There are several conclusions that can be drawn from these figures, but the key one is: Our panel preferred prints produced with ink from a third-party provider over those produced with manufacturerâ€™s own products.
With each manufacturer, third-party ink and paper combinations won more top scores than prints produced with own-brand inks and papers. In the case of Canon, none of the photo paper prints produced with its own ink got a top score. With the Canon, Epson and HP printers, Cartridge World received more top scores than using manufacturersâ€™ ink and with Lexmark, the same is true of the ink sold by InkTecShop.
The highest score for a paper and ink is shared by three different combinations, on three different printers, all of which scored 8.29/10 overall: the Canon printer using InkTecShop ink on Kodak paper, the HP machine printing on HP paper with Cartridge World ink and the Lexmark device using InkTecShop ink on Staples paper.
If you look at the inks across the full range of papers, taking an average of the scores from the different print samples, then Cartridge World wins three out of the four categories and InkTecShop takes the fourth. In every case, though, these scores are only marginally higher than the scores for the manufacturersâ€™ inks.
If you look at the results table from the other direction, the best paper overall is Staples, which had 16 of the print high scores produced on it. It's interesting to note that the original manufacturersâ€™ papers did much better in this survey than their inks did, with the Canon, Epson and Lexmark papers coming either first or second in their printer groups.
The overall average scores for the four printer brands, using manufacturerâ€™s ink on plain paper, are HP â€“ 7.62, Canon â€“ 7.10, Epson â€“ 6.67 Lexmark â€“ 5.76. For those prints using both manufacturerâ€™s ink and photo paper, they are HP â€“ 7.29, Epson â€“ 7.05, Canon 6.79 and Lexmark 6.14. So, when you consider prints produced by a printer using its manufacturerâ€™s ink and paper, HP produces what are considered the best prints overall, on both plain and glossy photo paper.
Where do we go from here?
Weâ€™ve established that third-party inks can produce prints which are equally well liked to those produced using manufacturersâ€™ own inks, but this is only half of the story. All the main printer manufacturers claim that third-party inks fade far more quickly than their own.
To test this out we are going to take the samples we obtained from this research and stick parts of them in an outside window, parts on a board on an inside wall and parts in an album in a drawer. We'll look at them again after three and six month intervals and see which samples have faded. Third-party inks and papers are not in the clear yet, but they've come through the first part of our examination with flying colours; literally.
The concluding parts of our investigation can be found here: