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 user 2005-04-27 at 10:44:00 am Views: 36
  • #9147

    Ink’s high

    APRIL, 2005
    HAVING your own colour
    printer seems like a great idea until the moment you have to buy new ink for

    While steep discounting makes it possible to pick up a functional
    inkjet printer for less than $100, replacing the ink cartridges, especially
    colour ones for printing family photos, can easily set you back between
    one-third and one-half of that amount.

    Given that a typical printer cartridge can comfortably fit in
    the palm of your hand, such prices seem more than a little steep to many buyers.

    A study by the UK Consumers Association calculated that,
    millilitre for millilitre, printer ink cost seven times as much as vintage
    French champagne. That was in 2003.

    Many new printers ship with low-capacity cartridges, so the day
    of reckoning for the hip pocket nerve may well come sooner than you think.

    Printer makers are quick to defend the high prices they charge,
    pointing to continuing advances in printer technology.

    ‘Ink has to be exactly correct in terms of its colour
    composition and purity,’ says Stuart Poignand, marketing manager for consumer
    imaging products at Canon Australia.

    ‘Acidity can be an issue as well. It’s important to get it

    Lexmark is similarly defensive.

    ‘It takes Lexmark two years to develop an ink that has sixty
    years’ longevity, and the amount of investment is millions of dollars,” says
    Stephen Waugh, Lexmark Australia’s general manager for consumer and small

    ‘Every time you come up with a formula for an ink, you also have
    to patent it, and that can cost you $US250,000.’

    But behind some of the arguments about development costs is a
    simple market reality: printer companies make their millions by selling ink, not

    Big-name manufacturers are willingly admit they have a policy of
    offering low prices on hardware and taking their profits from consumables.

    ‘What customers wanted was low acquisition prices for the
    hardware, and they’ll happily pay to use the ink,’ Waugh says.

    Those companies are also benefiting from increased use of
    printers in the home.

    Photo printing is a particularly an ink-hungry beast, since it
    demands 100 per cent coverage.

    While individual use patterns vary widely, a typical printer
    goes through three sets of ink in a year.

    ‘Typically, all-in-one device users consume more ink because
    they use the machines for copying as well,’ Poignand says.

    ‘We’re seeing some trending upwards.’

    The typical vendor defence of high ink prices is to shift the
    focus away from individual consumables to the cost of the end results.

    ‘It’s important to separate the cost of buying the cartridge
    from the cost of using the printer,’ Poignand says. As an example, he points out
    that home printing of photos on specialised paper costs about 55c a print, a
    similar charge to commercial photo outlets.

    ‘It’s not high for the convenience of producing prints.’ he

    Other manufacturers offer a similar justification.

    ‘It’s not enough just to make a good printer or a good print
    cartridge or good paper,’ says Rebekah O’Flaherty, vice-president and general
    manager of imaging and printing for HP in the South Pacific.

    ‘These elements have to work together as a team to achieve
    superior results.”

    Vendors say prices can vary considerably depending on exchange
    rates, as most printer consumables are imported.

    ‘We’ve dropped our prices on ink in the last 12 months 18
    times,’ Waugh says.

    Another consistent claim by printer makers is that the only way
    to be sure of getting quality results is by paying top dollar for their branded
    consumables, rather than saving money with compatible cartridges from other
    manufacturers or through refill kits.

    ‘If you buy from an original manufacturer, you’re going to get
    the best quality,’ Waugh says.

    O’Flaherty cites a HP-sponsored study by QualityLogic that found
    HP’s colour cartridges were 50 times more reliable than third-party replacement

    ‘Unreliable, faulty cartridges result in more reprints, streaky
    and smeared printouts, more wasted paper, and use up more cartridges,’ she says.

    As well as expensive marketing campaigns designed to hammer home
    that message, some companies use chip technology that makes it difficult for
    rivals to produce cartridges for their machines.

    A number of vendors are pushing combo packs featuring ink and
    photo paper in discount bundles to attract price-conscious consumers.

    Those strategies seem to have paid off, with industry estimates
    suggesting that between 85 and 90 per cent of printer users only purchase
    original manufacturer cartridges.

    Some see that as a market opportunity rather than an inevitable
    state of affairs.

    Indeed, for some naysayers, the chance to move away from the big
    vendors’ clutches is proving a business opportunity in itself.

    Ian Fewtrell last year set up his own company, InkXpress, to
    import ink cartridges and other supplies.

    ‘There is a huge amount of fear, uncertainty and doubt in the
    marketplace, and there’s a big opportunity to save some money’ he says.

    In many European countries, more than 50 per cent of ink sales
    come from third-party manufacturers, he says. Quality is not the issue large
    vendors paint it to be, he says.

    ‘I got onto a lot of photography websites to check attitudes to
    compatible products, and a lot of people were recommending them,’ he says.

    Fewtrell, who examined a number of franchising opportunities in
    the consumables market, decided to go straight to the source and check out a
    number of Chinese ink-makers.

    The image of these producers as low-end is entirely inaccurate,
    he says.

    ‘It’s a billion dollar business – they’re shipping container
    loads of product,’ he says. ‘I was very focused on the quality side of things,
    and so were they.’

    As well as selling directly to corporates, InkXpress is
    marketing to consumers via a website that offers schools and community groups
    the opportunity to sell compatible cartridges in return for 10 per cent of the
    sale price.

    Companies and individuals buying third-party cartridges can
    routinely save between 30 and 35 per cent without sacrificing quality, he says.

    That’s certainly enough to indulge in the occasional bottle of


    A PRINTER can be an invaluable tool or the bane of your
    computing activities. Proper configuration and a few tips will make for a
    smoother printing experience. Here are the most important:

    Don’t believe the ink indicators

    Most printers report how much ink is left in each cartridge.
    Either there’s a conspiracy to report cartridges empty when half full so you buy
    more ink, or this technology simply doesn’t work very well.

    Most printers warn you a cartridge is nearing empty when there
    may still be as much as 30 per cent left. If you are worried about ink levels,
    print a test page. If the colours are strong and the text is solid black, it’s
    still safe to print.

    Remember that it’s cheaper to waste a $1.50 sheet of photo paper
    than buy three $30 cartridges when you don’t need to.

    Share the printer

    Using printer sharing on the network is a simple task. Go to
    Control Panel, Printers and explore the Share On Network options. As long as the
    PC the printer is attached to is turned on, any other PC on the home network can
    print to it.

    You need to set up the printer on each computer, so have the
    installation disc handy. No more running around the house with floppy disks or
    wasting a whole CD to burn a 50KB Word document.

    Use manual settings

    Most of the complaints about quality levelled at inkjet printers
    are caused not by the hardware, but by incorrect software settings.

    When printing a document, don’t use the instant print shortcut
    button in the toolbar, but select Print from the File menu. This will open up a
    window of printing options. Select Options or Settings for your printer.

    The printer will have a number of quality settings. If you need
    a quick printout for proofreading, choose the lowest setting (called FastDraft
    on an HP printer). Note the setting differences for black text versus photo
    printing, and choose the correct paper type. If you print on photopaper using a
    plain paper setting, the results will be disappointing.

    Keep it tidy

    Printers, because they use liquid inks, are more susceptible to
    mess than other PC peripherals. When a printer is not in use, remove all paper
    from trays and fold up any trays that have this feature. When coming back to the
    printer after more than a week, clean the cartridge nozzles using the automatic
    system outlined in the manual.

    If you intend to store the printer for a long period, remove the
    ink cartridges and wrap the printer in a static-free cloth.

    Use manufacturer media

    It might sound like a marketing con, but the extra you pay for
    branded paper and ink to match your printer can reduce frustration at the

    Most ink cartridges contain electronics that communicate with
    the printer, and third-party cartridges may not be fully compatible with your
    printer. Results will be okay, but not spectacular.

    Paper is a complex media that has different absorption
    properties depending on the maker.

    Regular text looks fine on ordinary photocopier paper. But for
    printing photos or high-quality manuscripts, original equipment is the way to


    There are two main printer technologies for home users: inkjet
    and dye sublimation. Laser is a third option, but is only suited to document
    printing, with colour laser models still expensive.


    Pro: Cheap media, variety of paper sizes, excellent photo

    Con: Need to use a sealant to protect photos, colours can
    fade if not stored properly.

    This widespread technology uses cartridges of liquid ink,
    attached to a very fine nozzle. Electronics control the flow of ink from the
    nozzle on to the page. Printers with finer nozzles can create images with much
    better detail.

    Inkjet are cheap, reliable and can tackle text and images with
    excellent results. You need to care for photos by keeping them out of direct
    light and behind glass or a use a sealant to prevent fading.

    Dye sublimation

    Pro: Near-instant printing, great photos, includes a

    sealant to protect from fading.

    Con: Limited paper sizes, only for photo printing,
    expensive media.

    Also known as thermal printing because it uses heat to fuse dye
    to the surface of the paper, dye sublimation is designed for photo printing. The
    technology is used mainly in dock printers that allow the user to drop the
    camera onto the printer and press a single button to get a photo just like one
    from the lab.

    These printers can only create images in smaller sizes and they
    rely on expensive dye and paper combo packs. But a built-in sealant means you
    can stick the photos on the fridge without fear of them fading.