Stephen Woodall, Market Segment Manager - Aqueous & Solvent Digital at Nazdar, explains the difference between alternative and OEM inks and answers some of the market's most frequently asked questions.
As one of the world’s largest and most trusted brands in research, development and manufacture of analogue and digital inks and coatings, Nazdar Ink Technologies’ legacy began in 1922. Today we offer a comprehensive range of digital inks in UV, UV-LED, water-based and solvent-based formulations for the alternative ink market.
There are pros and cons in how to go about choosing inks, whether they are alternative inks, made by Nazdar or another supplier, or OEM inks.
First, a spot of terminology. OEM inks (for Original Equipment Manufacturer) are supplied directly by the printer manufacturer under their own branded labels. If you decide to buy inks from a different supplier with a different brand label, these are called alternative inks (or sometimes third party or aftermarket inks).
OEM inks are designed to run with optimal performance on your printer and covered by the terms of the manufacturer’s warranty. Alternative inks generally cost significantly less than OEM inks and, if you choose a reputable brand, you’ll get the same level of performance. However, if in the unlikely event that your printer develops a fault within the ink delivery system (ink-train) that is in direct contact with the ink, then the OEM manufacturer may limit service cover; this is why all good alternative ink manufacturer warranties will cover the effected ink-train components.
As a point of interest, not all printer OEMs actually produce their own ink; some outsource production to reputable manufacturers like Nazdar.
We receive many questions about alternative inks. Let's go through some of them.
How do you create alternative inks for specific printers?
We would start with benchmarking characteristics and performance of the OEM ink designed for the specific printer(s). Then we start the development process of our own version of that ink to closely match the physical parameters and print performance. The final formulation would then be tested and validated through our comprehensive alpha/beta testing program before being released to market.
Will I see any difference in your ink to the OEM?
Ideally, we don’t want to change anything on the printer to run our ink; many of the products we offer are ‘plug and play.’ We strive to keep our inks as close to the OEM as we can so that customers can change just one ink cartridge at a time as it runs out and the printer will still run with the remaining OEM inks. For example, a customer can replace the OEM yellow with a Nazdar yellow and any differences in print performance would be negligible.
Do Nazdar supply inks that meet with all local regulatory regulations?
Nazdar inks are designed/formulated to be in compliance with all necessary regulatory requirements. Also, Nazdar Regulatory Compliance Department has helped customers meet the growing demands of government regulations. They offer assistance on a wide range of important issues, including environmental and safety regulations, Hazmat transportation, permitting issues, and packaging legislation.
Do customers typically buy alternative inks purely on price, or because they might get better performance in some way?
Primarily it is about economics in the customers’ minds. The alternative ink cost savings can be very significant when measured over the life of the printer. In most cases, the OEM ink is a very good all-round performer, so our aim is to match that performance with the benefit of a lower price.
However, if when developing the ink we can achieve additional benefits – like a lower odour or a less harsh regulatory classification for solvent inks – that don’t change the appearance or adhesion, then we will. With UV products, we can sometimes improve flexibility or chipping and other performance aspects.
What are the risks with alternative inks?
If you go to a manufacturer that has a good reputation, experience in producing high quality inks and a history of standing by their warranty, then the risks are small. If, on the other hand, you are dealing with an unknown internet company that offers inks at a fraction of the cost of what you are paying now, but you don’t know much about them, then the risk is obviously a lot larger, because there is no support. With the more expensive machines and heads, some people may not want to take that calculated risk.
How is using alternative inks likely to affect the original warranty?
Typically, with the majority of our Nazdar customers who use alternative solvent inks, their machines are already outside the manufacturers’ original warranty. It becomes a matter of economic balance. An extended warranty can cost many thousands of euros, dollars or pounds, so users need to decide whether they want to put that money aside and instead take the savings of alternative inks. The large print houses tend to have a lot of expertise on-site that enables them to do a lot of repairs and servicing themselves, so when the machine gets to a certain age they need to make the decision: to commit to the cost of an extended warranty or to keep the costs of their consumables down with an alternative ink.
Things have changed somewhat with more recent machines. It used to be that you got twelve months' warranty on a machine; now it’s often two, sometimes three years, so we are seeing more cases where customers are still in warranty but switch to alternative inks to save costs. The manufacturer does have a commitment to look after the customer, even if they are using an alternative ink.
Will using an alternative ink always void a warranty?
No, in many cases our retailers have agreements with the OEMs in given regions, so that any components other than ink-related are covered by the standard warranty. But all ink system components are covered by the distributor or reseller and in turn by us on our warranty; Nazdar’s warranty is one of the best available, covering the entire ink train should the inks be proven to have damaged an approved or compatible printer.
On the technical side, the fluids are tested to be fully compatible with the printers and, in the case of ‘plug and play,’ OEM inks as well. You can never say never, but the risk of a technical issue being caused by that ink is very small. When you add in the support from our warranty, technical resources, and decades of inkjet experience, the risk becomes much less intimidating.
To summarise: if you are considering using alternative inks, do the homework on the manufacturer. A manufacturer such as Nazdar, with a good track record and a strong warranty, should be a viable solution to replace the OEM inks. Ask around locally or on social media to see if any other users will talk about their experiences with the inks and ask your printer supplier how the OEM warranty will be affected. Calculate the costs savings and ask for end-user references for your peace of mind.