TONER INK IS GETTING CHEAPER !

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TONER INK IS GETTING CHEAPER !

 user 2006-02-06 at 10:41:00 am Views: 53
  • #14171

    New Printer Cartridge or a Refill? Either Way, Ink Is Getting Cheaper
    Bill
    Powell, a sports photographer in Tulsa, Okla., shoots high school and
    college games and sells his work to the players and their parents.
    He
    prints on a Canon Pixma photo printer, but he does not use Canon ink.
    For the last eight months he has been buying refilled cartridges from
    Cartridge World. “I couldn’t tell the difference, and my customers
    couldn’t tell the difference,” Mr. Powell said. “It saves me about 50
    percent.”
    On the face of it, the logic of buying refilled ink
    cartridges seems pretty obvious. A new HP 26A cartridge, for use in
    about two dozen Hewlett-Packard printers, costs $29 at Staples. Buy a
    $21 Staples-brand remanufactured unit and you save 28 percent. Go to
    Cartridge World and you pay $18.39, a 37 percent discount.
    Walgreens
    is installing cartridge refilling machines in the photo department of
    1,500 of its 5,120 drugstores. Office Depot is testing the same kiosks
    in Charlotte, N.C., and Minneapolis. These machines, called the
    Ink-O-Dem, cost about $40,000 and can refill a cartridge in about 2.5
    minutes. “We cut out the middlemen,” said Harry Nicodem, chief
    executive of TonerHead, the maker of the kiosk.
    The automation gives
    Walgreens a price advantage: its HP 26A is $14.50. (You can also refill
    one yourself at home and, after you scrub the ink from your hands, save
    even more, 65 percent.)
    End of story, right? You would go for the
    cheaper alternatives. But saving money is not just a matter of finding
    the lowest price. Two recent studies suggest that the more important
    consideration is the price per page printed, a number that is affected
    by the quality of a refilled cartridge.
    Hewlett-Packard executives
    argue that you are wasting your money with refills, which is what you
    might expect the company to say. Manufacturers have a lot riding on a
    business model in which they sell ink cartridges that can cost a third
    of what the printer did.
    The company has a point. QualityLogic, a
    Moorpark, Calif., test laboratory found that while new Hewlett-Packard
    cartridges had a 2 percent failure rate, 70 percent of remanufactured
    units did not last as long as promised. Hewlett commissioned the study,
    but Consumer Reports magazine came to a similar conclusion last May.
    Testers there found that in almost all cases, the refilled cartridges
    cost as much or more when evaluated on their per-page output.
    Hewlett
    executives said that was because the company optimized each printer
    head – the strip of silicon containing the microscopic ink nozzles -
    for its printer, ink and paper. In its San Diego lab, “print head
    architects” use high-powered microscopes and cameras to watch the
    firing of those nozzles with various ink formulations made in three
    company labs to find the designs that work best. Lexmark International
    and Brother use similar printer-head technology on their cartridges.
    (Canon and Epson put their printer heads in the printer itself. Those
    companies did not respond to requests for interviews.)
    Hewlett makes
    printer heads for some of its commercial printers that can last five
    years in continuous use. But the company said that its consumer printer
    cartridges were designed to be disposable. A printer head lasts just
    long enough to jettison that last drop of ink, a company official said.
    Cartridge
    refillers have a differing opinion. They say those cartridges can be
    used three to seven times. And they have built a $6.5 billion industry
    to prove it. “It creates an opportunity for us,” said Burt Yarkin, the
    chief executive for the United States operations of Cartridge World,
    which has 1,100 stores worldwide, 350 of them in the United States. He
    says a refilled cartridge drives down the cost of making a color print
    at home to about 13 cents a print, less than most retail photofinishers
    charge.
    The refillers have put a dent in the printer makers’
    business. Market analysts at Lyra Research in Newton, Mass., which
    specializes in this industry, said the manufacturers were hanging onto
    about 79 percent of the $30.1 billon printer supplies business. The
    high-volume “remanufacturers,” which supply stores with refilled
    cartridges, have about 18 percent of the market. The refillers at
    retail do about $1 billion in business, but that is growing at the rate
    of 18 percent a year.
    The impact is being felt. The migration to
    alternatives is a major reason net income dropped 47 percent in the
    fourth quarter at Lexmark International. “Consumers are becoming more
    aware of refilling and Walgreens effort will make even more people
    aware of it,” said Charlie Brewer, managing editor of Hard Copy
    Supplies Journal, published by Lyra.
    Dave Shaw, the vice president
    for franchise development at Rapid Refill, a Springfield, Ore.,
    refiller with 40 outlets, said, “It’s not a bunch of guys in the back
    with syringes punching holes in the cartridges.” Franchisees buy about
    $200,000 worth of machines that suck out the old ink, centrifuge out
    any remaining ink that could contaminate the new ink, rinse the
    cartridge with cleaning fluid and then refill it. (A Cartridge World
    franchisee’s equipment costs about $150,000.) “They absolutely have to
    worry about quality,” Mr. Brewer said.
    The ink used by some of the
    refillers is very similar to that used by the manufacturers. For
    instance, Rapid Refill’s ink is supplied by OCP of Germany and
    formulated to perform like the ink that Hewlett, Lexmark or Brother put
    in originally. Cartridge World will not disclose its sources of the 150
    to 200 different inks at a typical store, but Mr. Yarkin said, “We are
    matching their ink.”
    It is no empty boast. Hewlett went after
    Cartridge World last October for using ink that infringes on patents
    for its Vivera line of inks. It demanded that the company, based in
    Emeryville, Calif., stop using inks with the same chemical composition.
    Also last year, Hewlett filed a lawsuit against InkCycle, the company
    that makes refills under the Staples brand, asserting that the company
    had violated three patents covering fast-drying ink for plain paper and
    methods for preventing color from bleeding on paper. The dispute was
    resolved when InkCycle changed its formulation.
    So if the ink used
    by the reputable refillers is good enough to provoke Hewlett’s lawyers,
    it should be O.K. to use with confidence, right
    The upshot is that
    you will not have much problem with used cartridges from reputable
    refillers if you are printing documents with black ink on standard
    20-pound paper, what most people call copier paper. Most have
    money-back guarantees. You will not have much problem with color inks
    if the scope of your printing is maps and the children’s homework.
    At
    half the price, even if half of what you buy fails to print as much as
    a new cartridge, you are not much worse off. Unless, that is, you are
    printing photographs on expensive photo paper that you want to keep as
    heirlooms for 75 to 100 years – and you might include greeting cards or
    company brochures in this category. Then you will want to stick with
    the printer manufacturer’s ink and the recommended photo paper.
    Hewlett,
    for instance, has developed photo paper with a polymer coating that
    swells in thickness as it absorbs the droplet of inkjet ink. The
    polymer then encapsulates the ink, protecting from fading for as long
    as 100 years if the photo is kept under glass or in storage, according
    to Wilhelm Imaging Research, which tests photo longevity. The ink and
    paper are also tested to protect photographs from fading because of
    pollution, humidity and heat.
    That means that two prints, one made
    with original ink and one with refillers, could look identical when
    they come off the printer. But a few decades later, the refiller’s
    print could fade.
    What it may boil down to is how offended you are
    that Hewlett-Packard sells a $30 cartridge that cost it an estimated
    $3.50 to make (not including the hundreds of millions of dollars it
    spent on research and development of the technology).
    But you are
    not going to feel much better about refillers. It costs refillers about
    $2 to refill a cartridge that they sell for $10 to $15. It costs them a
    bit more if you do not bring in an empty cartridge. The spot market
    price for a core, as they are called by the refillers who buy and sell
    the empties in Internet auctions, is about $3, but can be as much as $9.
    There
    is a happy result of the intense fight over refills. Prices of the new
    cartridges have been dropping. A manufacturer like Hewlett has figured
    out how to more efficiently spray ink on the paper so a cartridge can
    hold less ink and it can drop the price to $10 or less. That disrupts
    the refillers’ economics and makes a 20 percent or 30 percent discount
    on refills look less dramatic.
    Indeed, one day ink may be as cheap as Champagn