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Ink: It's What They Do

Benefits and Challenges of Third Party Ink Changeover

Part 1 of 2

By Cassandra Carnes

The debate between third party and original equipment manufacturer (OEM) products extends across a wide range of industries. How far does a brand name go? Could an R&D budget go further in a company with the sole purpose of creating one product? Where does cost fit in? What does a warranty cover? In the case of wide format ink for the graphic arts, there are compelling arguments for both third party and OEM ink produced or sold by a manufacturer.


To compete against the OEMs, third party ink providers offer a comparable or superior product at an affordable price. Many print service providers (PSPs) are weary of venturing into the realm of the unknown. And rightfully so, once they choose to run an unsupported ink into their printers—which are often the lifeblood of the company—warranties could void. Additionally, when third party inks are introduced it’s back to a color and quality testing stage that many PSPs don’t have the time or patience to endure.


However, third party ink manufacturers continue to develop advanced products. They promise solutions that offer added value such as environmental sustainability, cost savings, and improved profit margins.


When considering the use of third party inks, PSPs should study their entire production chain, including delivery lead time, quality of packaging and cartridges, ink containers, reliability and stability of chips and smart cards, ease of ink changeover, ink properties, and overall cost reduction, says Amnon Shalev, marketing director, Bordeaux Digital PrintInk Ltd.


The Benefits of Third Party Ink

Cost savings, specialty printing, and added value services are all benefits users of third party ink realize.


Price is a large driver. “The main reason for aftermarket inks is the significant cost savings our customers are taking advantage of,” says Karla Witte, VP, business development, INX Digital International Co. The company produces inks with an appealing color gamut. “Combine it with fast drying times and improved adhesion on the hardest substrates and you’ll understand why they are getting attention in the marketplace,” she adds.


When discussing the benefits of third party inks, Pedro J. Martinez, CEO, Afford Industrial S.A., says there are two aspects to consider. The first that many manufacturers create inks to compete in price. These inks provide at least the same performance as original inks. Beyond that, many third party ink manufacturers look to improve on OEM inks’ color gamut, mechanical properties—such as scratch and rub resistance, and chemical properties—including adhesion and resistance to solvents.


Secondly, third party manufacturers step in to serve the specialty needs of PSPs where OEM ink manufacturers fall short. “At the moment, we’re successful with eco-solvent inks that are used to print backlit displays,” says Martinez. The company produces specific inks for difficult materials, such as leather, polycarbonate, and non-acrylic untreated plastics.


“Dye-sublimation (dye-sub) is a niche application widely ignored by OEM printer manufacturers,” says Michael Labella, product manager, US Sublimation. He notes that in this particular market, third party inks actually play a dominant role.


Additionally, third party ink manufacturers invest in R&D to introduce products to the marketplace that compete with OEM ink providers. “Ink is our core business,” says Patrick McGinnis, director, marketing, Sawgrass Technologies, Inc. The company heavily invests in research to develop inks that meet or exceed customer needs. “Our quality focus ensures consistent, vibrant color and superior runability,” he adds.


Warranty Woes

One of the biggest challenges third party ink users and manufacturers face is a hesitancy to void printer warranties and harm equipment.


Patrick Forney, product manager, Clearstar LP, says that the validity of the warranty becomes an issue with a switch to third party inks.


“The reliable operation of a printer is dependent on a number of factors,” explains Ellen Hsiung, manager assistance, Colorwen International Corp. A majority of electrical and mechanical problems are covered by the manufacturer’s warranty regardless of the ink or media used at the time.


“The reliability of the ink delivery system—the printhead, damper, filter system, and ink feed lines—is based on the ink used. Poor quality inks can cause the blocking of nozzles, the clogging of dampers, and enact a negative change on the overall reliability and output quality of the printer,” Hsiung adds. However, she encourages PSPs to consider the benefits of using third party inks and determine what the warranted products actually end up covering in the long run.


McGinnis offers some comfort to PSPs concerned with warranty issues, “while some printer manufacturers refuse to warranty ink delivery components when using third party inks, the OEM warranty will still be honored on non-ink delivery components. In new printer installations with Sawgrass inks, we warranty the ink delivery components as would be covered under the OEM manufacturer’s warranty.”


It is important that PSPs take the time to understand the difference between an implied warranty and a written warranty statement, warns Witte. “It is also important to know how these two items might affect the overall security of a PSP’s business over the lifetime of the printer,” she adds.


Reputation is Everything

Any decision worth evaluating is composed of two sides with poignant arguments. While third party inks may be able to provide additional value, such as cost breaks and specialty formulations, OEM inks are tried, true, and designed specifically for a printer.


“Not all inks are created equal, this is not the type of decision that should be made solely on price,” warns Jim Andreottola, director of sales and marketing, American Ink Jet Corporation. It is important to specify quality concerns to an ink vendor and outline return policies up front.


It cannot be stressed enough to thoroughly investigate a third party ink provider. “There are many companies that promise the moon but do not deliver results,” warns Nitin Goswamy, president, A.T. Inks. He says there is a tendency to lump all inks together. “The challenge for a PSP is to separate the good inks from the bad inks and many do not have the time nor the inclination to do so due to the concerns of negative impacts from a bad ink,” he adds. Goswamy suggests that if an honest effort is placed into finding a good supplier, the benefits of using quality third party inks is evident.


“PSPs should make their judgement based on the overall value they may get using third party inks versus the associated costs,” says Eviatar Halevi, director of technology, Scitex division, Hewlett-Packard. He cautions PSPs to realistically assess the risks, knowing that the manufacturer cannot be liable for faults in the ink delivery system or printed output once third party inks enter the system.


The decision to switch to third party inks is not an easy one. “Third party inks have gotten a bad rap over the years because of inferior products being produced by some manufacturers,” admits Chuck Payne, channel development manager, digital, Nazdar.


Today, there are a number of reputable third party inks on the market, but it is important to choose an ink supplier wisely to avoid issues and machine breakdowns. “A PSP needs to consider where the post-sale support is coming from if a problem arises,” suggests Payne. Third party ink manufacturers and distributors must have knowledgeable technicians available to help users through any issues. The support provided should be as thorough as hardware.


“If the ink formulation is not consistent, the user cannot produce sellable prints,” he stresses.


“Consistency of the product is a constant challenge,” agrees Witte. “Consistency is equal to time and productivity. Often times color drifts or drying times change from batch to batch with certain inks.”

What OEMs Say

OEMs possess a clear interest in maintaining customers’ consumable orders. Replacement inks for wide format printers keep the customer invested in the company. Additionally, when PSPs stick with OEM inks the warranty and compatibility of the ink and printer is ensured. Print manufacturers are up front with concerns regarding third party inks in their machines.


Halevi warns of the issues that can occur with the use of third party inks, they range from the simple to extreme, which can mean damage to the ink delivery system or to the printheads themselves.


“Owners take on liability created by bulk systems,” says Steve Urmano, marketing director, Mimaki USA, Inc. “Any air or oxygen that gets into the ink supply can cause printhead failure,” he notes, adding that this gets very expensive to fix.


Randy Paar, display graphics product manager, Océ North America, believes that customers may perceive the cost of third party inks to be considerably lower, but in reality printers prove to be economical on ink usage, making the cost benefit of third party inks a non-issue.


Most agree that the number one cause for concern is damage to the printer. “The different viscosities of third party inks can lead to misting or ink buildup on many printer parts, including the printheads,” explains Andrew Oransky, director of product management, Roland DGA Corporation. “Even if a third party ink flows adequately through the system it could leave a damaging residue that will impair a printer’s ability to function properly in the future. Excessive overspray not only leads to poor image quality and more manual cleaning, it can actually damage sensitive electronics as it works its way into the carriage and other areas,” he warns.


Jennifer Greenquist, inks/warranty business manager, 3M Commercial Graphics, feels most of their customers are creating significant work for brand owners that require the peace of mind that comes with using products supported by the OEM. She adds that PSPs should only consider switching to third party products if they are prepared to handle potential repercussions.


A Tough Decision

The changeover from OEM to third party inks is an involved decision for many PSPs. Whether it’s cost, support for specialty applications, or a wider color gamut, third party inks strive to offer a comparable or better alternative to OEM ink products. However, these benefits must be weighted with the realization that poorly manufactured inks could lead to potential printer damage not covered by the OEM’s warranty.


It is important to thoroughly investigate a third party ink manufacturer’s reputation prior to making a decision. Determine the options if any issues do occur. Carefully decide if the benefits outweigh the risks, and don’t be swayed by past experiences alone. “Inks have come a long way over the last decade,” says Andreottola. You should not rule out using third party inks because of a bad experience in the past,” he stresses.


The next part of this series on third party inks includes a comprehensive roundup of third party ink providers. Also, visit our Target Chart section and view the third party ink chart. Company name, Web site, product names, and specific printers compatible with the ink products are included.

Click on the link above to get more information on the vendors mentioned in this article.

Jun2010, Digital Output DOINK710
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