Think before you buy your ink
By Jenny Roper Thursday, 06 September 2012
When looking to cut your ink spend, lower-cost inks are not the only option. There are a range of other ways to reduce expenditure in this area
When talk turns to reducing ink costs, it’s usually not very long before the age-old third-party-versus-OEM-ink debate comes up. But finding the perfect ink is a quest many printers will have spent much time on and so understandably they are often unwilling to tamper with such a critical part of their operation, even where a lower-cost option could be potentially just as good as the product they are using. So how might a printer save on such a significant outlay as its ink without switching to a less expensive brand? PrintWeek finds out…
Putting all your eggs in one basket
The advantages It’s a no-brainer that all suppliers will be keen for you to come to them for as many of your inks and other consumables as possible, and so will offer good discounts for doing so.
Who could make a saving? Most printers, although some may have unique needs that can only be fulfilled by working with a range of specialist suppliers.
Key considerations Even those who could potentially buy all of their inks, blankets and pressroom chemistry from the same company may want to be careful about suppliers assuming they have a captive audience, says Simon Bartlett-McCourt, managing director of Hannah Print Birmingham. "We make sure that we have two or three different suppliers so we can go backwards and forwards saying ‘I’d rather use you, but so-and-so has been sniffing round here again and I can’t help it if he’s throwing lower prices at me,’" he says. "Then you can negotiate them down to the actual lowest price."
Long-term contracts and predictive ordering
The advantages Suppliers will also be keen to insure against printers going elsewhere in future. If one-, two- or three-year contracts sound a daunting commitment, giving the supplier a forecast of the volumes likely to be ordered and perhaps issuing a blanket purchase order can be good alternatives. "You say ‘I want to order 12 sets of ink, here’s a purchase order, but I only want you to deliver me two sets now. I’ll probably order the next two sets next month,’ and you pay as you go along," says Peter Barton, director of EMEA sales and business development at Reprographic Technology International (RTI). "The key thing is loyalty – if you’re able to build a relationship with a supplier then you’re able to negotiate prices as time goes on. And a lot of suppliers will give you a better price based on a forecast."
Who could make a saving? Anyone who is keeping close tabs, through a rigorous MIS, on how much ink they typically use.
Key considerations Although most long-term contracts will have a notice period of around three months, Barton says that printers should be careful here. "If you sign a long-term contract, the supplier knows he can change to cheaper ingredients and get away with it," he says. "The problem is it’s very difficult to prove ingredient changes, because it may be it’s still the same ingredients, but with a C-grade rather than A-grade pigment. So proving you have a case for pulling out can be tricky. Even a master supplier for an OEM ink could lose that status and would have to find other ways of supplying you that might not be as good."
So a blanket purchase order can be a much better halfway house, he says, although printers will need to check whether they will be charged if they walk away before the invoice has been serviced.
The advantages Most ink suppliers will offer a good discount where ink is bought in large volumes. But of course the problem here is shelf-life, with most ink lasting only 12 to 24 months in tins. So some have opted for bulking systems where ink is delivered from the supplier in 200kg drums and then decanted into pumps to stop the ink skinning-over. This kind of system can also help printers save on staffing costs as people aren’t topping up ink levels as regularly. "Our bulking system on our Mimaki JV5 saves us around 25% on ink," reports Nick Goodall, general manager at The Colour Crew screen and digital printers.
Who could make a saving? Bulking systems can cost as much as £100,000, so only those getting through large volumes save here. Which means this system is most suitable for those heatset, flexo and screen printers sticking mostly to four colours, rather than sheetfed printers using lots of spot colours.
Key considerations As well as the high initial outlay, printers will need to consider concerns from some quarters about technical issues. "If you’re only using a small amount of ink you may get problems with ink flows," says Goodall. "You need a decent throughput; the more ink in the system, the better it will work." RTI’s Barton agrees: "You can get ingress of air into the ink lines, which can cause premature failure of heads," he says. "So I think this is best for those who are very technical and perhaps have their own engineers."
The advantages By mixing spot colours in-house, printers can avoid over-ordering. "Someone ordering 200 litres of M&S green might over-calculate," says Tudor Morgan, group marketing manager at Fujifilm. "So they save 60 for the next M&S job, but they forget about what they’ve got and order more. People waste a huge amount of ink that way."
Who could make a saving? Those who print lots of spot colours.
Key considerations Once again the outlay for an ink dispensing system can be high. Smaller dispensing systems are available, involving a printer using a formula to work out how to achieve a certain colour for different amounts of ink. "A Smart Scale system is only around £1,200," says Morgan, "but the industrial bulk dispensing systems are far costlier."
And the case for in-house ink mixing will hinge on which shades a printer frequently uses, says Richard Wilson, sheetfed ink product manager at Flint Group. "Certain spot colours are more difficult to reproduce batch to batch. For instance, with spot colour greys subtle changes can be easily noticed, so it may be more cost-effective to get these from a supplier rather than risk QC issues, waste sheets or even job rejection."
The advantages The ink optimisation software that now comes as part of many workflow systems by the likes of GMG and Alwan, can be a good way of making sure ink isn’t laid down unnecessarily. But many printers could first benefit, says Paul Sherfield, managing director at The Missing Horse Consultancy, from ensuring that their colour profiles are set up to precisely match machine and substrate specifications. "We recently saved a printer 15% of their costs on wide-format inkjet printing by changing their profiles," he reports, explaining that freelance engineers, consumables suppliers and industry research groups like VIGC are all good sources for free, high-quality profiles.
Who could make a saving? Any printer, says Sherfield, but particularly those who will risk compromising colour integrity by turning up the ink saving settings on their workflow package. "You can turn up those settings and often it works, but not for the really high-end catalogue and brochure work because this kind of adjustment can do odd things to flesh tones."
Key considerations "The only downside is if a printer’s been using generic profiles for so long that when they print using the correct profile the customer thinks the colour’s wrong," says Kevin Wallace, managing director at All Print Supplies.
The advantages Printers should not underestimate how much thirstier a poorly maintained press might be, says Claire Ashby, technical sales and support manager at Heidelberg. "Poor roller settings or worn rollers will affect how the ink transfers down the roller chain onto the blanket and then to the sheet and therefore will mean more ink is being carried on the rollers in order to achieve the correct density," she says. "The same goes for washes and the wash-up programmes on the machine; if a good quality wash is not used and the programme is not correct, then this can lead to greasy rollers that will then affect ink transfer."
Avoiding four-colour black
The advantages Savings can be made by overriding profiles for digital printing that apply colour underneath black to give a denser finish, and those for traditional printing that ‘put a shiner’ on black areas by applying colour on top.
Who could make a saving? Those litho, flexo, gravure and web offset printing could make a saving so long as certain criteria are met, says Sherfield. "You’ve got to have new presses, you’ve got to be running at the right densities and your colour management has got to be very good," he stresses.
Key considerations "And even then, some clients will always prefer the richer black you get from four colours," says Sherfield. And, adds The Colour Crew’s Goodall, you have to be careful about mismatched black. "Often, the way artwork is set up makes it impossible, because if someone gives you artwork with a big black background and it has got images cut out as well, you can remove the four colour from the background easily enough, but not from the images," he says.
The advantages Whether ink is delivered in drums, tins or cartridges, disposing of these containers is a costly business for all printers.
Who could make a saving? The options for reducing waste disposal costs through recycling will depend on the sort of containers and inks being used. Most easily recyclable will be tins and drums, but cartridges can also be recycled by some companies, such as J&G Environmental and Saxon Recycling.
Then there’s the option of sending cartridges back to the supplier, which might even earn the printer money. "We take cartridges back," says RTI’s Barton. "HP’s and Epson’s can be used many times over, and Canon’s can be recycled two or three times. It can be anything from 50p up to £5 that a printer gets back."
The most money will be given by third-party vendors for cartridges they’ve already repurposed, adds Barton. "Here the vendor will have replaced the chip, which will have cost them. So while they might pay £3 for an OEM cartridge, they might pay £5 for one of their own," he explains.
Key considerations When sending containers to be recycled, the way they’re transported is key, says environmental consultant Clare Taylor. "The easiest way for most people to save money is to stack tins in a container rather than just chucking them in – then they’ll get far more in one load," she says. "And with cartridges you can get a company such as Indicut to come on-site to cut the lids off and shred them so you can fit more in a container."
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