One such application is the ability to produce custom products such as ink and media combinations for specific objectives. American Ink Jet provided this service to the US Army. “The Army needed waterproof prints for maps being generated on DesignJet 500 printers in Kuwait,” recalled Andreottola. “We had a very strong relationship with HP at that time and they referred the Army to us. As a result of this work, we created the first waterproof ink and paper system for a wide-format printer.”
Goswamy confirmed that typically price is the primary factor why people first consider using alternative inks, but says there are many advantages that printers come to realize only over time.
“The color gamut of our inks is much better than OEM,” said Goswamy. “Most customers have been conditioned by OEMs to think that their inks have the highest quality, but the truth is that the standard an OEM establishes is an arbitrary standard. It is possible to get better colors. Just because OEM inks don’t do it does not mean that it can’t be done.”
While better colors are a bonus, Igoe believes the key is actually matching the OEMs colors. “We have a slogan: “Mix & Match & Save,” which means that our inks are fully compatible and the ink colors match the OEM,” he said. “Inks can be introduced individually or all at once into the printer. Profiling is not necessary when replacing the original ink.”
That is key, according to Payne, who says that in the wide-format solvent market, significant cost-savings should be the only real benefit a user sees when switching to an alternative ink. “Nazdar strongly believes that a successful third-party ink will perform the same—in regards to color gamut, dry time and preventative maintenance—as an OEM ink,” he stated. “This allows the user to make an easy transition to an alternative ink. A user can simply switch to an alternative ink and not have to re-profile or adjust print settings.”
Payne said that in the grand-format and UV-curable market, the benefits can be cost-savings, increased color gamut, shorter dry times, faster print speeds and overall generally better performance compared to OEM ink. “Since these machines are typically a higher investment, when compared to a wide-format machine, for the owner the conversion process is more advanced,” he said. The conversion to alternative grand-format ink usually involves an onsite visit by an authorized technician. When a Nazdar technician is onsite, it is standard to create new print settings that allow the user to take advantage of the benefits provided by Nazdar ink.
Additionally, Payne reported that the UV-curable market is showing increased demand for application-specific inks, i.e. glass, membrane switch, vacuum forming, etc. “Nazdar has developed alternative inks tailored for these unique applications,” said Payne. “A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach is no longer a valid strategy in this demanding market.”
3M digital inks are an alternative ink, but not like other third-party inks because they only develop inks in cooperation with the OEM printer manufacturers. “We do this so they support and promote the use of 3M inks in their printers, which enables graphics manufacturers to produce graphics backed by the 3M MCS warranty,” explained Jennifer K. Greenquist, Inks/Warranties Business Manager, 3M Commercial Graphics Division, St. Paul, MN.
Though they work closely with the OEMs, 3M inks do have their advantages as well. “3M digital inks have superior flexibility and durability, which is particularly important for adhering to certain substrates and for critical applications like vehicle and wall graphics, outdoor signs, etc.,” said Greenquist.
So, if alternative inks are less expensive and can offer some things that OEM inks can’t, why isn’t everyone using them? Well, nothing is perfect. There are some disadvantages as well, however, the consensus is that if a printer does his research and chooses wisely, the disadvantages are few and far between.
“If the end user chooses a well-reputed company, there should not be disadvantages,” said Martinez. However, some printers just look for a cheap price and therefore don’t consider if the third-party ink manufacturer is offering a warranty, post-sale service, etc. “These printers may find themselves with problems later on, whereas it would not be the case with well-reputed companies, such as our company or other well-known producers,” he said.