21 Jul 2024

Evaluating alternative inkjet inks: What should be considered?

Nazdar Rich Dunklee

As any good business owner knows, there are two basic ways to make your business more profitable: adjust pricing for higher margins, or lower your costs. Alternative inks can help with the latter, provided the ink that you select meets your company's needs and goals.

The right alternative consumables company that offers products with enhanced features, lower costs, and ancillary products may even help win you more business. It seems like a simple equation, but please read on for some information that can help you make an informed choice.

Before we begin, let's get a disclaimer out of the way: this article is being written by a formulator and manufacturer of high-quality inkjet inks; inks that are sold as alternatives to those supplied by printer manufacturers. However, Nazdar, along with other reputable ink manufacturers, also supply inks to those very printer manufacturers for their own resale. What I hope to provide in the following paragraphs is a more complete representation of the facts; not just to simply list arguments for and against, but to outline real considerations to ensure you can make an informed choice.

The issue of alternative or third-party inks is often a very contentious one. Printer manufacturers understandably warn against the use of alternative inks to protect their hardware and, of course, their consumables revenue stream. Alternative ink manufacturers offer savings and benefits from the position of 'ink expert' and claim to be the best placed to supply inks. Below I have picked out a few important topics to review when deciding if alternative inks are right for your business; and whom you would like to partner with should you take that step.

Good vs. Bad Ink

The alternative ink landscape is very often portrayed as a straight choice between the good, reliable, original OEM ink versus the risky, alternative, unreliable, pirate ink! The well-reported horror stories of alternative inks do hold some truth. In the lower echelons of the third-party market, many print businesses have had their fingers burnt by simply buying on price. What it is important to understand however is that there is a huge variety of alternative ink manufacturers in the market with a broad spectrum of capabilities and manufacturing standards.

The waters are muddied further when you consider that a small number of companies renowned for producing alternative inks also produce for Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs). By choosing wisely, a business can benefit from OEM ink quality at a lower price. My advice: look for ink companies that have experience developing inks for OEM's, and that have a strong local reseller network to support them. By doing a bit of research, you can have confidence that the processes and standards employed by the manufacturer are of original ink quality. Users that accept inferior quality from an inferior manufacturer should expect inferior results.

The Great Warranty Debate

One of the most persuasive arguments used by printer resellers is the invalidation of warranties and service contracts if alternative inks are used. Understandably, the printer manufacturer cannot be expected to clean up the mess should a poor-quality alternative ink damage the printer. However, this blanket approach plays on the fear of being left stranded should issues with the printer arise once a switch of inks has been made. I think it is important to understand the difference between a manufacturer's warranty and an extended warranty.

The term 'Warranty' is used to describe two very different documents/agreements:

1. A manufacturer's warranty – This is a warranty that guarantees that the printer coming out of the factory is free from defects and is applicable for a fixed period, typically 1 year. This warranty comes with the printer regardless of whether you opt for it or not. It is NOT a contract between your company and the OEM. In many countries, it is the legal obligation for the printer supplier to continue supply of spare parts and service, even when a customer is using an alternative third-party consumable.

2. An Extended Warranty, or a Service Contract – This is where the term 'Warranty' gets confusing. An extended warranty is something that is purchased, and in reality, is a contract between your company and the OEM printer manufacturer. In most cases, there is an agreement that an officer of your company is required to sign. If your company has such an agreement, there is a very good chance that one of the stipulations in the contract is that your company will use only OEM ink during the term of the contract (typically one year at a time). If this is the case, take the remaining time on the contract to evaluate the effectiveness of the services provided and see if using an alternative ink makes good financial sense.

Let's now break down some the key considerations when evaluating warranties and extended warranties.

1: When is the right time to switch?
Many print houses are now switching to alternative inks immediately upon the installation of new printers, as they have a good understanding of how to maintain the printers themselves and know the savings on good quality alternative ink can more than cover warrantied parts.

However, if this is your first foray into the world of alternative inks, it may be advisable to look at keeping with the OEM inks for the duration of the manufacturer's warranty. This will enable you to ensure the printer is in full working order and to get comfortable with operating and maintaining the unit. Then, before committing to a warranty extension, you can calculate your likely saving against the service you have received. You will also have accurate data on your ink usage and spend. Nazdar has a more detailed white paper available on the topic that you or your local reseller can request.

2: Printer manufacturer obligation
If you do decide to switch during a warranty period, it is important to remember that this does not automatically invalidate your equipment warranty. All parts and systems not in contact with the ink are still covered, and the warranty provider is obliged to honour this arrangement. Spare parts and service must also be made available.

3: Ink manufacturer responsibility
If your printer reseller is making an issue of covering you for ink related issues, who do you turn to? This is a question you should ask of the alternative ink manufacturer or supplier you are considering using. What happens if there is an issue with the ink? If the ink damages my printheads, what are you going to do?
Any manufacturer worth doing business with will have a sound support structure in place to help should an issue with the ink occur. Ask them about their warranty of the equipment once the switch takes place. Do this before the switch, as there may be stipulations and requisites that must be met to receive their warranty. Ask about their technical support provision and issue resolution strategy. If you are happy that you have their support, you can then move on to product selection.

Choosing the Right Ink

Ink selection is a topic that could be written as an article on its own, but the main consideration is: what do you need from your alternative ink? For wide-format solvent or UV 'plug-and-play' inks, the considerations may be ease of use and price. For grand-format UV, the main considerations may be some performance characteristic that the OEM ink isn't sufficiently providing, like adhesion or chip resistance.

In just looking at price, many users admittedly like the OEM ink they are using, but simply want to reduce their consumables spend. Here you should look at price versus value. There are many ink manufacturers or suppliers claiming to have inks that are identical to the OEM, especially in the wide-format market sectors. Put quite simply, they don't. Some do have products that are very close in certain key characteristics such as colour, resistance to scratching and chemicals, and odour. Speaking as the representative of a manufacturer with nearly 100 years of ink development experience, I can tell you that no alternative ink is always going to be a 100% match across all properties. The key is figuring out which properties are very important, and which are less important.

When assessing a manufacturer's claims, ask the supplier to provide details on how these claims were reached and to be shown the test results. My take on 'close in colour' may be different to yours, which may be different to Joe's Print Shack down the street, so ask how their assessment was measured and on what basis their claims are made.

No product is 100% reliable, not even the OEM. Ask for statistics on failure rates to ensure you know what you are dealing with and have recourse to complain if it appears the products you are receiving are failing more often. Ask how the manufacturer performs quality control, if they follow any manufacturing process standards, and if they have a method of quantifying their claims of batch-to-batch consistency.

Another great resource for advice and information are references from existing users. The printing community is made up of good people ready to help each other and share information. If the products you are considering are as good as the claims being made, then there will be people ready to speak up. With that said, remember that like products, social media is also not 100% reliable. Make sure you are getting your information from more than one source and take overly glowing or highly negative reviews with a grain of salt.

If you are looking for a new ink because there are deficiencies in the ink you are currently using, ask the supplier to provide information on how their products address those specific faults and for testimonials from their customers who have overcome similar problems. If in the unlikely event that your supplier or distributor representative doesn't seem to be as knowledgeable about the products they are selling as they should be, go directly to the manufacturer for answers. Ink suppliers know their products better than anyone, and will find you an ink that meets your exact need; if they don't it's time to look elsewhere.

While we as an ink manufacturer would love to be all things to all people, it is our experience that there is no 'right' solution that is universal. We have encountered companies that will never risk using anything but the OEM ink, companies that will only use a third-party ink, and companies that are quite happy to mix and match inks from whoever is offering the best deal on any given day. My hope is that the information provided in this article will help you make a more informed decision on using an alternative ink.

To ask us a direct question, please head to our technical support page https://www.nazdar.com/en-us/inkanswers2 and enter your question.

For more information on Nazdar and its comprehensive range of ink solutions, please visit www.nazdar.com.

Nazdar ink group shot