Epson is warning dealers and consumers not to use third-party inkjet cartridges in its printers at the risk of damaging the ink-feed needles, reducing image quality and racking up additional maintenance costs.
The manufacturer has launched a campaign this week to raise awareness about the inferior quality of "non-genuine" cartridges, which are becoming increasingly popular in retail outlets due to their cheaper shelf price.
"[Non-genuine] cartridges may appear to be cheaper at the point of sale, but they may end up costing you more in reality," said Epson marketing manager Mike Pleasants.
He said that while the process of inkflow within the printing system is conceptually quite simple, it requires a delicate balance of physics. This includes compressed foam for even distribution of ink to the printer head, a series of filters to keep the ink pure and de-aired ink to keep air bubbles out of the system that cause white lines or spots on the page.
All these elements contribute to a better quality image, a more efficient use of consumables and a longer life for the printer, said Pleasants. While conducting tests on a range of non-genuine cartridges -- from backyard garage ensembles to more sophisticated brands -- Epson witnessed a myriad of problems, from dried-out ink to corrosive chemical compounds that had destroyed the ink-feed needles.
"All this adds up to the customer having to clean the printing head more often, which uses more ink and paper, and in turn increases the operating cost of the printer . . . If the problem become serious, then you're looking at paying a service agent to rectify the problem," said Pleasants.
It is no secret in the printing industry that consumable sales are the real revenue earner. According to IDC, 11 million cartridges were sold in 2001 which, at an average retail price of $50, puts sales in excess of $500 million.
While third-party cartridges hold marginal marketshare, Pleasants said they have the potential to hurt tier-one manufacturers if acceptance becomes more widespread.
Epson has been cracking down on the replication of print technology for some time, particularly importers who illegally brand products as Epson stock. Pleasants said there is a variety of misleading mechanisms that non-genuine manufacturers use in their sales pitches, such as telling buyers that the products are supplied by Epson or that they are better than the genuine articles.
Meanwhile, the replication of print technology is snowballing into a major headache for other vendors. Rumours that Hewlett-Packard's cartridges are on the brink of being mimicked by a third party has caused something of a stir, primarily because HP cartridges incorporate the ink refills with the head technology, unlike Epson which has keep the two aspects separate.