To test these all-in-ones, we obtained ink from each of the printer manufacturers and from four other suppliers: Cartridge World, InkTecShop, JetTec and StinkyInk. These are all substantial suppliers of cartridges from the Web or through high street shops. InkTecShop and StinkyInk are dealers and importers, who supply cartridges from a variety of different manufacturers, or re-manufacturers, while JetTec makes and fills its own cartridges. CartridgeWorld specialises in refilling empty cartridges that its customers bring to its chain of franchised stores.
One thing you need to realise when considering third-party ink cartridges is that those that are refilled, manufacturersâ€™ cartridges are a bit of an unknown quantity. You don't know how many times the cartridges have been through the re-manufacturing process and, on cartridges with integral heads, how worn the heads might be. In this test, the HP and Lexmark devices use cartridges with integral heads.
Other printers use permanent heads â€“ the Canon and Epson machines in this survey â€“ and here thereâ€™s a different problem. If you use a third-party cartridge in these machines which doesnâ€™t give the performance you want, you may have trouble flushing all the ink out of the print heads, so you can use the manufacturerâ€™s ink again.
There are two parts to the printing process: the ink and the paper. The printer makers are keen to expound on how the two parts of the printing system are developed together. The chemistry of the ink is matched to the characteristics of the paper and most papers are built up from several different layers of material, some of which absorb ink, some prevent it spreading and others maintain the gloss in a photo print.
To test this claim of matched ink and paper, we brought in glossy photo papers from the four printer manufacturers and from Ilford, Kodak, PC World and Staples; papers which are designed to work with all the main brands of printer. To test the quality of prints on plain paper, we used multipurpose plain paper from the office supplier, Neat Ideas. This paper is designed to work satisfactorily with inkjet and laser printers, as well as with photocopiers.