He added he has seen many instances over the past 10 years in which inks were blamed for machine problems, but the failures had nothing to do with inks or machine. “Price is the main driving force for a customer to change from the original inks, but it may not be the only one,” he added. “In some cases, we provide even better colors than the original inks, or better adhesion on different materials, better flexibility or more chemical resistance...We don’t tend to be the cheapest on price, but when you compare all the associated services we offer, we are a bargain.”
He strongly believes print providers should know what’s behind non-OEM brands they are considering. AFFORD matches and in some situations exceeds manufacturer quality, Martinez said.
“Quality control is a must for non-OEM ink manufacturers,” he noted. “It takes a lot of effort to convince customers of our advantages, and we can’t afford a mistake. It will spread by word-of-mouth.”
Martinez feels large-volume print providers have the greatest incentive to switch to third-party inks. “[It] really makes sense when you can save important quantities of money,” he observed. “It does not seem so interesting if you are going to save, for example, 20 dollars in a year. However, the correct question is, ‘Why should I pay more when there are solutions that offer me, at least, the same performance.’”
The Perspective of an OEM
Not surprisingly, printer manufacturer Roland DGA Corp. takes a distinctively different view of the use of third-party inks by shops using its printers. “In our experience, third-party inks compromise printer performance and can cause significant damage to a printer over time,” said Andrew Oransky, director of product management with the Irvine, Calif.-based company.
“Probably the best reason to avoid third-party inks is the damage they can do to a printer. The different viscosities of third-party inks can lead to misting or ink buildup on many printer parts, including the print heads. So even if a third-party ink flows adequately through the system, it could be leaving a damaging residue that will impair a printer’s ability to function properly in the future. Excessive overspray cannot only lead to poor image quality and more manual cleaning, but can actually damage sensitive electronics as it works its way into the carriage and other areas.”
The issues some print service providers encounter using third-party inks go beyond these concerns, he said. In one recent instance, malfunctioning tabs on a third-party ink system failed, resulting in a printer continuing to run even when the color was depleted, and costing the shop $1,000 in wasted materials, Oransky reported.
Roland’s service and support teams have been forced to repair at customer expense damaged linear encoders, timing belts, cap tops, and other components as a result of third-party inks, he said. “A print-head replacement costs more than $1,000,” he said. “And these costs don’t factor in the added downtime and maintenance involved in operating a printer with unmatched inks.”
He also questions third-party ink makers’ claims that their inks are of equal or better quality than the OEM inks. Noting Roland VersaWorks RIP software features media profiles exclusive to its own ink sets, he added that third-party inks are not supported by VersaWorks and limit a user’s ability to utilize this bundled software program. “While many third-party suppliers make the claim that their inks have identical color to OEM inks, our testing has shown there is almost always a color shift or loss,” he said. “Some jobs, it may be minor enough not to matter. But for picky customers that need to match corporate colors, it will make all the difference in the world.”
With the Blessings of OEMs
Some ink providers don’t fit into either of the two categories of OEM or non-OEM inks. The folks at 3M Graphics Market Center in St. Paul, Minn., like to separate themselves from other ink providers, said inks and warranty Business Manager Jennifer Greenquist. “We don’t consider ourselves a third-party ink manufacturer,” she explained. “That’s because we only manufacture inks for digital printing equipment if we have the blessing of the ink manufacturer. So every ink we’ve manufactured—for Océ, for HP, for VUTEk, for Durst, Mimaki, Gandinnovations—we’ve done with their blessing. We won’t launch a 3M branded ink without that relationship.”