Printer manufacturers are using scare tactics to discourage consumers from using ink produced by third-party manufacturers.
Reluctant to loosen their grip on the lucrative market for printer supplies, they warn that substitute inks are of inferior quality and that by using the cartridges customers risk damaging their printers and invalidating their warranty.
But experts and rivals working in the field disagree.In the US, the Rochester Institute of Technology tests and validates remanufacturers' products at its National Center for Remanufacturing and Resource Recovery.
Professor Nabil Nasr of the facility explained that the processes used for remanufactured consumables today are so sophisticated that performance is not generally an issue.
"Initially, remanufactured cartridges didn't live up to customer expectations. But the industry has made great strides," he said. "Of course it depends on the individual companies, but remanufactured products are as good and in some cases can exceed the performance of new cartridges."
But for consumers there is little clear advice on choosing the right brand. There are many types of inks for many different inkjet cartridges. Each uses its own composition and manufacturing process, which means many inks are patented.
But original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) also make third-party generic ink for each other's printers. And some printer makers buy their ink from the same OEM as the remanufacturer.
Colours may vary, but the difference is so slight it is almost impossible to spot using the naked eye, said Professor Nasr.
He said if the end result is poor, the blame is more likely to lie with the type of paper used than the ink. Image permanence, he added, is also not an issue.
"No one wants their pictures fading so we test colour permanence in an ozone chamber. Here we subject a test picture to simulated sunlight equivalent to 10 to 25 years of ageing," he said.
The Consumers' Association's Which? magazine found in its own independent testing last year that the difference in many cases was negligible, and that results were sometimes better from remanufactured printer cartridges.
Most companies ensure that their ink products are heavily tested, said Fran Blanco, a spokeswoman for Media Sciences International, a manufacturer of printer supplies.
"The industry is very focused and many remanufacturers have adopted the Commission Internationale de l'Eclairage (CIE), which is a standard that covers image technologies," she said.
Consumers are also wary of using third-party cartridges for fear that this will invalidate their printer warranty.
An Office of Fair Trading study found that 78 per cent of consumers had not tried to switch to third-party cartridges or refill kits because of printer manufacturer recommendations.
"The printer OEMs just want to create fear," said Blanco. "The likelihood of a remanufactured cartridge damaging a printer is minimal. Yes, it can happen; the cartridge may be faulty and leak ink. But so can an OEM's cartridge.
"In a case like this the remanufacturer should be responsible and the customer should check this."
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