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Introduction

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The single biggest complaint that customers have against manufacturers of ink-jet printers and all-in-ones is the cost of consumables. While hardware prices continue to drop, the costs of ink and paper stay pretty much the same and, each year, can well add up to a good proportion of the purchase price of a machine.

This is why third-party ink and paper has proved so popular. At a fraction of the price of manufacturer's own products, you can buy look-alike consumables which appear to do exactly the same job as the originals. But there's a nagging doubt in the back of the mind that the quality of the resulting prints won't be up to the original manufacturers’ standard – a doubt which is played upon by all the main printer makers.
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The four big names in printers and all-in-ones – Canon, Epson, HP and Lexmark – all suggest you may damage your machine by using unbranded consumables and that, even if they work, the print quality won't be as good.

We set out to answer this question: Are prints produced using third-party inks and papers as good as those produced with manufacturers’ own products?

We borrowed samples of current, mid-range all-in-one machines from the main four printer makers: Canon’s PIXMA MP600, the Stylus Photo RX640 from Epson, the HP OfficeJet 6310 and the X5470 from Lexmark. These are the kind of multi-function printing devices that are selling in great numbers for general home and home office use. They represent a good cross-section of the kind of devices that customers may consider using with third-party inks and papers.

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