Cheap Ink: Will It Cost You?

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Manufacturers' Inks Aged Gracefully

Lexmark brand ink faded marginally, yet noticeably, under exposure to ultraviolet light. Lexmark-compatible Walgreens ink, by contrast, lost 57 percent of its color density in our UV test.
Lexmark brand ink faded marginally, yet noticeably, under exposure to ultraviolet light. Lexmark-compatible Walgreens ink, by contrast, lost 57 percent of its color density in our UV test.
Several factors determine how well a color print withstands the effects of aging. Heat, light, and pollution play major roles, as do the inks' chemical composition and the type of paper they're printed on. To test the inks' resistance to these sources of image fading, RIT technicians placed print samples in an image-durability chamber, which speeds up the aging process by exposing the prints to concentrated levels of ozone and ultraviolet light (see "How We Tested the Longevity of Inks"). In the end all of the inks tested suffered some loss of optical density, but the OEM inks generally resisted fading better than their third-party competitors did.

In RIT's study, Epson's inks, on average, showed by far the greatest resistance to fading. Test prints created using Epson ink lost only 0.5 percent of image density in the ultraviolet light test, and only about 1.6 percent of image density in the ozone exposure test. So slight a degree of degradation is hard for the human eye to detect. Images created using Epson-compatible 123Inkjet inks, the lone Epson competitor tested by RIT, lost an average of 36 percent of their image density under UV exposure, and 29 percent under ozone exposure.

The Kodak inks (tested with a Kodak Easyshare 5300 printer) averaged 5 percent fade after 80 hours in the UV chamber, while fading only 1.45 percent under ozone exposure. (At the time of our testing, no compatible third-party ink had yet emerged to compete with Kodak's ink; LD Products has since brought out cartridges for the 5300.)

The Canon brand ink faded 28 percent under exposure to ozone, and 10 percent under UV light. Canon-compatible Cartridge World inks faded about twice that much--roughly 66 percent in the ozone test, and 22 percent in the UV test.

In RIT's UV test, the Lexmark ink proved far more fade-resistant than the Walgreens ink, and marginally better on average than the Cartridge World and OverStock.com inks. None of the Lexmark or compatible inks faded substantially in the ozone test. Canon supplies--particularly the black and green inks--faded noticeably, but Cartridge World ink faded even more in all colors except black.

Manufacturers' Inks Resisted Fading Better

Printer makers' inks usually stood up better than third-party inks to heightened levels of ozone and ultraviolet rays, though the OverStock.com and Cartridge World inks resisted ozone better than their Lexmark brand rival. The numbers below represent percentage of image fade, so lower is better.

PRINTER Ink Ozone fade Ultraviolet fade
Canon Pixma MP830 Canon CLI-8 28.36% 10.03%
Cartridge World 66.01% 21.63%
Epson Stylus CX5000 Epson No. 69 1.61% 0.06%
123Inkjets 29.1% 35.96%
Lexmark X3470 Lexmark No. 1 3.32% 11.4%
Walgreens 5.13% 57.01%
Overstock.com 2.22% 22.12%
Cartridge World 2.96% 28.29%
Kodak Easyshare 53001 Kodak 1963149 5.17% 1.45%
HOW WE TEST: For the ozone fade test, we gauged the ability of an image to resist fading when exposed to pollution-in this case, ozone. Each color was measured before and after seven days of exposure to 5 ppm of ozone; we recorded the percentage of image density loss for each color and then averaged the figures. For the light-fastness evaluation, we exposed sample prints to an increased level of ultraviolet light in a Q-Panel xenon-arc chamber for 80 hours at 63 degrees Celsius. We recorded the percentage of image density loss for each color and then averaged the figures. FOOTNOTE: 1No competing aftermarket ink was available for this model, so we compared the Kodak ink to other OEM ink brands in the market. NOTE: RIT did not obtain usable results in fade tests of HP and HP-compatible ink cartridges. Source: Rochester Institute of Technology
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