridges with
    compatible ink and sell for about 20 per cent less.

    “Our cartridges are cleaned and only used once by consumers so they are as
    good as brand name products,” said

    Peter Crockford, Staples computer consultant.

    “We back up our ink with customer service right up to replacing a damaged
    printer if our product was at fault.”

    It’s best to know what your printer warranty covers and have refill companies
    clearly state in writing what their ink warranty is, including damaged printers
    from ink leaks.

    In the end, it’s up to the consumer to decide.

    “HP welcomes ink competitors and we know we have to compete on a reasonable
    playing field,” said Solomon. “Consumers appreciate the value of brand products
    and the market seems to be working. People are voting with their wallets.”


    Ink jet price comparisons:

    1. HP two-cartridge 15 (black) and 78 (colour) combo pack:

    HP price $79.94

    Staples Brand $66.96

    Island Ink Jet Refill $37.38

    2. Epson Black cartridge for 850 printer:

    Epson price $36.84

    Staples Brand $24.46

    Island Ink Jet refill $18.69