OEM vs Third Party - Its a very careful balancing act
The whole subject of whether to use OEM inks, or not, goes around and around. The same thing used to apply, and still does, to toner cartridges. Having worked directly for the Japanese manufacturer / OEMs and from a pure technical perspective I can say that such companies spend an absolute fortune in ensuring compatibility between consumables and the active parts of printers, plotters, copiers, etc. The designs are finalised with specific parameters plus or minus a small tolerance to allow for manufacturing differences. These tolerances are generally very small as the OEMs have very tight control over the manufacturing processes for the actual piece of hardware and the consumables. Now when you look at the companies manufacturing the compatible consumables they fall into different categories as well. There are some that will also be the same company that has been sub contracted by an OEM to manufacture consumables for them under stringent conditions that then either lose the contract with the OEM but then continue to manufacture the consumables under a different label and hopefully maintain the original stringent standards. However, this costs money and is then generally the first casualty on the new label manufacturing process as they seek ways in which to make the product even cheaper. Also there is the situation where the OEM launches new models and the sub contracted company simply assumes that the new models use exactly the same products and standards so then apply their existing new label knowledge and manufacturing processes for the new OEM products. In many cases the theory breaks down very quickly as the OEM will have learned valuable lesson from feedback of parts used, breakdown information and statistics and consumables use for the previous ranges of products and will have reined the new models, so the incompatibility gap is created and continues to worsen as the OEM releases new product ranges.
Confused? Yes? Well just look at the reasons that the OEMs actually continue to change the formulas and manufacturing processes for any given product. One it ties you, the consumer, to the OEMs consumables. This is where all OEMs actually make money from the product range. The actual payback for any product is quite elongated as the cost of the actual product has to be recovered, as much as possible by revenue from the sales of the product and if the OEM does not set the correct price, have sufficient quality, incentivise the dealer network correctly then they will inevitably fail. If they just openly let any third party manufacture consumables for their products they will inevitably lose out on recovering the cost of investment, R&D, and manufacturing the product in the first place. This is a great recipe for commercial suicide. Given all of this so far the OEM needs to make money so will make small changes to the consumables for each new product to make them incompatible with the previous products. These are generally in the form of changing the design of the physical cartridges so they are not interchangeable between different models. Now as proof of the concept, try approaching any of the OEMS and asking if you can buy any quantity from 1 to 1,000,000 empty cartridges and the answer will always be an emphatic NO. This protects their consumables marketing monopoly. Protecting the monopoly also allows them to set their prices at whatever they see fit. This is always at a relatively high level. As proof just look at the price differential between any OEM and compatible third party cartridges.
Now there is the second category where the third party manufacturer simply wants to cash in on the OEM product and make as much money as it can and stay ahead of any other third party manufacturer following the same path. What will happen in this case is that the third party will not have any interest in having any agreement with the OEM so as to maximise all the profits for itself. They will purchase OEM consumables and reverse engineer them. This s not as difficult as it sounds with techniques for laser profiling the outer casing and inner workings of the cartridges very well advanced. For instance I have seen an OEM cartridge emptied of its ink contents and then totally filled with some new compound and then CAT scanned to get a true 3D image of the product, which makes it relatively easy to copy and manufacture. The ink is then analysed for its contents via a Chromatograph and the new formula then created and tested in a matter of hours. Other methods are not so advanced of course and usually will result in greatly inferior products. This is why there is great variation in the quality of the third party consumables.
Then there is the third option where the OEM design is simply copied by a spy or by someone willing to make a fast buck who simply sells it on to a third party for subsequent manufacturing. These are generally of really high quality and in some cases are almost impossible to identify from the genuine OEM product and are sold as the genuine OEM product. This is also often the case with the higher quality reverse engineered products.
Consumables are the lifeblood of the OEM and massive opportunities for the third party manufacturers. Now simple economics dictates that we as consumers, and this includes businesses, will not want to be simply ripped off by the OEM, or by any third party, so we look for the best deals around and rely upon widely available information, reliable or not, from other consumers to tell us what the best deals are. Inevitably these are the third party products so guess what we all go out and buy? Yes its the third party products. This can be somewhat of a lottery especially if the third party brand is unknown to us from pervious experience, but even they can get it wrong. Every time they can shave some unit manufacturing cost by using less plastic in the main housing, or save on the cost of the materials that make up the actual consumable, they make even more money or can reduce the wholesale unit cost to make their product appear more attractive to the consumer.
Now comparing the actual quality of the finished product against the OEM product gets very interesting and despite what you may have heard the OEMS do actually test the compatible consumables with their products to assess the likely impact on need for spares such as print heads etc. They also use this information to sometimes approach the third party to then commence manufacturing for them if it will increase capacity or save them manufacturing costs, this completing the cycle. Returning back to the core subject, some third party products are every bit as good as the genuine OEM product and will not cause any issues to the product itself. Some will cause a degree of problems and some are just definitely going to cause problems. As an example just look at the Continuous Ink Supply Systems (CISS) that have appeared on the market in recent times. The concept is simple, use the same old cartridges, fit a tube into them and connect this to a large bottle of ink. Simple! Well yes and no! Some of the systems are very good and some are just diabolically bad with the silicone tubes coming away from the cartridge and flooding the printer with ink that invariably flows over the workstation, or desk, and finds its way onto the carpet etc. Some get blocked or filled with air you can never clear them so you revert back to using one shot cartridges again. Ever wondered why OEMs have never really gone down this route apart from their high end A0 sized products? It makes you buy their cartridges and their inks. OEMS are also getting clever, just like the motor manufacturers and petrochemical companies once did, by putting strange additives in their consumables. Some of these additives are then engineered into the designs of the print heads and ink supply systems so that if you use anything else you get inferior results, or clogging, or other malfunctions as the droplet sizes cannot be maintained at the precision engineered print heads etc. Some of these are just not necessary and are bluff type additives to fool the third party manufacturers and delay them in getting the formulas correct. Other little tricks including changing the pantone (colour and hue) of the primary inks so that the third parties continually have to reformulate inks for every model that the OEM products.
WARNINGS! You dont always get a better product because you pay more and One size does not fit all, so when you see those big attractive bottles of ink that you can buy for the same price as 1 OEM cartridge then remember that every time you use one of those, assuming that it of one of the better quality third party products that you will need to recalibrate your printer to get the best results but given the look of many outputs I have recently seen at photo exhibitions may people dont know about this, dont care about this or are simply not able to see the differences anyway. If you are a perfectionist on a limited budget then calibration is the only option. Given the cost of replacing most print heads it is simply better to buy a new printer. Many people who find a printer that they like and get on with really well are already buying extra printers of the same type that sit in their OEM box all sealed up until the day that model number 1 fails. A good time to buy the extra printers is when they are near end of life and the retailers are desperate to dump them before the new OEM model is launched. I fall into this category myself as I do a lot of printing. I have found a bulk ink system that really works well with my printers and an extremely high quality ink supplier 9not the same as the one from the CISS system) and the combination works. I also store my bulk ink in a fridge at 3oC to prolong their life. It is just like going back to the analogue days of photography before digital photography came along. The chemistry varied between manufacturers as did the qualities of the original film mediums, take, Kodak vs Ilford vs Fuji. All had / have their own strengths and weaknesses and all users had their own preferences.
So the final message is you may have to experiment with third party products to get result that are acceptable to you. If you are lucky this will not take too long. Then stick with your choice. Remember every wasted cartridge and every wasted print increases your true costs of producing every good print. This is also influenced directly by the cost and lifetime output of your chosen printer. Try working out the simple equation or the original cost of the printer, plus its carriage costs or your petrol costs to collect it, add the costs of all of the cartridges, paper, T-shirt sheets, labels, discs, etc, that you have used and divide this by the number of prints reported on your printer test page. The number may surprise you. The cost should keep on going down over time but is dependant on consumable costs and quality remaining constant. If you really want to work it out then try to estimate the cost of electricity in the equation as well. Frightening isnt it! Good luck in making your choices!