Stinkyink Cartridges Go Head To Head With Original inks, AND WIN Jun 14, 2012 14:24 by Matt Bird
We sing the praises of all the cheap printer ink we sell every day, but we know our products are awesome, it’s you that needs reassurance. so we paid for an independent reviewer in the form of the renowned Simon Williams.
If you’ve read an online printer review in the UK, it is probably by him, and he’s kind of clever. The results of his focus group tests are below. Remember this is a fully independent study, using our cartridges to test against OEM quality. Enjoy!
An Independent Test of Stinkyink Cartridge Quality
The question most asked about inkjet printing is, “Why are the inks so expensive?” This is closely followed by the second most asked question, which is “Are 3rd Party/Compatible inks any good?”
The first question is easy to answer. More than a decade ago, the printer makers twigged that the income from making printers came not from the one-off customer purchase of a printer, but from the on-going purchase of ink, which lasted for the lifetime of each machine sold. They promptly reduced the price of their single and multi-function printers and slowly increased the relative cost of the ink.
It’s now at a point where a page of black text covering around five percent of the page area, not much more than a letter with five or six lines, costs between 3p and 4p to print. A colour one with the same amount of each colour (around 20 percent cover) costs about 10p. There are exceptions, Kodak being the most notable, but these levels of cost are typical. Also bear in mind that a 15 x 10cm photo print has a larger area than 20 percent of an A4 page, and at these rates, each one costs about 12p.
Can you get good results from a printer using inks and paper from 3rd Parties? The printer makers would say ‘No’, citing the fact that the ink and paper formulations are designed together in their own laboratories and in collaboration with the designers of the print heads in the printers and all-in-ones. This all sounds plausible enough, and I’ve been round the production facilities and development labs of several of the major manufacturers and can vouch for the fact that printhead, ink and paper are designed as complete, integrated systems.
However logical it seems to construct a print system where all the main components are designed together, the proof of the concept is the quality of the end result; the printed sheet or photo.
The easiest way to test the relative quality of OEM and 3rd Party consumables is to print a series of sample pages and photos and see how a cross section of people rate them. By printing with a series of different printers using both manufacturers’ (OEM) and compatible (3rd Party) consumables, and comparing them in a double-blind trial, it’s possible to see which are best and worst regarded.
We took four all-in-one printers – mid-range models from high sellers Canon, Epson, HP and Lexmark – and samples of their recommended inks and papers. We also took the best Stinky Ink 3rd Party inks and papers. We then printed samples of mixed black text and colour graphics on plain paper and both landscape and portrait photos (subject matter as well as orientation) on photo paper.
The samples were displayed in random order and a focus group was set up with typical printer users, who were asked to examine all the samples and score them out of 10, bearing in mind a series of guideline factors. The tests were conducted under good, overhead fluorescent light and neither tester nor focus group knew which sample came from which printer or which ink was used.
Plain Paper Print Results
If you look at the top three ranked prints on plain paper, HP does very well. Using its own Vivera ink, it gains first and third place, though with a higher score using Staples Multiuse paper, rather than its own Bright White. Looked at across all combinations, HP also wins through with a higher aggregate score from our focus group. All four HP prints were in the top six, a commendable result.
In between the two HPs, in second place, comes the Lexmark printer using Stinky Ink ink and HP Bright White paper. Since Lexmark doesn’t market a plain paper of its own, we used HP Bright White as the Lexmark’s ‘own brand’; it’s a very widely available, high quality inkjet paper. The other three Lexmark results were spread further down the group, with the combination of 3rd party ink and HP Bright White paper coming third from bottom. This suggests it’s the ink which makes the difference with Lexmark plain paper prints.
Lexmark did marginally better overall than Epson, which sat in the middle of the field in all four combinations of consumables. The highest Epson result was using own brand ink and paper, then with 3rd Party paper, then 3rd Party ink and Epson paper and finally with both 3rd Party ink and paper.
We were surprised at the lowest ranking in the group, which was the Canon printer, using Canon ink and paper. While it’s true Canon’s forte has always been printing photos, we’d not been aware before that, even with ideal consumables, its performance on plain paper is not strong. It was not up to the prints produced by any other machine, according to our focus group.
Introducing 3rd Party ink or paper improved results slightly, but the only combination which did well was with Canon ink and Staples Multiuse paper, where the print outs were ranked fourth, overall…some consolation. Even so, Canon came through with the lowest aggregate score in this category.
Landscape Photo Print Results
From coming at the bottom of the field in the plain paper print category, Canon nearly wipes the board in the landscape photo print, taking first and second place. There’s little to choose between the two results, with Canon inks just pipping the Stinky Ink 3rd party product. These two are quite a way ahead of the third placed, Lexmark print, which interestingly uses Stinky Ink ink and Inkrite paper, both 3rd party products.
The Lexmark print using the company’s own ink and paper came bottom in our focus group, a little way below the next placed print. That a printer using 3rd party consumables throughout could easily outrank one using OEM ink and paper was very unexpected.
While Canon outranked HP on aggregate, more surprising was Lexmark, which did the same. This was using older Vizix inks, too, rather than Lexmark’s more recent Vizix 2 formulation. HP’s long-held reputation as the printer of choice for photo prints doesn’t seem to hold up, certainly from these results. Its best rank was eighth, for a combination of Vivera ink and 3rd Party paper, and the other three prints came close to the bottom of the pile.
Unfortunately, the 3rd Party Inkrite paper won’t run through certain Epson printer models, including the Stylus SX235W we used, so we were only able to obtain results for Epson and Stinky Ink prints on Epson’s own Premium Glossy paper. These came through mid-ranked and we would expect the printer to achieve similar rankings on a good quality 3rd Party paper, just not the Inkrite one.
Of the three machines for which we obtained aggregate scores, Canon bettered Lexmark by around 12 percent and Lexmark outscored HP by around 15 percent. If Epson had scored as well with 3rd Party paper as it did with its own brand, it would have roughly equalled HP.
The difference between the highest and lowest average scores in this category was 2.75, lower than the spread in the rankings of the plain paper prints, which was 3.88. This implies that our focus group evaluators found it harder to pick between these photo prints than between the best and worst plain paper prints.
Portrait Photo Print Results
You might think the results of the portrait photo print evaluations would be very similar to those of the landscape ones. This doesn’t necessarily follow, though, as the landscape photo is full of greens and blues, while the portrait one concentrates on flesh tones. Here, though, these considerations prove unconvincing, as Canon again takes two of the top three places, though sharing first place with Lexmark.
In fact, the Canon print using Stinky Ink ink and Canon Platinum Pro paper scored exactly the same as the all-Canon print in the landscape category. Lexmark’s winning combination was again using 3rd Party ink and paper, something which obviously suits the machine.
Canon and Lexmark didn’t do as well with their portrait prints as they did with the landscape prints. There they took the top seven places between them, while here they could only manage six of the top 10 places. When using 3rd Party paper, with either type of ink, Canon’s prints weren’t rated highly by our group, who placed them near the bottom, along with the Lexmark print using its own ink and paper.
Epson managed to get fourth and seventh place in this category, rather better that it achieved in the landscape category and its aggregate score reflected this. If we had been able to obtain results with 3rd Party paper, it’s likely it would have come close to Canon and Lexmark. Epson has always been highly valued by portrait photographers for the natural skin colours its consumables can produce.
At the bottom end of the group comes the HP print, though it was using 3rd party ink and paper, which don’t appear to suit it as well as they do Canon or Lexmark. It also took second to bottom place, though, with its own ink and 3rd Party paper. It did manage a sixth place with own-brand ink and paper, though.
Overall, it was again 15 percent lower on aggregate score than the Lexmark machine, which was less than 1 percent behind Canon. It was very difficult for our evaluators to pick between the output of these two machines.
When you look at the results for all three categories together, 3rd Party inks were used in six of the top nine prints, so overall our focus group rated prints using them more highly than those using manufacturers’ consumables. However, they were also used in two of the three worst prints, so it’s not the whole picture.
It seems to be that 3rd Party inks and papers give better results in some machines than others. Our Epson printer, the Stylus SX235W, wouldn’t run the 3rd Party Inkrite photo glossy paper, for instance, and the HP Photosmart 6510 gave poorer results using 3rd Party ink in all but one case.
On the other hand, the Canon PIXMA MG6250 appeared to do equally well with 3rd Party and OEM inks and was more affected by the choice of paper. The Lexmark Prospect Pro208 was judged better in all cases, when using 3rd Party inks.
It’s important not to extrapolate too far from these results. While it’s fair to say other printers using the same print engines as the ones in our test printers are likely to give similar results and possibly even those which use the same cartridge types, even if they have different engines, you can’t open it up to complete brands. You can’t say all Lexmark machines will do better with Stinky Ink consumables than Lexmark ones, or that all HP printers will do better with original supplies. If you’re a Lexmark owner, it would certainly be worth trying Stinky Ink cartridges, though.
During the tests, we had to swap from one cartridge type to another and we were concerned to ensure a complete change of ink, to give a fair chance to all products. We performed two deep clean cycles each time we swapped cartridges, or four regular cleans, if deep clean wasn’t an option. HP was particularly helpful, in supplying two review samples of the Photosmart 6510, while Epson declined to take part, so we bought a printer to make sure it was included.
Let’s Not Fade Away
This isn’t the end of the evaluation. There’s one major factor that hasn’t been considered yet. Although several of our print samples produced with 3rd Party inks and papers were judged as good or better than those using manufacturer’s own consumables, it’s not possible at this stage to say if that will continue.
The resistance to fade and image degradation over time is another concern often raised by printer manufacturers. Only when using their own consumables, the argument runs, do you get images which are truly fade resistant over months or years.
To test this out, we’re now going to cut each of the test prints into three, putting a third of each away in a drawer, a third on board on an inside wall with no direct sunlight and the final third in the window to catch the best of an English summer. After three months, we’ll put the prints back together again and assess their fade and any other defects that may have appeared.
We’ll come back to you with a report on that stage of the survey and you should then have a good idea of the differences between using manufacturer’s own consumables and those sold by Stinky Ink, which undergo their own quality testing before ever making it for sale.