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Considering Alternative Inks?

Have you ever considered using alternative inks? As the inkjet market continues to mature and users become savvier, the trend of alternative inks is growing.

By Ed McCarron, Vice President of digital imaging for Coveris Advanced Coatings

The substantial cost savings has many sign industry professionals reconsidering the use of alternative inks.

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  • Despite the increasing interest, the implementation of alternative inks is still in its early stages. Such hesitancy is not uncommon to the sign industry. In fact, when the wide format market began evolving over 15 years ago, people were initially only using OEM media because they had a limited understanding of the products available. As the industry began to mature and become smarter and more comprehensive, people made the educated decision to move to alternative media. Similarly, the ink market is now at that point where it is evolving technologically.

    Misconceptions Associated with Alternative Inks
    Despite these advancements, many sign professionals remain hesitant to try alternative inks because of common misconceptions. The good news is that today's alternative ink options have come a long way in a short amount of time.

    Below is a list of some of the common misconceptions, as well as an explanation of how reputable alternative ink providers have overcome these challenges. There is an emerging class of alternative ink solutions in the market today that match the quality and performance of traditional OEM inks.

    Transitioning from OEM inks to alternative inks requires production down time and system flushing: While this statement is true for offshore imports or poor quality ink options, high quality, reliable brand options are now emerging. These options allow you to do what is called a "plug and play" conversion, meaning (1) you can switch the cartridges out one at a time; (2) they can run simultaneously with the OEM branded ink; (3) no downtime or flushing of any kind is required.

    There are few options available on the market for newer printers: Manufacturers of alternative ink solutions have become savvier and are up to date with the latest trends in the industry. These manufacturers stay ahead of trends by developing new ink options to meet the newest printer technology advancements.

    Alternative inks cause head clogging and other problems such as streaking: While this remains true of some alternative ink, there is a growing list of experienced manufacturers that deliver thoroughly tested ink products designed to avoid such problems. These alternative ink suppliers continually conduct stringent testing to ensure comparable performance to OEM inks. Additionally as with OEM inks, proper printer maintenance is critical in eliminating common issues such as head clogging and streaking.

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    Factors to Consider When Choosing Among Ink Options
    For those sign industry professionals interested in the promise of alternative inks, the next logical question becomes, "How can I choose a high quality alternative ink that works for me?" It is important for users to do their research when deciding on alternative ink and to choose inks that are backed, warrantied and thoroughly color tested by the supplier.

    Below is a list of factors to consider when shopping for alternative inks:

      Cost Savings: Inks are one of the highest priced items in terms of productivity, so even the smallest percentage of savings can accumulate significantly. When considering ink options, ask the manufacturer about expected savings and request price comparison documentation. It is useful to know what your current ink expenses are so you can estimate how much you will actually save by transitioning to alternative ink. It is also important to determine if any printer procedures will need to be changed or if the inks will work with existing printer profiles.

      Performance and Image Quality: It is critical to choose an ink solution that delivers high quality and performance to meet your customers' expectations and requirements. Select an ink manufacturer that understands the complexities of the digital inkjet printing market and has a strong reputation for delivering high quality products. It is also a good idea to ask dealers or colleagues for their experience with these products.

      Testing and Qualification to OEM Standards: Just like OEM ink suppliers, reputable alternative ink suppliers should have testing and qualification results readily available. Refer to the company's website for technical bulletins and comparative data that exhibits extensive testing, including color density, gamut and fade testing results.

      Warranty: Even if you have already decided to give alternative inks a chance, be sure to double check your printer warranty. Some printer manufacturers will only honor their printers using OEM inks, but a reputable alternative ink supplier should assume the warranty. Additionally, in instances where a printer has exceeded its warranty period, confirm that the alternative inks are backed by their own warranty. Not only do these actions protect you, but also they provide confidence that the alternative ink supplier will stand behind the integrity of their product.

      ICC Profiles: No matter how promising an alternative ink solution may seem, adjusting profiles can be a very time consuming process. Try to select alternative inks that work with your existing ICC profiles to avoid any unnecessary ICC profile changes.

      Printer Availability: Today's alternative ink providers have become savvier and are up to date with the latest trends in the printing industry. Prior to signing on to purchase an alternative ink supply, visit the company's website to view their current offerings. Make sure that the supplier introduces new ink options frequently and that they have ink solutions available for the latest printer technologies.

      Usability with Other Inks: It is uncommon that all cartridges run dry at the same time therefore, it is important to determine if the alternative inks will work in tandem with your current inks. By selecting inks that can be used with OEM inks, you can avoid wasting existing ink cartridges providing flexibility and cost savings.

    Sign industry professionals are beginning to truly understand the ink options available in the market and the best choices for their specific application needs. Performance and quality remains critical when deciding on alternative ink options. Sign professionals can achieve desired performance results by taking the time to do the necessary research and selecting the most suitable alternative ink supplier for their needs. This can lead to significant cost savings that will ultimately translate into positive bottom line results.

    Ed McCarron is the Vice President of digital imaging for Coveris Advanced Coatings, which develops, manufactures and distributes coated papers, films and specialty substrates under the Magic brand for inkjet printing. For more information, visit

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