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Estimate Software- Printing software that helps you find the hidden treasure in your business.

Third-Party Ink Could Leave You Crying

It’s your printer and you can use third-party ink if you want to, but like the old song, it may leave you crying over your banner.

By Jennifer LeClaire

Third-party, also known as generic or clone inks, might be OK for short-term applications, but if you expect your image to look good long-term, you may want to stick with brand-named ink.

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  • To say that ink is a vital part of the inkjet printing system is more than a mere understatement. Sure, cheap media and an ill-working printer can cause you plenty of headaches. But the wrong ink can also throw a kink in the works.

    If you don’t think ink is vital to the finished product, just use some expired ink to print an image of 99 red balloons on a sheet of vinyl. Now, compare that to a sheet of vinyl that offers the same image using the top-of-the-line brands. It doesn’t take a color expert to see the difference in quality. The results will make a believer out of you in a hurry.

    If you don’t want to waste your time and money, then just take Wilhelm Imaging Research’s word for it. Wilhelm is a leading authority on photo longevity and tests inks for permanence. What’s good for a photo is good for a vinyl banner or vehicle wrap, right? All are on display and exposed to light.

    In a nutshell, Wilhelm found that some third-party inks can produce prints that look good. Others, however, have poor quality and even clog up print heads. The bottom line: the generic inks, AKA clone inks, don’t perform as well as brand-name inks in the category of permanence. So if your banner is very short-term, you might risk it. But if it’s a vehicle wrap that aims to last years, then you could be setting yourself up to rewrap the vehicle ­ at your own expense ­ if you use shoddy ink.

    bulk inks The inner workings of ink
    So, again, ink is a vital part of the inkjet printing system. In order to flow easily and reliably through the printhead nozzles, the ink chemistry needs to have the right viscosity and surface tension. If you’ve ever had a printhead nozzle clog in the middle of a job, then you understand the trouble it can cause.

    Likewise, the ink chemistry has to be formulated to dry quickly so the paper can advance on to a take-up reel without smudging. Smudged prints are not only a waste of money, it can cause great stress on a tight deadline.

    So, if quality, durability, free-flowing printheads and quick drying ink matter to you, you may want to steer clear of third-part inks. Sign industry experts warn that third-party ink manufacturers spend very little on research and development to ensure the right chemical composition for hassle-free printing.

    “Third-party ink manufacturers don’t typically have access to the equipment to do the kind of testing that needs to be done on printheads,” says Pat Ryan, general manager of Seiko-I Infotech Americas Business Unit.

    “Most printer manufacturers do have the luxury of testing the ink with the equipment that was developed 18 months before it’s shipped,” he continues. “That allows them to ensure better performing ink developed to work with that printer. It also helps the manufacturers recoup their investment in new technology.”

    A recommendation from Raster
    Again ­ and this can’t be stressed enough ­ manufacturer-approved inks offer long long-term cost benefits to end-users by dramatically reducing the likelihood of printhead failures and poor jetting performance caused by incompatible ink components, poor formulation, or short shelf life.

    These types of failures can cause printing companies a lot of pain in terms of increased maintenance costs and lost production due to machine downtime.

    “Third party ink developers expand the market by driving the cost down ­ system suppliers have to offer more attractive pricing ­ as long as the system supplier is reasonably competitive, we strongly recommend using the ink from the printer manufacturer,” says Raster Printers CEO Rak Kumar. “It is more critical for UV-curable inks and less critical for solvent inks due to the complexity of ink development including safety issues.”

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    According to Maria Bragg, marketing development manager of 3M Commercial Graphics, the first and most important question when considering third-party inks is this: Has the ink manufacturer done the due diligence testing to assure the ink is optimized for the specific printer?

    “Most printer manufacturers have clauses in the purchase agreements, warranties, or service agreements that indicate any liability for damages to the printer’s ink delivery system, including printheads, resulting from the use of a ‘non-approved’ ink, is the responsibility of the user,” Bragg says.

    Manufacturing companies in Asia, particularly China and Korea, are producing ink, she notes. Are they a threat to Western ink manufacturers? Possibly, she says, but market and manufacturing dynamics will ultimately make the decision.

    Xaar helps the buyer beware
    To tackle the increasing problem of third-party unapproved solvent inks, Xaar, an independent supplier of industrial inkjet printheads and peripheral equipment to commercial printing and industrial manufacturing markets, launched a new hologram scheme in 2006 to authenticate inks that have been rigorously tested and approved for use with its market-leading printheads.

    Initially covering the range of compatible solvent inks, the company promises that holograms offer an easy way to identify a genuine “Xaar Approved” product and also carry covert security features to prevent forgery. The holograms aim to give end-users complete confidence in the performance and quality of the ink they are jetting.

    “The scheme is a continuation of our strategy to support our OEMs and ink partners in providing optimum performance to end users” says Jill Woods, an Ink Product Manager at Xaar.

    “Users need to know whether the ink they are putting into their machines is guaranteed not to cause problems with the printheads under recommended conditions of use,” she explains. “In many cases today, they do not have this assurance.”

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