This Week in Imaging: Is the Ink/Toner and Gasoline Analogy Correct?
The fierce war in the after-market toner and ink supplies market continues to simmer. As print, and particularly copy volumes, continue to gradually decline, retaining consumables (toner and ink) revenue for vendors becomes even more key. On the one hand, while some copier/MFP vendors allow dealers to sell third-party supplies, others such as HP and Canon rigorously fight against use of third-party supplies.
This week, the secretary general of the European Toner and Ink Remanufacturers Association (ETIRA), Vincent van Dijk, posed an interesting analogy, stating that not being able to use third-party ink cartridges in one’s printer or All-in-One would be the same as not being able to use a certain brand of gasoline to fill up one’s car. (ETIRA, by the way, may be filing anti-competition complaints against HP Inc. and Canon Inc. regarding third-party ink cartridges.)
The problem with this analogy are four-fold. First, auto makers aren’t in the gasoline business, and second, to our knowledge at least, no auto maker specifies that customers use a specific brand of gasoline, noting only to use unleaded or diesel fuel at the most. Third, as most can attest, there’s virtually no difference between using Exxon or Shell gasoline in one’s car (although some dedicated car buffs may argue otherwise, for the vast majority of drivers, any difference is imperceptible). And fourth, auto makers don’t price cars much lower because they’ll be able to reap profits from the aftermarket sale of gasoline.
On the one hand, printer/MFP makers routinely state that they specially formulate toner and ink to use with their printers and MFPs, and that these consumables are specifically designed to work with their specially designed imaging systems. Our own testing shows that both third-party ink cartridges and toner cartridges don’t work as well versus OEM supplies in terms of image quality and reliability. We haven’t of course tested every third-party brand under the sun – which would take decades at this point, since so many are available – but a majority of the brands we tested don’t measure up. On the other hand, a few well-established third-party toner brands deployed for many years in the field appear to have earned a good reputation, and state that they test their supplies in in-house labs.
On the other hand, we note that various toner-based MFP vendors seem to be increasingly promoting the low-fusing temperature of their toner, noting that the lower the temperature required to fuse toner to paper to form text and images, the less energy is required, saving on energy costs for customers. But is this advantage lost when third-party toner is used? The answer appears to be yes, unless the device can sense the toner formulation and adjust fusing temperatures accordingly. This means that the toner employed by third-party suppliers may not fuse properly and that they must find a new source of toner that can handle low fusing temperatures.
The question of whether ink and toner formulations matter (and Wirth Consulting, after extensive testing, certainly believes that they do), and the idea that ink and toner are all the same, just as gas from Exxon and Shell is the same, are sure to be around for quite some time. And, while anecdotal, comments on the Wirth Consulting Web site indicate that although users want third-party supplies, many are disappointed when using them.
What is very certain is that this issue isn’t going to go away anytime soon.