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Making Sense of Ink-cost Claims

1 Apr, 2010 By: Kathleen Wirth imageSource

Making Sense of Ink-cost Claims

Traditionally in the office-imaging industry, ink-jet
imaging technology has tended to play second-fiddle to laser-imaging technology.
But with economic restraints imposed by the current recession, ink-jet imaging
devices, with their very low power usage, may be a viable alternative for many
small businesses. These small businesses may not have the means to purchase
more-expensive, energy-intensive laser counterparts, but they may still require
color capability, as well as copy, scan and/or fax. 

Cost Per Page Wars

Ink-jet devices’ cost per page has always been a contentious issue, based on the
business model used to sell these devices (low acquisition price).For quite some
time, ink-jet vendors stated ink yields according to their own test methods and
test samples.  This made comparing page yields impossible, since, for instance,
vendor A might base their page yield on a page with different color coverage
than vendor B.

Wirth Consulting’s Terry Wirth, who began his career under
the tutelage of Arthur Kallet (a co-founder of Consumers Reports magazine), has
been involved in the testing of copier and printer ink/toner yields for many
years. Terry was also heavily involved in the development of American Society
for the Testing of Materials (ASTM) F.05 page-yield test methods and procedures.

Terry points out, “The development of page-yield standards
was always a dicey proposition and it took years of work at ASTM before any kind
of consensus could be reached. This is because the ASTM charter specifies that
each subcommittee consist of a specified mix of consumers, manufacturers and
observers, and there were monumental economic issues at stake for many members.”

Eventually, after many years, the committee hashed out test
methods and procedures, it took ANSI/ISO to stick a fork in it with ISO/IEC
24711, a standard that has been adopted for ink-jet and solid-ink devices. ISO/IEC
24711 is described as “a method for determination of ink-cartridge yield for
color ink-jet printer and multifunction devices that contain printer

Fast forward to 2007, when Eastman Kodak entered the market
with eight color ink-jet All-in-Ones. Since then, Kodak has been aggressively
marketing the claim that its All-in-Ones are less expensive to run than
competitors' ink-jet systems.  As you’d expect, Kodak’s competitors have
challenged these statements.

Let’s Look At The Numbers

So who’s right? Using these recently obtained numbers, let’s do a
cost-per-page analysis on several current ink-jet MFPs from the major vendors
and find the answer. We’ll look at color ink-jet AIOs in the range of $125-$175
using hardware and cartridge pricing that we obtained from the Staples® Web

And the Winner Is

Indeed, Kodak at 5.829¢ (followed closely by HP at 8.090¢).  But is there
anything else we need to look at?

Houston, We Have A Problem

There is a problem with taking these numbers at face value.  While it is
indeed valid to compare all the numbers above, you can't include Kodak in the
comparison because it employs a multi-color cartridge. Why is this so?

The multi-color (or chamber) cartridge that has been used
by many other vendors in the past has been largely abandoned in favor of
individual cartridges for each color because of a single glaring weakness: the
multi-color cartridge houses roughly equal quantities of the various ink colors
in a single cartridge.

While this may keep down the cost of cartridge manufacturing, it doesn't do the
user any favors at all unless they print documents that require the exact same
ratio of all of the ink colors. This is because, as soon as one color runs out,
you need to change and dispose of the cartridge even though it may still contain
considerable quantities of the other ink colors. In theory, you can still print
with a multi-color cartridge that has run out of one color, but your color image
quality will be hideously wrong (think psychedelic) and the software/device will
continuously nag you until you relent and change the cartridge. The bottom line
is that nobody in the real world is going to be able to wring every last drop of
color ink out of a multi-color cartridge and their cost per page will suffer
accordingly. How much it will suffer can't be determined, but you most certainly
don't have a leg to stand on when you start pointing a finger at who is
overcharging who for printer ink.

How Much Ink’s Actually In That Cartridge Anyway?

OK, why not just compare how much ink is actually in those cartridges? 
Currently ink-jet vendors are exempt from disclosing the actual amount of ink
contained in their ink cartridges. As it stands now, these vendors state an
estimated number of actual pages that the cartridge is capable of printing using
previously discussed industry guidelines that state how to determine page

Wirth Consulting believes that it's actually more important
to know a cartridge's page yield, rather than how much ink is contained in a
cartridge. This is because some printers utilize ink more efficiently. For
example, an ink-jet printer that has superior dot control (control over how a
droplet of ink is placed on the paper), and that more accurately places smaller
dots of ink on a page will use less ink to print a particular page than a
printer that wastes ink through undisciplined ink usage by sloppily applying
larger dots of ink. In this scenario, the cartridge that holds less ink can in
theory produce more printed pages than a cartridge that holds more ink.

The bottom line is that the quantity of ink in a cartridge
has significantly less meaning than the actual pages that they yield when tested
under the same conditions (print settings, test target, etc.).

Wirth Consulting’s Perspective

Don’t expect any of these issues to simmer down anytime soon. Wirth Consulting
believes that ink-jet imaging has a number of advantages over laser imaging
(particularly lower power consumption), and current economic conditions may
favor its adoption, so that cost per page will continue to be a contentious

 …no body in the real world is going to be able to wring
every last drop of color ink out of a multi-color cartridge…

Kathy Wirth, Principal, Wirth Consulting, LLC, Denville, NY can be contacted at
(973) 964-3579 or email Kathy@wirthconsulting.org.

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