If officially-branded inks weren't so expensive, no one would bother with third-party cartridges and refilled ink kits. In reality, you can often buy an entirely new inkjet printer instead of new ink cartridges. Most folks only spend extra on those official inks because they're the safe choice, and they've been conditioned to believe that third-party inks deliver poorer performance.
Usually, that's true only to varying degrees. Official inks offer good quality because the printer company can control the supplier and formulation of the ink before it hits the shelf. There is only one HP ink. There are hundreds of companies offering alternative inks. But there is no regulating body to tell you what is good or bad.
The basic composition of ink is fairly simple. The problem is that third-party inks often skimp on one or two ingredients, which affects some aspect of performance: water resistance, fade resistance, drying speed, and color gamut, for example.
|Water-Based Ink Composition|
|Deionized water||Carrier medium||60-90|
|Solvent||Viscosity control, humectant||5-30|
|Dye or pigment||Colorant, provides color||1-10|
|Surfactant||Wetting agent, assists in penetrating paper||0.1-10|
|Biocide||Prevents bacterial growth (allows you to use old ink)||0.05-1|
|Buffer||Controls pH of ink||0.01-0.5|
|Other additives||Chelating agent, defoamer, solublizer|| >1|
Even so, there are ways to make sure that you get quality third-party inks (though they might not be very convenient). Ideally, you want a bleed-resistant ink, and there's an easy way to test this at home.
- Place a few drops of yellow ink into a tray
- Place a single drop of black ink into the pool of yellow ink
- Wait 30 minutes.
Notice how the black ink on the left side stays clumped together. This indicates high-quality ink because the inks can be expected to dry separately. If the black ink starts to blend into the yellow ink, then you know it's not bleed-resistant, meaning the inks will blend when they're placed on the paper before they even have a chance to dry.