17 Dec 2018

Thomas Valjak talks about HP's plans for PageWide technology

HP Thomas Valjak LFR

In June 2014, HP announced it would ‘disrupt’ the US$1.3 billion production print market – previously dominated by monochrome light-emitting diode (LED) printers – with its PageWide technology; its existing small format inkjet-based PageWide Technology would be scaled up for the large format print sector thereby enabling the delivery of high-quality wide format prints at faster speeds and lower per-page costs.  

In order to find out more about HP’s plans, LFR recently interviewed Thomas Valjak, General Manager and Vice President for HP Large Format Design Business EMEA.

What is PageWide technology?

The technology is not new per se: it has been available within the SOHO and enterprise space (widths of up to A4) for a while – hence the name PageWide.  What is new is the fact that HP is scaling up its PageWide technology to meet the needs of the large format market.

Firstly, we asked Thomas Valjak to explain PageWide technology in layman’s terms.  He said: “PageWide technology for large format will enable our customers to print a wide variety of documents – including technical documents and drawings and simple posters – in a quicker, more cost-effective manner and – crucially – in colour, should they wish.

“Simply put, HP’s PageWide technology replaces traditional left-to-right printing printheads with a stationary printbar spanning the width of the printer and housing more than 200,000 ink nozzles.  It is akin to offset printing methods inasmuch as only the media – rather than the printhead – moves, and this then enables users to very quickly produce a variety of black-and-white and colour output, such as drawings, maps and posters.”

The result of this new technology is that with HP PageWide printer, customers will be able to print a wider variety of large format documentation at higher speeds, thereby saving valuable time and money.

New inks

Key to the success of the HP large format PageWide technology was the development of a new generation of water-based pigment inks that enable high black and full colour densities to be produced in a single pass with lower ink loadings compared to scanning print head printers.

All the ink drops are printed in a single pass and within approximately 5 milliseconds – hence all ink interactions are wet-on-wet.  The ink designers had to come up with unique ways of controlling colour-bleed, feathering and mottling in area-fills and images.

Additionally, according to Thomas Valjak: “The scaling up of PageWide technology required much research and development into the formulation of a water-based pigment CMYK ink from HP which prevents nozzle clogging – which would ultimately lead to banding – in order to maintain print quality at super-fast speeds.

“Without the correct ink, the printers would need frequent printhead cleaning cycles – as is the case with competitive solutions – which would slow the whole process down.  “HP’s bespoke ink formulation enables continuous high speed colour printing – irrespective of the page coverage.  This ultimately leads to a lower cost of ownership and a more profitable, productive solution.”

What are the key benefits?

Thomas Valjak explained that the primary benefits of HP’s large format PageWide technology were twofold: “Firstly, it means a significant increase in print speeds.  Because the only moving part within the print process is the media, it enables the print process to be massively boosted and media is virtually ‘fast-forwarded’ through the print engine.”

Secondly, it enables the printing of wide format documents in full colour at high speeds.  Thomas continues: “High speed wide format print has been available courtesy of LED technology from other vendors for a while.  However, this is only for black and white applications.  What HP has achieved with the new wide format PageWide technology is a significant increase in speed for printing colour wide format documents.”

For which applications?

At present, HP is primarily looking to target the technical documentation market: Central Reproduction Departments; architectural, engineering, construction (AEC) and design firms; public sector agencies; quick printers and small- to medium-sized reprographic houses.

HP is also targeting enterprise production departments with teams of designers, architects and teams working on technical documents – any type of business that needs high volumes of printed documentation – either black and white or colour – and fast.

Colour prints are becoming more and more important within these businesses as Thomas Valjak explains: “We are seeing an increasing adoption of colour to differentiate things – even in documentation such as construction diagrams.  People want the ability to print different colours signalling different items – such as wiring, water, gas and walls of different construction.

“At present, it is very difficult to produce a high volume of coloured documents quickly and cost-effectively.  The new PageWide technology combines speed and colour in a cost-effective manner as it has been designed so that colour output is the same cost as LED black and white; black and white and colour production cost the same on HP’s PageWide solutions.”

As well as being used for technical production and technical drawings, HP’s PageWide technology printers will be suitable for use as a general purpose poster printing for the reprographics market.  As an example within the reprographics market, Thomas Valjak cited that by deploying a new PageWide printer to take over some of the more straightforward poster applications, PSPs would be able to free up capacity in higher specification machines to focus on higher level applications.

How does PageWide technology sit alongside HP’s existing portfolio? 

Thomas Valjak explained that – in essence – this is a new market sector for HP:  “With PageWide technology, we are now able to challenge existing manufacturers in an arena we’d previously not really targeted.”

PageWide solutions will co-exist with and complement HP’s other product and technology portfolios and the key will be picking the right printer for the right applications. 

Alongside the planned new PageWide printers, water-based pigment inks, software and accessories, HP will also introduce a range of HP complementary media which will enable users to print general purpose posters – for purposes such as price promotion – on glossy and durable media.

Availability?

The wide format PageWide printers will be commercially available in Q3, 2015, but HP plans to showcase the technology at Sign and Digital UK in March this year – as well as at FESPA in Germany.  HP said that models will be priced competitively in comparison to other wide format production devices currently available on the market.

Summary

In summary, HP’s PageWide technology seems to differ from any other solutions currently available in the market.  Namely:

  • It is well suited to both low print coverage documents as well as medium to high print coverage applications.
  • It can produce black and white and colour documentation, cost-effectively and at fast speeds
  • It will achieve productivity significantly higher than that which can be obtained with traditional scanning print head solutions.

According to HP: “The new family of HP Large Format PageWide Technology Printers will be the first implementation of a third-generation HP Thermal Inkjet printing platform that will form the foundation of HP solutions – now and in the future – offering high speed, robust and economical printing on a wide range of media.  These solutions are scalable and versatile in design and performance to meet the needs of a broad range of applications in the office, commercial and industrial printing sectors.”

With the first HP large format PageWide technology printers set to roll out later this year, only time will tell whether HP truly manages to disrupt the production print marketplace.

[Image shows Thomas Valjak.]

About Thomas Valjak:  Thomas Valjak was appointed General Manager and Vice President for HP Large Format Design Business EMEA in 2011.  The organisation focuses on solutions addressing the printing needs of customers working in architecture, engineering, construction, GIS and graphics industry segments as well as related print service providers.
Thomas has more than 20 years of HP expertise in business management, channel and end-user sales and has worked in a variety of international domains including Germany, the Middle East, Spain and Austria.

Mike Horsten blogs for LFR: Glass. The next 'Holy Grail' of digital printing?

Mike-Horsten-mimaki-europe

Mike Horsten is the General Manager Marketing EMEA for Mimaki Europe BV, the subsidiary of Mimaki Engineering Japan, and we are delighted to welcome him as a Guest Blogger on LFR.  Here we bring you his second blog in which he discusses the technological progress made in the next ‘Holy Grail’ of digital printing: glass.

Some time ago, when I was looking at the possibilities for glass printing, it seemed that digital technology was going to leave this type of process alone.  Glass was difficult to print on and the adhesion was problematic.  The solution? Stick to traditional methods. 

That was until the development of ceramic glass inks and other technologies started to appear in the market. However, these still required the glass to be baked after printing. This meant bigger markets were unable to start using this technology because of the non-existence of suitable finishing equipment in the digital world. Traditional glass manufacturing companies had these technologies in house so they could immediately start using the ceramic inks.

These challenges prompted us to embrace the glass industry with newer digital printed UV-Curable inks.

So ink technologies begun to change and some applications are now available following developmental help. So much of the help came from silkscreen technologies that have been available for a long time.  This includes the introduction of primers to enhance adhesion, flaming, corona treatments, even plasma treatments. Tried and tested in the traditional world they helped the digital environment to understand that this was needed also for printing with UV inks.

The results varied and the quality of the adhesion was quite different to the old ways. The biggest difference was, how things were printed on the glass. For example, digital printing requires less ink so the ink combinations with the different glass types complicated the process while considered testing was and is needed to get good results. Unfortunately there is no correct way to print on glass.  

That is why we are constantly reviewing what we are doing. The newest method we have been playing with is spraying a silica layer.  It creates an adhesive bond layer that UV-Curable ink loves. So at last we have discovered a good match between pretreatment and the UV curable inks that we have been using in the digital world.

Now with the same printers that we have been using for POS signage, short run packaging and even promotional items we can now print on glass. The exciting thing about the glass printing world is that it offers an extensive array of production options from printing on kitchen cabinets, glass meeting room doors, glass table-tops to bottles and cosmetic flasks.

And the results are stunning. The quality of the prints are better than any achieved by traditional processes and the amount of different colours available is very impressive. So much so nobody could have believed this a few years ago.

The glass industry has a new friend - digital print.  Short run production, special objects or even art can now be printed on glass and finished with a UV coating for protection.

The way to add value and create much needed margins with high quality glass printing has now become completely transparent. What's stopping us?

Let's create... together.

About Mike Horsten: Since joining Mimaki Europe more than three years ago, Mike Horsten has been responsible for promoting the Mimaki brand and marketing its digital printing technologies and cutting solutions. He is charged with making the Mimaki brand the de facto digital print leader within the sign and graphics, industrial printing and textile and apparel markets.

Mike has more than 30 years of production and international marketing experience, providing a wealth of inspirational ideas on how vendors and suppliers can work together to achieve a better digital printing world.

He encourages businesses to develop in a more sustainable and green way, without losing sight of company profitability and margin goals.

 

Mike Horsten Blogs for LFR: Keeping up with the printing world

Mike-Horsten-mimaki-europe

 

Mike Horsten is the General Manager Marketing EMEA for Mimaki Europe BV, the subsidiary of Mimaki Engineering Japan, and we are delighted to welcome him as a Guest Blogger here on LFR.  Here we bring you the first in what we hope will be a series of blogs from key industry insiders.

 

Keeping up with the printing world

It used to be that we tried to keep up with the Smith Family, those ubiquitous neighbours who seemed to really have it all. If Mr. Smith got a new lawnmower, guess what? You did, too. But over the years, the rules of the game have changed. We now are not only trying to keep up with the Smith Family - we are also just trying to keep up with ourselves.

Studies have proven that the overall pace of life has increased by 10% worldwide since the mid-90s. In some places, it has even increased by 20%. And in the case of Singapore, it has increased an amazing 30% in the last ten years.

This points to the many technological advances as a possible explanation for our collective sense of urgency. The immediacy of communication has informed our perception of time. Today, ‘now' has become the new yesterday. As a result, we are left time-crunched, stressed, and overwhelmed.

But what are we racing toward? Chances are if you were to stop and really think about it, you wouldn't come up with a satisfactory answer. You might find an explanation (I don't have enough time; I have too much to do; I am so stressed!), but those reasons are not at the root of our frenzy.

They are merely the symptoms of a much larger issue at hand. The true cause of the race is our sense that time is a ‘waste'. We really believe that we don't have enough time left; consequently, we do not. In the paraphrased words of Shakespeare, nothing's true but thinking makes it so. If we were to embrace time-abundant thinking, my guess is we'd all be a lot happier, too.

We at Mimaki might have found a solution to this rat-race and time consuming problem (or how we might call it the human race).The new Mimaki JV300 solvent and CJV300 solvent print and cut printers. Faster and better than any solvent printer we have made before, more technology to support overnight printing, automatic nozzle outage detection, nozzle replacement and even an email notification system that details the status of the printer. With all these innovative technologies we believe we have given you back some of the lost time, so that you can again start enjoying this stressed out printing world.

Let's Create…together.

 

Mike Horsten has been with Mimaki Europe for more than 3 years and his responsibilities have been to expand the Mimaki brand name, marketing digital printing technologies and cutting solutions. His goal has been to expand the Mimaki brand into becoming the industry leader in not only the Sign Graphics markets but also the Industrial printing products and the new expanding textile and apparel world.

In his position he gives advice and vision to Mimaki Europe and its distributors and dealers growing the print industry and converting their current business model in more sustainable and green ways, without losing sight of company profitability and margin goals.

Mike has more than 30 years of production and International marketing experience. With inspirational ideas how to make vendors and suppliers work together to achieve a digital printing world.

Do the right thing and win: Customer Service makes the difference

Lfr Customer Service

This printer? That printer? At times it seems that there is so little to choose between models these days.  The choice is now increasingly about you and your preferences - not the product.  Large Format Review's Marc Burnett is convinced that exceptional customer service is the way to win new customers and retain existing ones.  He says…

So you’re a reseller of wide format printing solutions, and you want to win more business. You want to win that business without having to slash your prices to the point where the business is not worth having, or perhaps even worse, so that the profit you make will not adequately cover the costs of the ongoing support that your customer will rightfully expect.

The difficulty is, regardless of what products you represent, pretty much all wide format printers now work reliably and effectively. Certainly within their particular niche – typically defined by the type of ink used – they are all fairly comparable in terms of performance and their ability to get the job done.

Whereas once upon a time you could sell on the basis of some technical advantage or some incomparable benefit unique to your product, today a customer can increasingly make his or her wide format printer purchasing decision with the flip of a coin.  The chances are that the printer will deliver on the most relevant daily production needs.

So, in this maturing market where technical differences are now minimal, where reliability is a given, and where the choices of product and supplier are numerous, the decision regarding which printer to buy and from whom is no longer about specifications, it’s about people buying people.

What was once a technical race to the finish line, is now a people business – the customer will buy you, your business and your philosophy. It’s all about trust.  Customer support is not a cross you have to bear; it is an opportunity to ensure your customers remain your customers forever.

Provision of quality customer support is an opportunity for you to build a long term relationship with your customer. It’s also an opportunity for you to build and cement a reputation. And your reputation is everything.

Some years ago I worked at a company that was generally accepted as the leading independent UK supplier of innovative wide format printing solutions.  The business was built on being first to market with the very latest emerging technologies. We sold the UK’s first Encad Novajet, the first electrostatic, the first UV flatbed printer.  In a nutshell, we sold innovation and we sold opportunity.

The trouble was, such innovative equipment usually came with teething problems attached – and ironing out these bugs, which typically involved site visits, was only ever seen as an unwanted overhead.  It was a cost that had to be carefully managed and minimised. In short, customer support was seen as a necessary, but perhaps rather unwelcome, evil.

Naturally this led to an uneasy relationship with some customers – particularly those customers who were early adopters and expected, rightfully so, to have their hands held through any initial troubles.  Ultimately, this innovative supplier of ground-breaking technology suffered from poor customer retention levels and today the company is no longer trading.

Which leads to the question: how do you avoid the above, and ensure that your customer service levels are going to generate happy, loyal and long-term customers?

Ethics, ethics and ethics…

Warren Buffet, the oracle of value-based leadership, once had this to say: “I want employees to ask themselves whether they are willing to have any contemplated act appear on the front page of their local paper the next day, to be read by their spouses, children and friends… If they follow this test they will not fear my other message to them: lose money for my firm and I will be understanding; lose a shred of reputation for the firm and I will be ruthless.”

There are two vital things you need to take from the quote above: the ethics of your business have to come from the very top, and every single person in your business – from boardroom to warehouse – has to buy into it.

Only with that level of top-to-bottom all-in investment in nurturing and protecting your reputation can you hope to turn your business into a truly ethical and customer-focused operation.  And if you do, it will win you new customers. Just as importantly, it will help you to retain your existing customers.

In this day and age, everyone and everything is under review; the supply chain is being scrutinised constantly. When buying like for like and closely-comparable products from vendors such as Amazon, customers are making their buying decisions based purely on ratings, reviews and reputation.  Ignore that trend at your peril, pay lip service to it and you’ll get found out as a charlatan, invest in it and you will reap the rewards.

For far too long the wide format print industry has been built on a premise of over-promising and under-delivering. Change that, and you’ll stand out from the crowd.

But – and this is the real crux of the matter – you have to change it completely. Don’t just pay lip service to it; don’t simply pretend to be ‘customer-focused’; and certainly don’t lie about it.

If every single member of your staff applies the Buffet rules above, they’ll perform better, they’ll produce more, and just as importantly, they’ll be happier for it.

Inside the workplace, and further afield, treat people with respect, do what is right, always seek to improve, and accept personal responsibility for your own actions.

The proof is in the pudding.  In 2014, 3M was recognised as the World's Most Ethical Company by Ethisphere, a USA-based independent centre of research, best practices and thought leadership that promotes best practices in corporate ethics and compliance.  Interestingly, the average length of service for a UK-based 3M employee is 15 years. Quite simply, ethical practices - both business and personal - foster a sense of contentment.

Whether consciously or subconsciously, people actually want to do the right thing, they want to make customers happy, and they want to be empowered to do that.  So give them that power, because ultimately quality customer service in a maturing market where products all perform to similar levels is the fundamental reason why customers will buy from you, and will continue to do so for years to come.

The Techie Talks: LFR discusses the latest in Latex with HP’s Rana Raychoudhury

Hp Rana Raychoudhury

You know how it is. You go to a trade show to find out about the latest print technology, and how it might improve your production process. What you invariably get is a barrage of specifications thrown at you: print head this, variable dot size that.  Frankly, it’s just datasheet brinkmanship.

Whilst at HP’s Sign & Digital UK press briefing, held to officially launch the new Latex 300 series machines in Europe, a question was asked by one of the journalists present.  Step forward Rana Raychoudhury, Worldwide Principal Technical Consultant for HP Large-Format Production and HP’s resident expert in Latex technology. 

Rana stands out from the crowd courtesy of his ability to explain highly complicated technology clearly and concisely in layman’s terms - for the uninitiated it was a revelation.  This ability seems fairly unique within the wide format print industry, so we spoke to him at Sign & Digital UK and asked him to explain exactly what makes the new HP Latex technology so good.  Rana, who has been designing printers since 1994, sat down and explained the tangible benefits that the new HP Latex 300 series brings to the sign and display print professional.

Rather than compare HP’s latest technology to its predecessor at HP - or indeed competitor offerings - LFR asked Rana to explain how HP set out to make Latex 300 the solution of choice, or in HP’s own words: “the default solution when selecting a wide format machine”.

Rana explains, “Prior to its launch, there was a huge amount of research done by HP with end user customers - and indeed non-HP customers - as to what could be improved with the previous generation of HP machines.  The general consensus was that end users wanted a machine that gave them sellable output, both quickly and consistently.  The key message was that it was not just about the speed of output, but how quickly you could then use that output and make money from it.”

So HP set out to reinvent its Latex technology, resulting in the launch of the HP Latex 300 series comprising the HP Latex 360, HP Latex 330 and HP Latex 310 models.

The HP Latex 360 Printer has been designed to help medium-sized Print Service Providers (PSPs) expand their businesses and boost their capacity; The HP Latex 330 Printer is targeted at helping small PSPs expand their businesses without blowing their budget; The HP Latex 310 entry level machine is targeted at smaller PSPs and quick printers.

What unites all three models are the cornerstones that they were built on: Versatility, Ease of Use and Green Credentials.

Versatility

The new Latex 300 series has been designed from the ground up to be as versatile as possible.  The new machines are suitable for a broader range of applications than ever before - including banners, vinyl, back-lit and non-permanent textiles - thereby enabling print service providers (PSPs) to capture more of their customers’ business needs and keep more of their work in-house.

Due to the versatility of latex technology, choosing a printer model is no longer a restricted choice - one Latex printer can now meet multiple application demands.  HP is offering far more than a simple vinyl and banner printing solution.

Simply put, the Latex technology enables PSPs to print more - more easily, more reliably, and on more media - and all on the one device. Rana explains, “If you know how to print a banner on one of the new machines, you’ll know how to print textiles.”

The media landscape for Latex has also changed dramatically of late.  With the first generation of Latex printers, there was little incentive for third party media manufacturers to develop product for the HP Latex platform. 

“At the start of the Latex revolution, we had to work with what media was available on the market.  That’s very different today,” explains Rana.  “Now, with nearly 20,000 HP Latex printers installed worldwide, media manufacturers are queuing up to get their media certified.  In some cases, businesses are actually developing Latex-specific consumable lines - they are optimising their media for HP Latex machines.”

Ease of Use

The new intuitive touchscreen is key to the simplicity of operating the new series of machines.  On the 360 model, it’s 8” wide; on the other two machines there’s a 4” panel.  New profiling features have been added, alongside automatic alignment and colour calibration.  A QR code also sits on the screen which offers instant access to online videos should the need arise for a little support.

The printer automates many of the things that previously a specialist would need to do.  Rana explains, “Many of the important controls have been moved from the PC to the printer itself.  When printing output, there is no excuse not to do it correctly.” 

The printers are pre-populated with data.  HP-branded media and generic media profiles are already preloaded and other substrates from other manufacturers are in the cloud and can be readily downloaded from the printer’s touchscreen.  Of course PSPs can also create their own media profiles for the media they use most commonly - very easily in the case of the 360 model.

There is no need for daily maintenance or cleaning of the printers, leaving more time for the PSP to produce print and make money.  The output comes out of the printer dry and ready to use, which eliminates any drying bottleneck.  This is achieved with a new drying system akin to hairdryers!  The heating units - four in the 310 and 330 machines; six in the 360 - warm up quickly and efficiently and the hot air is recirculated for further operating efficiency. In short it gets up to operating temperature quickly, and printing starts sooner.

Rana says, “The new printer controls measure more, and measure more accurately.  Also, as the heat units have been moved outside of the printer, there is less heat inside the printer - which then extends the lifecycle of the print head.  Additionally, since we have less heat within the printer itself, we are now able to use more substrates without risk of cockling the media.” 

Green Credentials

HP has spent a lot of time and effort in ensuring that the new Latex 300 series printers are as ‘green’ as possible.  The company went through an extended process of gaining the relevant environmentally-focused certifications for the printers, the accompanying OEM inks and the HP media created for the Latex machines.

Any prints produced on recyclable media using HP’s OEM inks are fully recyclable - there is nothing hazardous in the ink formulation.

The HP Latex 300 series printers are also more efficient due to improved speeds.  As well as being fast, they are also economical.  HP says that - on average - PSPs can achieve 100sqm of output per litre of ink for typical applications such as poster printing.

Additionally, the printers switch into an energy-saving ‘sleep mode’ after just twenty-five minutes of inactivity - yet they take fewer than two minutes to warm back up.  When PSPs are not using the printer, they can switch it off at the power source - there is no need to leave the power running overnight for maintenance purposes.

To summarise, the new HP Latex 300 series offers PSPs high quality output at fast speeds, outstanding durability (up to five years outdoors laminated; three years without lamination) and is suitable for almost unlimited applications.  The range offers superior productivity, and easy operation and maintenance.  The output is odourless, meets and exceeds tough environmental standards and ultimately leads to an altogether healthier working environment.

So what next?

With the introduction of the three latest models, HP now has a significant portfolio of Latex printers starting in price from £10,500.  HP says that the latest generation of machines has been developed in order to make Latex the de facto technology of choice for the wide format print market.

Feedback from often-cynical HP resellers at the recent Sign & Digital UK 2014 show also suggests that HP’s confidence might be justified. “They’ve got it right,” said one reseller we spoke to.  “Latex has fully matured now.”

On that note, it will be very interesting to watch the market over the next few years to see if Latex really does become “the technology of choice”.

For more information on the HP Latex 300 series, please visit HP's original press release, covered here on LFR: http://www.largeformatreview.com/large-format/4707-hp-announces-hp-latex-300-printer-series-and-hp-designjet-z-series-production-printers

LFR looks at Inks: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Lfr Ink Article

If you  are considering using alternatives inks in your printer and are about to start talking to some suppliers, we’d suggest that you put your tin hat on.  You are about to about to enter a war zone!

You see, the alternative ink market is arguably the most difficult to navigate.  It is an ugly market absolutely rife with misinformation, hidden agendas and one where myth is often sold as fact.

The root of these problems is the highly competitive nature of this market. Manufacturers and their agents want to retain your ink business. Alternative ink suppliers want you to switch to their inks. And never the twain shall meet.

Let’s break the above problem down into bite-sized chunks and arm you with some information that will stand you in good stead while you try to separate seller fact from seller fiction.

Firstly, the divide that exists in this market is not between Good Ink vs. Bad Ink, as it rightly should be.  It is more typically between OEM-branded ink and alternative inks. This does neither side any good. 

This scenario does not exist in other sectors of the print market.  For example, buying media - branded or third-party - will not open you up to anywhere like the levels of near-hysteria you will have to deal with when considering an ink swap.

In fairness, it is not usually the printer manufacturers at fault here.  Very rarely will you hear a manufacturer rubbishing the competition.  More typically it is the agent or reseller - protecting their ongoing revenue stream - that will have a hatful of horror stories to tell you.

“Put alternative ink in your printer and it is going to explode into a million pieces and no one is going to help you, because it will be your own fault.”  Sounds dramatic? Well, if you don’t believe it, feel free to make a few phone calls to some resellers and you’re bound to hear some stories approaching that level of silliness.

It would be much better if both manufacturers and alternative ink suppliers could work together to rid the market of the rogue products that are clearly second-rate, clearly made of inferior ingredients and that  exist only to make a fast buck on the back of the customer’s desire to make some cost-savings. The recession has been great for the alternative ink market, but at the same time it has also opened up the market to some inks of questionable quality.

There are some very good alternative inks out there

Manufacturer ink is your default position. It’s usually more expensive, but high levels of competition between the various resellers help to keep the price competitive. Because the ink has been developed specifically for your printer, it is obviously covered by warranty and should be completely trouble-free.

However - and this an important point - very few printer manufacturers actually make their own ink.  So it’s fair to say that nearly all ink is alternative  ink.  In many cases, manufacturers buy their inks in from an outside source, with notable suppliers including DuPont, Nazdar, 3M, Toyo and Sun Chemical, to name a few.

Now the majority of those ink suppliers are huge operations, with huge R&D budgets and more scientists than you can shake a stick at – and they’re all beavering away to create reliable high-performance inks for your printer.

But – crucially – not all inks are created equal. Product X from supplier A might have an improved colour gamut; product Y from supplier B might have excellent compatibility with a broader range of media; and product Z from supplier C might have better outdoor durability.  Point being, it is not guaranteed that the ink carrying the same brand as the printer is superior.

There are good alternatives out there, and anyone that tells you otherwise is being a little conservative with the truth.  Further, given that inks can deliver different benefits for different applications, you might well find that an alternative ink product actually offers better performance for your particular application.

A good example of this is in the field of UV-curable inks.  There are some manufacturer-branded inks that do not lend themselves well to edge-to-edge printing or for use in graphics that are cut to shape, because the inks chip at the edges.  In this particular instance, there are definitely superior alternative inks available.

Ink choice is not as clear-cut as Manufacturer Ink vs. Alternative Ink.  It is about Good Ink vs. Bad ink and you can buy good ink from a number of different sources and under a number of different guises.

Think of it like petrol; you are comfortable buying your petrol from any one of a number of reputable petroleum companies and you do so without any concern whatsoever. The problems would only come if you started buying your petrol from a chap who was metaphorically mixing it up in a bucket in his garage from poor quality ingredients.

Reputable is the key word, buy from a reputable supplier, with a known pedigree, and you should avoid problems.

So what about the bad inks - and how do you avoid them?


The easiest way to avoid problems is to stick with the manufacturers branded ink. It’s your failsafe position. But - as detailed - some alternative inks are actually better for particular applications.

The first thing to avoid when sourcing a good ink for your printer is to buy on price alone.  If you buy with price as your only criteria, you are far more likely to end up with a costly printer repair job on your hands.   For every horror story you hear about alternative inks, the probability is high that you are being told about a problem caused by an ink that was purchased on the basis of price alone.

Nothing is for nothing, there are no free rides, and you get what you pay for. If you pay a ridiculously low price for your ink, you are probably going to be using an ink with lower grade ingredients, badly ground pigments, colours that fade more quickly and chemicals that are quite possibly dangerous.

If you want to put a good ink in your printer and be safe going forward, then due diligence is necessary.  Ask the would-be supplier for customer testimonials and talk to the customer cited in the testimonial. It will only take you a few minutes and you’ll get genuine hype-free feedback.

Secondly, ask about the levels of warranty available. Is the ink manufacturer prepared to stand fully behind their ink with a warranty that will match or even exceed the warranty provided by the printer manufacturer? If not, why not? Reliable ink does not cause breakdowns or printer failures and therefore can be safely backed up with a comprehensive warranty. Honestly, if you take one piece of advice only from this feature let it be this: No Warranty, No Sale.

And make sure you get that warranty in writing, because the inane witterings of a pushy salesman are meaningless and indeed worthless if you have not got written confirmation.

What ink should you buy?

In a nutshell, there is no easy, catch-all answer. It depends on the printer you have and the types of applications you are using it for.  With some printers, you’d definitely want to stick with the manufacturers’ ink to achieve optimum results.  However, there are other printers within which you could happily use alternatives ink solutions and would – as well as save money – even improve performance in certain areas.  The point is, the good ink is out there - and it comes wearing a variety of labels...