Ink jet cartridges not good to the last drop -- so what?

June 19, 2007 11:26 AM EDT
In the latest salvo in the ink-jet consumables war, Epson has commissioned a study with TÜV Rheinland that purports to show that competitors' cartridges leave more ink in the tank when they're supposedly empty. Like most vendor-funded studies, however, the purpose here appears to be to create a marketing smokescreen in the ongoing ink wars.

Epson singled out Kodak's 5300, which I just completed testing, as an example. Kodak claims its lower ink cartridge costs give users a lower cost per page than do competitors' ink-jet printers. Epson claims that its printers are more efficient in consuming the ink in its cartridges - and claims that Kodak's 5300 was the least efficient in its tests, using just 36% of the ink before telling the user the cartridge was empty.

This led Ken Fisher at ARS Technica to post a blog entitled Study: Inkjet printers are dirty lying thieves.

Perhaps this ties into an interesting phenomenon I witnessed while testing the 5300.  During one test I ran I printed black and white pages until the out of ink message appeared on the display. I opened up the cover to replace the cartridges and then closed it again when my phone rang. To my surprise, the out of ink message went away and I was able to print a few more pages before it reappeared. (My review of the 5300 versus HP'sC5180 should be up on Computerworld's Web site this week).

Charlie Sorrel at Gadget Lab also picked up on the Epson announcement and suggested a way around the efficiency issue. He writes that "...If you can live with the mess, the cheapest (and some say best quality) way to go is with bottles of ink and a specially adapted printer head. The archival inks from Lyson, for instance, can be around 1/10th the price of a cartridge..."

At the end of the day, however, this focus on ink tank efficiency takes the user's eye off the ball. The study, commissioned by Epson, is marketing spin in that it diverts attention away from cost per page to the more esoteric efficiency of individual cartridges. But who gives a damn how much ink is left in the cartridge if at the end of the day you can print more pages for less money?

PC Pro gets it right in its story, Kodak inkjets doomed to failure, says Epson, noting that "..Epson was reluctant to discuss specific page yields and costs at its launch event.." but instead focused on the "'ecological outcome" of wasting what PC Pro rightly refers to as "a few millilitres of unused ink."

Certainly companies such as Kodak have no incentive to leave ink in the tank that could be consumed, since it would make product look less cost effective than it would otherwise be. Ink cartridge efficiency is really in internal manufacturing issue.

This is one study that users can safely ignore.