Let Savings Flow

There was a time, not long ago, when many wide-format imaging pros were skittish about the idea of moving away from OEM inks recommended for their printers. Sure third-party inks ballyhooed the promise of much lower prices, but visions of difficult change-outs, inferior ink quality, and prematurely broken warranties all dogged printers' attempts to psyche up for an enthusiastic conversion to non-OEM inks.

That era of fear is long gone. Every month, more and more wide-format imaging professionals make the switch. Frequently, they end up surprised by how easy it was. Their concerns about quality are often washed away by a tide of vibrant colors. And they are amazed by savings that can reach 60 percent or more, when compared with their former inks.

Accepting the Challenge

Roy Nethaway, owner of Cutting Edge Graphics and Edgewraps.com in Ovid, MI, is a perfect example of the kind of shop owner making the move.

"A year ago, a local boat manufacturer was having some troubles with a larger graphics company out of state," he says. "They came to me with $15,000 to $20,000 of print work. We started printing with Roland inks, and I was going through about $2,000 worth of that Roland ink a week.

"I was burning up a lot of profits, but everyone I talked to about switching to something different told me it wasn't a smart move. Then my supplier got with me and said Clearstar was carrying a product called MaraJet Inks, and they were looking for shops to try some product. They flew up one of MaraJet Inks' representatives from South Carolina, and he put a bulk ink system on my printer."

At MaraJet expense, the rep spent a week in Michigan, building custom profiles. Once Nethaway began using the bulk system, his costs plummeted from $2,000 to $800 a week. "Huge savings!" he said. "I've always found my colors look great. The ink seems to imbed itself better into the vinyl. We could even spill alcohol onto the vinyl, and it wouldn't affect the ink. And the prints cure faster."

After more than a year using the non-OEM ink, Nethaway says he has had nothing but success with the product. "You just have to be able to do the research and ask the right questions of the right people," he says. "Don't be afraid to get a wrong answer, because the right answer could be just one more question away."

Benefits Know No Bounds

Dave Miller, president of Eugene, OR-based Warp Grafix LLC also has taken the plunge in the past two years.Before switching, he had been using Roland's Eco-Sol Max ink for his SJ-540, which he says is "an older machine, but kicks butt."

"The owner of Pacific Sign Supply recognized things were tight for me, and I asked if there was any way to bring down the cost of my inks," Miller recalls. "He said Bordeaux had recently brought out an eco-solvent ink testing as well as Eco-Sol Max."

Miller calls himself "extremely picky" because he knows if his output doesn't look good he doesn't get referrals. The thought of converting to inks he hadn't used before gave him pause. But he did.

"I started noticing my colors were a little more vibrant," he remarks. "Not something the average person might glean, but when you do as much color work as I do, you notice these things. [And] I have detected no difference between the Eco-Sol Max or the Bordeaux in terms of working with them."

The final benefit is savings, he said. Switching cartridge inks 18 months ago let him to drop from 20 to 18 cents per square foot. A year later, he switched to the bulk ink delivery system, and cliff dived from 18 to eight cents. "It really saved me a lot of money," he muses. "To me, every penny counts in this economy...And I've not been unhappy with my production. The thing I hear is, ‘Things seem so vibrant.'"

Down the coast in San Diego at No Boundaries, president Tom Capp had been using Seiko inks on his Seiko ColorPainter 64.

"I've known Triangle for some time, and at trade shows I'd ask them about the progress they were making on producing a bulk ink system for ColorPainters," he says. "Finally they introduced the bulk system. I'm slow to move things over, because once you do it's a big commitment. So we did a lot of testing. We tested one printer for three or four months with bulk ink delivery systems before moving all our equipment over."

He has been "really pleased" with the colors. "That was one of the fears I had," he remembers. "It's a little more vibrant, like on the reds, but still consistent with what we were using before. And there's less waste with the bulk system."

Wilmington, NC-based Expogo had been working with proprietary inks supplied for the company's HP and Roland printers, recalls graphics director Doug Hilburn.

"Lexjet approached us about using some of their branded ink," Hilburn says. "We tried it and it worked out well. It was, first, a price consideration. But it ended up being a convenience consideration as well. Because we order a lot of materials through LexJet, we decided we could get everything from LexJet. And they've been great service-wise."

Expogo made the move from HP to Lexjet inks about 2.5 years ago, and from Roland to LexJet inks a year and a half ago. Over that time, the has company saved about 30 percent overall, Hilburn estimates.

"We didn't have to do any readjusting of our profiles, or [have to] adjust our process," he adds. "The switch was seamless."

Got it in Writing

Taking like amounts of caution before embracing third-party inks was sales and marketing employee Kurt Paulsen and art director Keith Schill at SourceOne Graphics in Spring Lake Park, MN.

"We have a NUR Tempo, the first installed in the US," Paulsen says. "We started out with NUR's proprietary ink, and had problems with it. To be fair to NUR, this was early in the development of the machine, and we experienced heads clogging. We decided to go to Nazdar, which came to us and proposed we serve as a beta site for them in developing and testing digital ink. That was three years ago."

While a rigorous maintenance schedule is needed to keep the heads clean, the Nazdar inks perform much better, he adds. And SourceOne wound up with a better deal on the ink, plus highly responsive technical support and service.

Paulsen's suggestion to others who might be considering a switch to non-OEM inks is to make sure a written commitment is agreed upon.

"Nazdar agreed they would put this ink in our machine, and if it didn't work out they would immediately take it out, putting our old ink back in so we wouldn't lose any production time. They also agreed if their product damaged our machine, they would pay for repairs, replacement and/or cleaning of the head. We had it in writing."

Poplar Bluff, MO-based Sign Works is another that switched to third-party inks. Owner Ryan Brooks reports he prints on a Roland SP-540V, and had been using specified Roland inks. "My sales rep offered me free inks—a $400 value—to try Eleven Ten Color," Brooks says. "I couldn't tell any difference as far as the quality of the printing. I just pulled out my inks and changed them. I didn't have to do any adjustments or change my profiles."

Sign Works underwent the ink changeover about six to eight months ago, and has been saving about 30 to 40 percent. Brooks estimates his savings at $40 a cartridge. "You get the same quality for a better value," he concludes. "If you do a lot of print work, you'll wind up saving a lot of money."