There's good news from our tests for both original manufacturers and third-party ink makers. All four original manufacturers’ inks scored well in the fade tests, with those from Canon, Epson and HP coming top across-the-board, irrespective of the photo paper brand used. Lexmark's own-brand paper came second in the assessment.

Good news for Cartridge World again, since it scored as well in both the Canon and HP printers as the own-brand inks did. The fade resistance on these two printers was really very good, with little discernible fade on any of the samples. Cartridge World didn't do as well with its Epson and Lexmark compatible inks, though most of these prints were still usable. JetTec pipped Lexmark at the post by a single point and so should be considered a very good alternative on fade resistance.

Looking further down the scale, some of the third-party inks gave very poor results. InkTecShop, JetTec and Stinky Ink each had a worst score on one of the printers, with Stinky Ink being worst on both Epson and HP. In particular, Stinky Ink’s score for its HP-compatible ink was pretty atrocious. None of the prints we tested was usable after three months in the window.

Prints from the internal wall showed little signs of fading and we will have to wait till the end of the full six-month test to make any judgements on these.

When it comes to the smear tests, there are a couple of particularly interesting results. Neither HP nor Lexmark pass the smear test using their own inks on their own glossy photo papers. We went back and retested just to make sure, but both smeared.

The differences in both the fade and smear tests may be due to deficiencies in specific inks, but can also be incompatibilities between ink and paper types. As you may be aware, there are two types of colourants used in printer ink: dye and pigment. Dyes have smaller molecules and to retain their – normally brighter – colours, they need to soak into the paper for protection. Pigments are larger molecules and can resist the effects of ultraviolet rays, the damaging parts of daylight. They don’t need to soak into the paper body, but sometimes don’t offer the same colour brightness as dyes.

Although you can usually find out what type of colourant a printer ink uses, this information isn’t signed on cartridges or printers. The type of coating on different papers is also not made clear, with suppliers preferring to claim ‘Works with Canon, Epson, HP and Lexmark models’. While these papers might work with all makes of printer, they’re unlikely to work equally well with all, particularly when it comes to fading and smearing.

Ilford, one of the leading photo paper makers, offers a compatibility chart, showing which of its papers are best suited to which makes and types of printer ink. The chart can be found as a PDF file on the Ilford website.

We are only halfway through our planned fade tests, and will be continuing for a further three months to get a full six-month picture of the samples’ fade resistance. That report will follow in due course.

See also:

The Inkjet Investigation Part 1

The Inkjet Investigation Part 3

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