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 user 2007-07-09 at 10:50:00 am Views: 165
  • #18134

    Ink wars: Kodak vs. HP in the ink-jet consumables battle


    July , 2007 Kodak may still be a world leader in film processing,
    but it’s the new kid on the block in the area of general-purpose
    ink-jet printers. Its new EasyShare All-in-One 5000 series printers,
    out just a few months, face stiff competition from entrenched
    competitors such as Hewlett-Packard, Epson and Canon.

    In a gambit
    to differentiate itself and gain mind share, Kodak is trying to tap
    into alleged consumer dissatisfaction with high ink prices by selling
    its printers for a bit more than the competition but its cartridges for
    less than half the price. The company claims that its EasyShare
    printers have a lower total cost of ownership than competitors’ models
    and that users will save substantially on consumables over the life of
    the printer. HP begs to differ, of course: “At essentially the same
    prices as Kodak, HP offers six-color printing for outstanding photo
    quality,” an HP spokesman said.

    Kodak’s brash strategy flies in the face of the conventional wisdom in this market, which follows the classic Gillette
    model: “Give away” the printer at a very low margin, but rake in hefty
    profits on consumables. That approach has paid off handsomely for HP.
    The 16.3% margin earned this year by its $1.2 billion imaging and
    printing business, announced by Chairman and CEO Mark Hurd during the
    company’s May 16th earnings call, makes that unit HP’s most profitable
    by far, with three times the margin of its personal systems business.
    Epson, Lexmark and other brands follow this same model.

    But Kodak argues that it’s not fair to customers. “Consumers have
    been ripped off by other printer manufacturers on the cost of ink, and
    they’re very frustrated with that,” says Magnus Felke, director of
    product marketing in Kodak’s ink-jet systems group. That frustration
    may lead them to seek alternatives.

    Investors are also wary of that possibility. In its latest appraisal
    of HP, bond rating firm Fitch Ratings added a caveat to the stellar A+
    it gave the company, alerting investors to “the potential long-term
    threat to HP’s highly profitable printer supplies business from
    providers of remanufactured cartridges and/or new printer business
    models from competitors that offer discounted ink cartridges.”

    HP has taken some defensive measures against the threat, most
    notably striking a bargain with retailer Staples earlier this year to drive out inexpensive generic versions of HP ink and toner cartridges. Just as HP was closing that leak in the profits dam, however, Kodak made its announcement.

    Kodak’s talking tough, but can it really overturn the ink cart? To
    find out whether the company’s claims about ink costs are valid, I
    compared Kodak’s midrange EasyShare 5300 All-In-One with HP’s Photosmart C5180 All-in-One, a popular printer whose price and features match up well with the EasyShare.

    Specs and Stats
    Kodak offers three models in the 5000 line, all of which use the same
    basic print engine. The basic model 5100 sells for $149. The model I
    tested adds a 3-in. color LCD and the ability to review and print
    pictures directly from a memory card; it costs $199.99. The $299.99
    model 5500 adds a fax function, an automated document feeder and a
    duplexer for two-sided printing. (The duplexer is also available as a
    $79.99 option for the other two models, and all three can use a $49.99
    Bluetooth adapter for wireless printing.)

    The Photosmart C5180, one of the most popular of the six entries in
    HP’s Photosmart series printer line, is functionally similar to the
    5300, though it does include built-in network support and a few extra
    buttons on the front. While the Kodak 5300 has a single Copy button,
    for example, the C5180 offers separate buttons for black-and-white or
    color copies


    Pigment vs. Dye-Based Inks
    A key differentiator between the HP and Kodak models lies in the ink
    technology each offers. Kodak’s printers use pigment-based inks, while
    the HP model I tested uses dye-based ink. Pigment-based inks suspend
    colorant particles in the ink, while with dye-based inks, the colorant
    is dissolved in the liquid.

    Dye-based inks have traditionally offered brighter colors, but
    prints have faded faster. Pigment-based inks have generally produced
    less vibrant colors, but they’ve offered greater longevity. Now both
    vendors claim to have solved those problems: HP says its dye-based
    prints will last for decades, and Kodak claims that its 5300 series
    inks offer color quality comparable to dye-based processes. “When you
    grind pigment ink into very small nanoparticles and make them
    homogenous, you can create colors that are just as vibrant,” says
    Kodak’s Felke.

    HP claims that photos that are printed on its Advanced paper,
    protected by glass or a protective sheet in an album, and properly
    stored will last 40 years, and those printed on its Premium paper will
    last 80 years — although all photos gradually break down as they’re
    exposed to light, humidity, ozone and other pollutants. Kodak says its
    prints have been optimized to last a lifetime even when using less
    expensive “porous” photo papers. For more on the difference between
    papers, see “The Paper Choice.”


    Both units include print, scan and copy functions. Each has a
    letter-size paper tray that can hold up to 100 sheets and a 4-by-6-in.
    tray for photo paper that can hold up to 20 sheets. Both have an LCD
    screen and memory-card sockets that allow you to print digital photos
    without going through your computer. (The Kodak unit also supports
    printing directly from a PictBridge-capable camera; the HP one does

    Both printers also bundle various add-on software programs with the
    printer driver software, including basic photo organizing and editing
    tools. While I did not test that software for this story, I did attempt
    to install it, much to my chagrin: You can read about the problems I
    encountered with the Kodak software and the HP software in my blog.

    Officially, the C5180 sells for the same price as the 5300 –
    $199.99. However, the HP model is often on sale or available with a $20
    rebate that brings the street price down to $179.99.

    The C5180 is also easier to find: Kodak’s printers and ink
    cartridges are currently available only at Best Buy stores or direct
    from Kodak online. In my case, the nearest Best Buy store is about 50
    miles away — a long way to go for refills if I run out of ink in the
    middle of a job.

    Kodak’s black cartridge sells for $9.99. (The company claims that
    works out to an average ink cost per page of 2.3 cents, or about 434
    pages per cartridge — more pages than I was able to get on my tests,
    as you’ll see.) Its five-color cartridge sells for $14.99, or 10 cents
    per page for 4-by-6-in. color prints. (In this case, my results were
    even better than the company’s claims.)

    Total cost of ink: $24.98, though you can get a combo pack that includes both color and black cartridges for $21.99.

    Rather than using one black and one multicolor cartridge as the 5300
    does, the HP printer is equipped with six separate cartridges — one
    for black and one for each of the five colors it uses. The company
    claims that this saves the consumer money since you don’t have to buy a
    whole new multicolor cartridge if only one color runs out. Each HP
    color cartridge sells for $9.99 each, and a black cartridge costs
    $17.99 at Staples.

    Total cost of ink: $67.94, nearly three times as much as a set of
    Kodak cartridges. (HP also offers a combo pack of the five-color
    cartridges for $44.99.) Of course, it’s the cost per page we’re
    concerned with, and you’ll see how that compares later.

    Testing Methodology
    Both Kodak and HP claim to have conducted independent page-yield
    testing for its printers based on the International Organization for
    Standardization’s ISO 24711
    page-yield protocol. However, while the protocol includes standard test
    pages for black-and-white documents and documents with mixed text and
    graphics, there are as yet no standard test pages for color
    photographs, so each vendor uses its own approach.

    To boil down the sometimes confusing test results, the Kodak EasyShare 5300 results
    report a yield of 342 pages for the black cartridge when printing
    black-and-white documents, and up to 167 pages for the color cartridge
    when printing 4-by-6-in. photos. The HP Photosmart C5100 results
    report a yield of 660 pages for black, but the results for 4-by-6-in.
    color prints are broken out by cartridge. Claimed page yields range
    from 160 pages for the yellow cartridge to 330 for cyan.


    The Paper Choice
    While practically any paper will do for black-and-white printing, the
    choice of photo paper grade — and brand — can make a big difference
    in print quality. HP offers four grades of paper, ranging from its
    Everyday Photo paper to its Premium Plus line. Kodak offers three
    grades of paper for photo printing, from plain old Photo paper to its
    Ultra Premium line.

    For my tests, which focused on ink costs per print, I chose to use a
    lower-grade paper, since higher-grade photo papers tend to use more
    ink. On the Photosmart C5180, that meant that I used HP’s Everyday
    paper. The paper HP recommends for the C5180 is its Advanced paper,
    which eliminated most of the paper rippling problem I describe in the
    main story. However, it’s also much more expensive than the Everyday
    paper I used for my tests: It sells for $19.99 for 50 sheets (about 40
    cents per sheet) vs. $14.99 for 100 sheets of the Everyday (15 cents
    per sheet) — and gave me about 10% fewer prints per cartridge.

    The higher end of HP’s line, such as its Premium and Premium Plus
    papers, are “swellable” papers: They’re thicker and have special
    coatings that swell to absorb the ink, which produces a marginally
    better image at the cost of using more ink. The coatings also help with
    image longevity. HP’s Advanced and Everyday papers are “porous” papers
    and don’t have such coating.

    In contrast, I bought Kodak Photo Paper for $11.99 per 100-sheet
    package — just 12 cents per sheet. The Kodak paper that compares to
    HP’s Advanced paper (according to HP) is the Premium Photo Paper, which
    sells for $20.99 per 50 sheets at Staples, or 42 cents per sheet,
    slightly higher than the HP paper.

    All grades of Kodak paper are porous, which, according to Epson, is better for pigment inks. (See “Pigment vs. dye-based inks.”)
    Thickness of the paper varies by grade, and the most noticeable
    difference is between the basic Photo paper and the Premium Photo paper.

    To see how each printer performed on a better grade of paper, I ran
    two test prints. On the 5300 I used Kodak Premium Photo Paper, and with
    the C5180 I used HP Premium Photo Paper. Although I couldn’t see much
    difference in image quality between the HP Premium paper and the
    Everyday paper, Kodak photos brightened up considerably on its Premium
    paper. (To see for yourself, check out the image gallery that accompanies this story.)

    Lesson learned: Paper choice can make a big difference.


    I conducted one test for black-and-white text pages and another for
    photographs. I chose to print files that I would encounter as part of
    my normal workflow to see how each printer would perform in a
    real-world home office setting.

    For the black-and-white test, I selected a 71-page report entitled “The Development of Broadband Access in Rural and Remote Areas.”
    This PDF file includes mostly text, a few tables and several pages of
    footnotes. I opened it in Adobe Reader and printed copies on standard
    Staples multiuse paper, using the default settings, until the printer
    ran out of black ink.

    For the photo printing test, I printed a random selection of 350
    family photographs directly from within the Windows Explorer. These
    included a mix of indoor and outdoor shots, with lots of people in
    various settings: at home, on vacation and at social events — the
    kinds of images most people would be printing.

    I printed three 4-by-6-in. photographs per page in the same order on
    each printer, using each vendor’s own brand of standard-grade
    8.5-by-11-in. photo paper. Specifically, I used the entry-level photo
    papers both vendors offer for volume printing: Kodak Photo Paper and HP
    Everyday Photo Paper.

    Because both printers use some material from the color cartridges
    when printing black-and-white pages (both vendors say this is a very
    small amount; Kodak puts it at about 4 cents of color ink per
    black-and-white page), I replaced all the cartridges with fresh, full
    ones between tests. For pricing comparisons in both cases, I used the
    individual cartridge prices, not the prices for a combo pack.

    Head to Head
    On the black-and-white tests, the HP C5180 printed 306 pages before
    running out of black ink (at which point it asked if I would like to
    continue to print black using the color cartridges, which could have
    been a lifesaver in a real deadline situation).

    With the EasyShare 5300, I was able to print 353 pages before
    printing halted and the “Black ink cartridge needs replacing” message
    appeared — with no offer to continue printing with just color ink.

    Then a funny thing happened. I opened the lid on the 5300 to change
    the cartridge, but the phone rang and I closed it. When I turned my
    attention back to the printer, the out-of-ink message had disappeared.

    I continued printing and was able to increase my mileage by another
    17 pages before getting the empty cartridge warning again. (If only I
    could do that with my car.) I tried to do the same thing with the
    C5180, but it didn’t help.

    On the color tests, the EasyShare 5300 cranked out 218 4-by-6-in.
    images on standard Kodak Photo Paper. The Photosmart C5180 reached 209
    photos on HP’s Everyday paper.

    The colors in the HP output were noticeably brighter and more
    saturated than the Kodak images, some of which seemed a bit washed out
    by comparison.

    The HP printer generated an image with bright, saturated colorsorder=   The Kodak printout appears lighter and the faces a bit washed outorder=
    The HP printer generated an
    image with bright, saturated colors (notice the blue shirt), while the
    Kodak printout appears lighter and the faces a bit washed out. Both
    images were printed on the companies’ low-end photo paper. (Click either image for larger view.)

    For more (and enlarged) printout results, see our image gallery.

    I did experience some trouble with HP’s Everyday Photo Paper: It
    came out so wet that the paper lost its shape and small ripples formed
    across the surface of the photographs. These smoothed out a bit once
    the paper dried, but they were still noticeable.

    When I reported these results to HP, a company representative was
    unhappy that I had used the Everyday Photo Paper without manually
    selecting it in the print menu — an option buried three layers deep in
    the Windows print dialog box. Once I found the proper selection, the
    paper still came out rippled but did dry flat. Image quality was about
    the same.

    Also on HP’s suggestion, I reran the entire test with HP Advanced
    paper. “If Everyday Photo Paper is selected in the driver, it should
    use less ink than the default setting,” a spokesperson for HP said.
    This time the C5180 stopped at just 190 photos, although there wasn’t
    as much rippling.

    While the output from the two printers was close in quality, the bottom
    lines were in completely different ballparks. My per-page ink cost for
    black-and-white copies on the Kodak was about half that of the C5180.
    On the color print tests, the Kodak 5300 appears to have cleaned the HP
    C5180′s clock: At 7 cents a page, it cost less than a third as much to
    produce a 4-by-6-in. photo on the Kodak as on the HP. The complete results breakdown is at the bottom of this page.

    But the math is a bit more complicated than that. I could have
    continued printing color photos on the HP after replacing just the
    yellow cartridge for $9.99, rather than having to buy a whole
    multicolor cartridge for $14.99, as I would have with the Kodak. On the
    other hand, the cyan and magenta cartridges both ran out just three
    photos after the yellow one did, so that would have been another $19.98
    pretty soon.

    Then there’s the paper issue. Had I specifically selected the HP
    Everyday paper from the printer dialog during my tests, it’s possible
    that the machine would have used less ink and I might have gotten a few
    more prints.

    These considerations notwithstanding, however, it seems clear that
    from an ink-cost perspective, Kodak has a big advantage. While I liked
    the photo quality from the C5180 better, overall I found the quality of
    the Kodak 5300′s images acceptable — especially given the price

    On the downside, both devices use proprietary consumables, and each
    vendor encourages users to buy its own brand of cartridges and paper
    for ideal image quality. When it comes to paper, my recommendation
    would be to experiment with competing papers, such as the Staples house
    brand, to see which offers acceptable images at the lowest cost.

    As for ink, brand makes less difference for everyday black-and-white
    prints and basic color graphics than for photos. However, color
    cartridges do use proprietary inks that are optimized for each vendor’s
    hardware and can substantially affect image quality. For all intents
    and purposes, then, most people will be limited to one supplier for
    color ink when printing photos — which is a good reason to take a
    careful look at the cost of those ink cartridges.


    Cost-per-Page Breakdown

      HP Photosmart C5180
    All-in-One Printer
    Kodak EasyShare 5300
    All-in-One Printer
    List price $199.99      $199.99   
    Black ink cartridge $17.99                       $9.99        
    Color cartridge(s) $49.95                       $14.99                      
    Total, all ink cartridges $67.94                       $24.98                      
    B&W pages printed 306     353  
    Cost per page, black ink $0.06  
    Color pages printed 209  218    
    Cost per page, color ink $0.24