By Melissa Donovan
Friendly competition is healthy and keeps vendors honest in regard to supplying products. Print service providers (PSPs) are presented with a number of options when it comes to choosing ink. While original equipment manufacturer (OEM) ink sets are bundled with printers, third-party inks are often available. There are advantages to both and we asked vendors as well as PSPs to share their take.
Above: Signage produced by Pronto Signs and Graphics of Santa Fe, NM.
Both Bring Advantages
Both OEM and third-party inks have their advantages. For PSPs, the key is to find out which advantage aligns with their business model and philosophy.
For OEM inks, advantages include, according to Shaun Jaycox and Shauna Malgieri, product managers, S-One Holdings Corporation, a consistent formulation, brand recognition, warranty support, and profiles/color matching.
“Inks developed by the equipment manufacturer enhance the development cycle. In this regard, the equipment and ink can be adjusted as needed to create a more harmonious product combination resulting in a better experience. This also reduces the time between adjustments to both products should an issue arise,” recommends Michael Maxwell, senior manager, Mimaki USA, Inc.
Companies like EFI work closely with the manufacturers of the printheads used in their devices to yield optimum printing results. “This takes a close collaboration and significant investment between the printer hardware, ink delivery system, ink chemists, and software and printhead engineers to ensure the total system performs as intended,” advises Mark Goodearl, senior ink product manager, EFI.
“Regardless of ink type, OEM inks are designed to bring out the best in the manufacturer’s printheads. Factors such as viscosity of the inks, the consistency of the dyes, and raw materials in the ink are engineered to work optimally with the OEM printheads,” explains Lily Hunter, product manager, textiles and consumables, Roland DGA Corporation.
A printer’s warranty when using an OEM ink set is important. “OEM inks are typically developed and specifically tested by the printer manufacturer to assure a balance of cost, range of applications, and warranty of the printer. Most printer manufacturers offer a warranty on the printer when using the OEM inks,” says Marty A. Rugen, director of product marketing and education, Mutoh America, Inc.
Sarah Stafford, sales and marketing, printing inks, Marabu North America, points out that many OEMs do not manufacture their own inks. “These OEM inks are manufactured by other ink companies, making the only difference between OEM and third-party inks the label.”
One company that operates like this is Prism Ink. “The advantage of working with printer manufacturers is that when developing new products and formulations we are peering three to five years into the future. As one can imagine, we push the boundaries of current technology in order to achieve the requirements of our OEM partners,” share Amir Ajanee, CEO/president, and Dan Barefoot, VP global sales and marketing, Prism Inks, Inc.
Third-party inks present advantages as well—but not all third-party inks are created equal. “Serious third-party ink vendors offer similar to support to OEM. In order to be successful in the third-party ink market, a vendor has to be able to offer advice on how to fix or maintain the printer models they support, which printer model to buy, issues with printer and software settings, and a plethora of issues unrelated to inks,” suggests Tony Martin, president, Absolute Inkjet.
“A common misconception of third-party inks is formulation. Just like OEMs, certain third-party inks are formulated based on market needs specifically for a variety of printheads, applications, and customer requirements. They are not just compatible, but designed for the exact printhead and applications, increasing functionality like adhesion and start up,” continues Stafford.
Third-party inks traditionally cost less than OEM, and that is the advantage they are most known for. For example, Supply55, Inc. provides users with up to 35 percent savings compared to OEM ink.
“OEM ink pricing is market driven whereas third-party ink pricing is customer driven. Third-party ink manufacturers determine how much it costs to produce a quality ink, and then how much a customer will be willing to pay for that ink compared to the OEM. If the margin available is sufficient to support their operational costs and make a modest profit then that sets the price,” explains Martin.
The lower price is proportional to a third-party provider’s operational costs. “Remanufactured ink providers do not have the expense of creating the cartridge and components to deliver the ink, only to refill them and replace the chip,” suggests John D. Peterman, EVP sales and marketing, Big Systems, LLC.
“The cost of OEM ink can be anywhere from 30 to 70 percent higher than an equivalent third-party ink. General manufacturing and market costs on third-party ink are affected by the amount the manufacturer can produce at one time, shelf life, chemical composition, and the delivery device,” adds Rich Gigl, VP of sales and marketing, National / AZON.
Of course, cost savings varies based on ink type. “Cost per liter is driven by the chemical components required to build the different ink platforms. The more costly the components, the higher the per liter cost,” says Chase Pender, marketing manager, Supply55.
Martin agrees, citing the example of the cost savings for third-party aqueous ink can be as much as 70 percent, which equates to many thousands of dollars per year—even for modest print volumes.
Stafford cautions PSPs to remember lower price doesn’t necessarily mean inferior quality. However, third-party inks aren’t always the answer. “It is important to have a decent knowledge of the third-party manufacturer, their reputation throughout the market, and the products they offer.”
OEM ink suppliers argue that cost should be discussed as part of the entire application lifecycle. “Many will try to simply look at the cost of the ink itself, while not considering the cost of the entire process and the losses that can occur with certain third-party inks that may not be fully approved by the manufacturer,” advises Rugen.
Cost of ink includes the cost of developing it and finding out how it works best with printheads and printers. “In many cases, the cost of an OEM ink is more expensive since the ink is sourced. However, that does not mean that the ink is more expensive to utilize. Since the quality control processes are much tighter with these manufacturing relationships, the cost savings can be realized through increased uptime, image consistency, and repeatability,” recommends Maxwell.
“When you look at the overall cost of ownership, including warranty coverage, uptime, and quality of output, OEM inks offer a greater return on investment. While some third-party inks may save a little bit of time up front, doing so can result in damaged printheads, costly repairs, downtime, and loss of quality,” adds Hunter.
OEM to Third Party
It is common for PSPs to start with an OEM ink set when they purchase a printer. This often has to do with the printer warranty. Once the warranty period is over, some choose to use third-party ink sets.
“There is a direct correlation to the warranty and what is supported by the printer manufacturer. Most manufacturers won’t support a warranty claim for non-OEM inks. We see the majority of third-party ink users switch once their printer goes out of warranty,” admit Jaycox and Malgieri.
Pender attests that “as the performance and quality of third-party offerings have improved, PSPs start with OEM ink and the transition to third party as their ink consumption increases,” and not so much because of the warranty period lapsing.
Martin says using OEM and then transitioning to third-party ink has a lot to do with the type of PSP. “Many low-volume PSPs who have just the one printer are nervous about warranty issues with the OEM when using a third-party ink, and will wait until a printer is out of warranty before switching to a third-party ink. Larger PSPs with multiple machines often understand this, and will start from day one with a third-party ink so they can enjoy cost savings right out of the box,” he explains.
“There are many PSPs that transition new equipment to third-party ink, recognizing the validity of and savings that are associated with using a third-party ink. The amount of savings that come with volume can outweigh the value of the OEM warranty,” agrees Stafford.
Switching from OEM to third-party ink does have its challenges. For example, Gigl points out that the transition requires conducting new profiling, which could be time consuming and expensive.
“Just as many who switch to third party to save money switch back to OEM after they have had an incident that cost them downtime, service issues, and printheads,” admits Peterman.
From Goodearl’s experience, there hasn’t been a lot of back and forth between each option because of the pace of the technology changing in digital printing. “Customers investing in a few hundred thousand or more in capital equipment are most concerned about the printer producing the quality work they commit to providing, and our inks are a critical part of ensuring that happens,” he shares.
The Third-Party Argument
Ann Charback and her sisters work and own JMC Photo & Digital Services based in Bloomington, IL. Started in the 1970s by the women’s father in their family living room, the company originally scanned and printed slides. The business grew out of the family home and eventually into the building it is located in today in 1989.
As digital moved into the photo finishing market, Charback recognized the path of the industry and invested in her first digital printer, an Epson Stylus Pro 9600. Today it uses an Epson Stylus Pro 9800 and offers large format, canvas, metal, and photo prints in addition to photo books, photo gifts, and greeting cards.
Using the Epson Stylus Pro 9800, the company prints on fine art paper, photo paper, and canvas. It initially used Epson OEM inks when it first purchased the Epson Stylus Pro 9600, but soon learned from peers that third-party inks were an option.
According to Charback, the cost and quality are two of the biggest motivators when it comes to using third-party ink, which it does through Absolute Inkjet. “We are small shop without a lot of overhead, so we need to save money and look for places to do that when we can. Absolute Inkjet’s quality is great, since we started using its ink we have not had one customer voice concern over quality,” she shares.
Another benefit for Charback, the distance between Absolute Inkjet’s warehouse and JMC Photo. “It’s about a two hour distance between our businesses, so most of the time if we run out of ink, we can get next day delivery,” she adds.
Mike Rosenbaum, owner/operator, Hipps Graphic Solutions and J&M Custom Cornhole, also relies on Absolute Inkjet for ink. The self-employed apparel, graphics, and printing business began in 2016. The majority of Rosenbaum’s work is for local MD customers, although some clients are located in various states. The space he works out of is about 1,500 square feet.
Rosenbaum has over a decade of experience using Absolute Inkjet’s ink, specifically its water-based and UV ink configurations. “I have tried many different brands of ink, including the OEM inks. Third-party ink is all about the price. As long as the ink produces the same quality images and the cartridges are good—why would you spend more money to get the same results?” he asks.
The OEM Argument
Pronto Signs and Graphics of Santa Fe, NM produces signage and prints for art galleries, museums, state and local government, and business-to-business projects, along with graphic and interior designers, and increasingly, the film industry.
The company owns Roland DGA Corporation SOLJET Pro 4 XR-640 printer/cutters and recently added a Roland VersaUV LEJ-640FT UV flatbed printer. The device’s quick drying UV ink was an important component of the purchase. “Film production teams are always asking for a quick turnaround—the instant dry UV ink is a must and the quality just keeps them coming back,” says Matthew Noe, president, Pronto Signs and Graphics.
“We have always used Roland inks—they’ve been trouble-free, vibrant, and consistent. Our output is typically sold on quality, so risking consistency or quality issues with other inks just isn’t worth the trouble,” he explains.
The Ink Debate
The points are clear when it comes to third-party and OEM ink sets. Each offer advantages and it is up to the PSP to determine which works best for them. While choosing may be difficult, it’s good to know that there are so many options available. The process of determining the correct fit might take awhile, but the result is a trusted vendor partner that is looking out for your business and consequently your customers’ companies as well.
Sep2018, Digital Output