Cheap ink: will it cost you?

Buying replacement ink from a third-party vendor can save you big bucks. But will you pay with lousy-looking prints that fade in no time? We did months of testing to find out.

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. 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 All-in-One) 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.

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Jeff Bertolucci

PC World (US online)

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