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August 13, 2009: Article, Inkjet - Ink Bias!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Ink BIAS!
By Allen Luthy

Published in PMA Magazine December 2006

What horrible irony. As I sat down last night to draft a formal response to the recent Wilhelm Imaging Research (WIR) study which had lambasted the image permanence of most aftermarket inkjet inks, I ran into a terrible problem. When I went to review my notes, all the pages were blank! They had been printed on an inkjet printer the day before and the ink had just faded all away.

Ok, this immediate fading really didn’t occur, but according to the results from the WIR study on Display Permanence Ratings, you would have expected this very thing to happen. With incredulous results that a new OEM cartridge printed image lasts 35-times longer than an aftermarket cartridge, why would anyone purchase an aftermarket inkjet cartridge to begin with? Why are there an increasing number of companies disagreeing with the WIR test protocol and methodologies used in this study? What is actually prompting the proliferation of these highly-biased “objective” studies like one? The answer to all three questions is money.

According to Charles Brewer who edits the Hard Copy Supplies Journal, the world’s inkjet printers are guzzling over $32 billion worth of ink this year.  Retailers are selling  high-quality remanufactured inkjet cartridges at 50% off of the retail price (of a new OEM cartridge) and still earning margins of over 85%.  Is it any wonder why this marketplace is exploding?  Lyra Research, a leading imaging industry market research firm, notes the worldwide aftermarket inkjet market share of the total inkjet cartridge market currently stands at 31 percent and is expected to grow to a remarkable 36 percent by 2010.

The huge upswing in consumer acceptance of aftermarket cartridges is affecting OEM manufacturers.  These OEMs often sponsor “independent” studies designed to sway consumers into not buying aftermarket cartridges.

Consumer Reports, who many would consider to be an unbiased product evaluator, noted in their July 2006 issue that several aftermarket inkjet cartridges matched the photo quality of the printer makers’ cartridges at a reduced price. Certainly there are substandard vendors in every industry but the majority of aftermarket inkjet products generate high-quality finished goods that are comparable to a new OEM cartridge but at an attractive price.

Kodak has previously disputed the WIR testing protocol with regards to light stability — the key element for this study. Apparently the lumen level in the accelerated glass-filtered fluorescent light stability test that WIR uses (450lux/12 hours per day) is nearly four times higher than Kodak’s’ recommended testing protocol for realistic conditions. Extrapolating data from unrealistic lighting conditions will generate unrealistic results. Wilhelm recently stated that, “There are no ISO or ANSI standards for permanence, so our company’s standard has become the de facto industry standard”. No, this just means everyone is entitled to an opinion. Many believe these tests results are exaggerated and unrealistic and, therefore, are not credible.

Other key comparative results for specific vendors from this particular study were conveniently omitted, there was no differentiation between which cartridges used dye-based inks versus pigmented ones, and the print media used in each case dramatically affected the longevity of the test prints.

Case in point, Wilhelm’s own words perfectly illustrates his “position du jour” regarding aftermarket inks.  In a Feb. 2004 article in Great Output Magazine, Henry Wilhelm said, “For example, there is a combination of HP inks and media that we rated as lasting 73 years.  This life span fell to just two years when the consumer substituted a Staples-branded photo paper for the HP premium photo paper”.  So what is really the key variable here, the ink, the paper, or the study sponsor?

Regardless of the ink type or print media, all colors will eventually fade.  Is the WIR Study even relevant? Is it a benchmark to judge the entire industry?  Certainly not.  The value proposition that an aftermarket inkjet product offers with regards to print quality, page yield, price, and image permanence is what is ultimately driving the explosive growth of these products. 


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