Aftermarket Inks for Your Photo Printer

Pros and Cons of Inexpensive Inks

by Peter K. Burian

Burian printer photo
Burian printer photo
© Peter K. Burian
All Rights Reserved
Regardless of the brand of photo printer that you use, print permanence and full compatibility with the print head technology are important for any serious print-making.

Independent Ink Tests: A Google search will lead to a few Reviews of one or more brands of ink for photo printers but often these were published in other countries. They may not cover many of the common brands of inks available in North America. Others do cover some relevant brands but the reports are often based on testing conducted four or more years ago. These are of greater interest but remember: there's no way of knowing whether they are valid for the latest ink formulations that are currently sold by the aftermarket companies.

An article published in 2006 by HealthStip provides a brief summary of the extensive testing conducted by Wilhelm Imaging Research (WIR) an independent lab. This publications warns about the serious concerns about print fading at that time with the inks that were tested: "Testing reveals that aftermarket photo inks and media fall far short of these claims, with a gap of more than 70 years in permanence ratings in some cases."

Epson Ink R2880
Epson Ink R2880
© Peter K. Burian
All Rights Reserved

Photo Printer Ink: Check the Permanence Rating

You can also download full data and specifics from the 2006 report from the WIR web site. Be sure to review the chart with the print permanence rating for numerous inks that were tested in 2005. It's as short as 5 months - and under 2 years on average - for the aftermarket inks. (I was unable to find updates for the latest "no-name" inks; perhaps these are more fade resistant.) By comparison, the permanence ratings for some OEM inks tested at that time ranged from 16 years to 73 years.

The permanence rating for some machines exceeds 100 years. For example, if you use certain Epson photo papers and the "genuine" Epson pigmented inks, the prints made by a Stylus Pro R2880 (see photo) should resist obvious fading for up to 200 years when matted and displayed under glass.

Other Useful Information: For other insights, also read the 2003 article "Cheap Ink Probed", at PC World, especially the comments about poor compatibility with some brands of printers when using certain cartridges. A "money back" warranty is important with aftermarket inks. Again this is not a recent publication; newer aftermarket inks and cartridges may be more reliable.


HP Ink
HP Ink
© Peter K. Burian
All Rights Reserved
In any event, here's the conclusion from their 2003 tests. "Judging from our experience, finding a reasonably priced substitute for brand-name ink can be a risky business. If top quality and print longevity aren't of paramount importance, you can save money using no-name inks - but you may have to spend a lot of time cleaning clogged printheads. Still, some users may find the savings justify the hassles. If print quality - and especially durability - are a top concern, however, you're better off playing it safe by gritting your teeth and shelling out for brand-name inks."

Notes: Although not mentioned by PC World, changing from aftermarket ink to "genuine" ink would require several head cleanings to remove all of the previously used dyes or pigments. Note too that neither PC World or WIR tested the expensive aftermarket inks - or the "continous feed" ink systems - marketed by several companies for certain high-end photo printers.

Using the Original Equipment Manufacturer's ink cartridges, such as shown in the accompanying HP Ink photo, will minimize clogging and ensure full compatibility. As well, the OEM ink formulation for a specific cartridge will remain consistent for many years.


Photo Printer Ink: Recommendations

You may decide to try no-name ink for printing snapshots, Web pages and documents for your child's homework. In that case, it's best to buy a machine specifically for that purpose; these are available for as little as $55.

Until you find a very recent independent test report about an excellent aftermarket ink, I suggest playing it safe regarding your most serious photo printing. The machine used for that purpose should remain pure, employing only the manufacturer's cartridges/inks. That will ensure optimal fade-resistance, quality and compatibility with the unique print head technology used by each manufacturer. And finally, you'll get maximum consistency so you won't experience surprises when printing the same image in the future.


More Information

Peter K. Burian teaches two excellent online photo tutorials - Mastering the Digital Camera and Photography and Mastering the Canon EOS Digital Rebels - at BetterPhoto's digital photography school online.

Also see Peter's Pro BetterPholio website: www.peterkburian.com.

Also check out these other free articles on photography. And subscribe to BetterPhoto's free photography newsletters.

Article by Peter K. Burian. To learn more about photography, explore the many online photography and Photoshop classes offered here at BetterPhoto.com.