In this article, Tony Cox, Business Manager for Digital Aftermarket at Sun Chemical speaks about Aftermarket inks and referred to them as ‘your quality printing partner’. Cox stated that some wide format printers are hesitant about using aftermarket inks due to a perception that the products are somehow inferior to OEM inks.

Many printers who have decided to convert to an aftermarket ink are reaping the business benefits by getting the same exceptional print quality as with OEM inks for a fraction of the price.

Ink is arguably the most important part of the printing process and possibly the most expensive component over the lifetime of the machine. The printer manufacturers will maintain that their brand of ink should be purchased, insisting that only the original inks are specifically designed for the printer in question. But after the warranty period on the machine has expired as a business you should seriously consider using a quality brand of aftermarket ink as these deliver comparable quality with considerable cost savings.

There are simple things to look at when researching aftermarket inks. The history and pedigree of the company is often a good indication of how reliable it will be, as is its reputation in the market.

Cox said, The words ‘cheap’ and ‘unreliable’ are often aimed at some aftermarket products and in the past the quality of some products has fallen short of customers’ expectations. As a major player in the ink business and with decades of experience in inkjet, Sun Chemical produces inks which are often of better quality than the original inks. We have rigorous internal procedures to ensure that we manufacture inks to the very highest standard.’

Inks are formulated and approved for a particular print head, and often designed for a specific model of printer. Most manufacturers will offer a warranty when they sell their printers and these warranties normally only remain valid if you continue to buy the original equipment manufacturers inks. However, once the warranty has expired, customers can choose to purchase consumables from any ink supplier.

Every printer’s decision making process will be slightly different depending on the business needs, however there are key demands which are universal:
• High quality third party ink replicating the colour and performance of the OEM
• Easy and low risk changeover when replacing to third party ink systems
• Excellent value for money
• Exceptional customer service and ongoing technical guidance from the ink partner

When developing new aftermarket inks, a reputable ink manufacturer’s internal procedures will be stringent.

Tony Cox explained, ‘The first step in developing an aftermarket ink will come from a demand in the market from the customers. We need to clearly understand the detailed specifications of machine set-up and the exact ink requirements. We then go away and work on a product so that we can give them what they want. This is a very technical and meticulous process involving a complex set of tests developed using the experience and knowledge acquired over nearly forty years in inkjet development supported by state-of-the-art technology.’

World renowned in this sector, Sun Chemical is a company of ink ‘firsts’. In the mid 70’s Sun Chemical was a pioneer of the original continuous inkjet ink, in the 1980’s they helped develop the initial range of hot melt phase change jet inks to launch the first UV white inks in early 2000.

Understanding the precise performance of the target ink is essential. Sun Chemical’s analytical facility in London in combination with global inkjet development laboratories near Bath examine the ink via a series of carefully controlled tests. The evaluation is highly sophisticated and there are a number of standard tests covering the jetting performance of the ink head, nozzle testing, and ‘open time’ to confirm sustainability, colour gamut, drying speed and many more.

Special tests may be added to address specific customer needs. Controlling the output from these tests is essential to achieve reliable and repeatable results. This ensures a clear understanding of the target performance of the ink.

Choosing high performing raw materials with consistent quality is necessary to achieve the target to become ‘best in market’. Each material is scrutinised for consistency and quality to ensure it meets the performance requirements.

Every new formulation is extensively tested to ensure that it meets the previously agreed performance targets. This includes all the tests mentioned previously but with some additional tests. These include testing in a climate chamber to ensure that the performance is maintained under a variety of climatic conditions.

Once the target performance is achieved the inks are subjected to extensive print testing to ensure that the performance is maintained with prolonged printing. On average, this means that over 2km of substrate is printed to monitor the ink quality and performance over time. Every part of this detailed process is documented by scientists and engineers.

Sun Chemical’s internal capabilities in colour science, polymer design and synthesis are second to none. Sun Chemical’s customers benefit from continued advances in technology as well as reaping the rewards of partnering with an established company with substantial R&D resources and a solid infrastructure for technical and customer support.

‘Our customers have a partner who understands their needs, delivers a quality ink system that is fit for purpose and provides depth of technical and customer support and expertise,’ said Cox.

In this highly competitive and rapidly moving industry, customer demand is changing on a regular basis and Sun Chemical’s R+D team is continuously making improvements to product performance to ensure these demands are met.

Customers are looking for inks that perform as close as possible to the original inks. Continuity is a key factor and printers are often reluctant to convert to alternative inks believing the risks outweigh the benefits. Cox believes that these concerns are unfounded with quality aftermarket inks. ‘Sun Chemical has worked hard to ensure that these inks match the originals in terms of their colour and performance. Our customers can convert to our inks and there is no need to change any of the OEM printer settings, so the risk and the time it takes is minimised.’

Kent based company, PrintBig has built an enviable client list featuring large multi-national and international organisations as well as many smaller, locally based companies. The Sun Chemical customer uses a comprehensive range of print technologies including UV curing, eco-solvent, aqueous and dye sublimation printers each providing a solution for applications such as vehicle graphics, hanging signs and banners, exhibition graphics and signage.

Paul Smith, Managing Director, PrintBig said, ‘I was nervous at first about using a third party ink as we’d tried one from another supplier previously on another machine and it didn’t work out very well. However, as Sun Chemical is a well-known brand, when we were approached by a distributor and ran a couple of tests we decided to try out the Streamline Ultima HPQ system.

‘Since we’ve been using the Streamline system, we haven’t seen any signs of change compared with the OEM inks. Previously 60-65% of our work was done with UV inks; now with the Sun Chemical system I’d say 60-70% of the work is with solvent inks because of the cost savings. With Streamline we’ve noticed that the adhesion is slightly better than the OEM ink and the drying time is shorter. The benefit to us is that there’s no difference in the quality between the third-party inks and OEM, therefore we’re getting the same quality for half the price.’?

You may feel like finding your ideal partner is like wading through a sea of ink – there are so many brands and varieties in the market. Attending trade shows like FESPA to meet face to face with the company is a good way to gauge its reliability and attitude to you as a customer.

It is worth interrogating each supplier on what tests they have performed on their inks to see how long they are expected to last in various light and weather conditions. A successful partnership with an ink supplier goes beyond the product. It is important to choose a supportive supplier that will meet your broader business needs. Choosing the right aftermarket ink partner could be the best business decision you make all year.