Even though third-party inks have been around for years, familiarity hasn’t made them any less controversial. These inks may be flowing, but so too is the debate over their use. And like the inks themselves, the debate is hardly black and white. Some believe non-OEM inks represent a safe, viable, and sometimes superior alternative to inks recommended by printer makers. Others assert upstart inks are a hazard to printers, printer warranties and, by extension, the livelihoods of any print providers who use them.
Paul Lindquist, in business development with Cincinnati’s Collins Ink, said the debate over third-party inks isn’t as clear cut as some might assert. When third-party inks were introduced, many print service providers were intrigued by the potential cost savings, but shied away. They were flatly afraid to move away from OEM inks and risk losing their warranties, he noted.
That began to change about five years ago, when many smaller printers started acquiring a second important piece of print equipment. The second machine gave them a fallback position or insurance policy, ensuring they wouldn’t be out of business if one printer failed. It also gave them leeway to try third-party inks. Suddenly, those non-OEM inks began picking up market share, and OEM inks were forced to lower their prices to maintain share and give print providers less reason to switch. The natural result? Third-party ink providers cut costs, too.
OEM inks are tuned to the machines on which they are meant to be used, and have a history on those machines, Lindquist asserted. “And even if you can get it for a lower price, you’re putting your whole printer delivery system at risk,” he added. Third-party ink providers knowledgeable about print heads of OEM machines can confidently create inks for those machines’ heads. But unless they have undertaken complete compatibility tests of the printers’ ink delivery systems, they don’t understand issues of ink compatibility with O-rings, secondary tanks, and connectors, he said.
However, there’s a whole other side of the story. The OEM ink is a general-purpose ink, and tends to work very well in the graphic arts marketplace, Lindquist said. But if a provider is predominantly printing on a single substrate, it’s unlikely that the OEM ink is maximized for that substrate. “By going to a third-party provider of inks, you may be able to get that ink specialized for that substrate, or for different substrates on which the OEM ink doesn’t have good adhesion or drop formation,” he observed.
At this point in the revolution, both OEM and non-OEM inks have their places in the market. “There are some who still don’t want the risk of third-party inks,” Lindquist said. “And then again, there are some printers, especially in this tough economy, who in order to save much-needed capital will embrace the non-OEM inks.”
A Third-party Ink Provider’s View
AFFORD Inks of Madrid, Spain is a provider of third-party inks, but CEO Pedro J. Martinez doesn’t view his company as merely an ink producer. “We see ourselves as a company that provides services around the ink,” he said. “We manufacture this product, the ink, but we sell a complete package of services that support the ink, such as hotlines for printing or machine problems, spare parts supply, technical service support, ICC profiling, color calibration, and more.”
AFFORD Inks assumes the same warranty manufacturers provide when their machines are purchased and assumes full responsibility if its ink causes damage to the machine, Martinez added. “However, let’s not lose sight of the fact that the best manufacturer is not one that offers the warranty, but the one who does not have to receive claims.”