Many digital photographers complain about the high cost of inkjet media and look for ways to reduce it. Although it may be tempting to seek out solutions like cheap, third-party inks and papers, cartridge refills and other strategies that look as if they may save you money, these options are usually fraught with problems that end up costing you much more in the long run.


Many digital photographers complain about the high cost of inkjet media and look for ways to reduce it. Although it may be tempting to seek out solutions like cheap, third-party inks and papers, cartridge refills and other strategies that look as if they may save you money, these options are usually fraught with problems that end up costing you much more in the long run.

Cheap Inks and Papers

Your printer’s ink requirements are closely linked to the way it deposits the tiny droplets of ink on the paper. With the diameters of some inkjet nozzles being smaller than a human hair, if the ink formulation is less than perfect, the nozzles will clog up and the printer’s performance will deteriorate. In a worst case scenario, the print head may need to be replaced.

Modern printers are based on very sophisticated technology. Each printing head is manufactured with extremely high precision to ensure it delivers ink droplets with the correct sizes and places them on the printing paper with absolute accuracy. Different types of printer require radically different types of inks. Thermal printers need inks that can withstand rapid heating and cooling cycles, while piezo-electric printers need inks with a specific viscosity that is high enough to stop the ink from leaking through the nozzle yet low enough to allow droplets of ink to be expelled. Unless these individual requirements are met, neither type of printer can operate correctly.

Using the manufacturer’s inks ensures you will be using the best possible media for your printer. The inks will also be manufactured to high quality standards and subjected to rigorous quality control.

In contrast, cheap, third-party inks are produced with little or no quality control so nobody can guarantee their performance. They are also unlikely to match your printer’s requirements in terms of viscosity and heat tolerance – regardless of what type of printer you use. Their cartridges are often poorly-manufactured and may be susceptible to leakage, allowing inks to spread inside the printer’s electronics and mechanical components. This can damage cables, circuit boards and associated mechanical parts. Different ink formulations may also react and coagulate when they are combined, clogging print heads and leading to internal damage to the printer.


The illustrations above show the damage that can be caused to the tiny nozzles in an inkjet printer’s head by using inappropriate inks. The undamaged nozzle is shown on the right side, while the damaged nozzle is shown on the left.

For consistent colour reproduction, the inks produced by your printer’s manufacturer will yield the best possible results because they have been created to match the papers in the manufacturer’s range so you can also guarantee they will be applied evenly to the surface of the paper. They will also be applied with the correct dot sizes to produce the finest detail, subtlest tonal nuances and most vibrant colours the image is capable of producing.

In contrast, cheap inks may not be applied uniformly, leading to streaks, blotches and surface irregularities on prints. They may also take longer to dry, leading to smudging when the print is handled. The results will look unattractive and be nothing like a true photo print.

Print Durability

How long will your inkjet prints last when you put them on display? Not very long if you use some inks and papers. Most manufacturers of inkjet photo printers can provide data on how long prints made with each printer will last on specific papers. This data is also available from the world’s leading testing authority, Wilhelm Imaging Research (WIR), whose standardised image permanence test methods and specifications provide consumers throughout the world with ‘apples-to-apples’ comparisons for a wide range of inks and photo papers. You can view the results of these tests and read the latest articles on image permanence free of charge by visiting

The WIR testing program helps consumers differentiate between printer manufacturers’ papers that have been optimised for that company’s inks and third-party or private-label papers that claim to be ‘universally compatible’. Many of these have been subjected to much less rigorous testing using different test methods and most are supplied with no image permanence information at all. WIR has recently established a program that allows manufacturers to mark their inkjet (and other) media with a seal showing the WIR Display Permanence Rating in years. All leading inkjet printer and media manufacturers support the WIR testing program.

In contrast, prints made with cheap inks on cheap papers are seldom, if ever, tested so you can’t be sure how long prints made with them will last. One thing you can be sure of, though, is that they will definitely be less durable than prints on genuine media.

For all these reasons, the best way to save money on inkjet printing is to use the inks and papers supplied by your printer manufacturer. Creating test strips that show you how the print will look on a small area of paper can save you dollars in both inks and papers in the long run. The process is easy and straightforward.

How to Create Test Strips

The driver software on most printers can be used to produce ‘test strips’ that let you see that the colour and brightness levels in the image you’ve edited will print out as you want them to, just as you could with test strips in an chemical darkroom. You can also test the same image on several different papers without wasting a whole sheet by printing it at full size every time.

The process is similar to making test strips in a darkroom; you simply select a critical segment of the picture you wish to print and print it out on part of an A4 (or smaller) sheet of the paper(s) you wish to use. The key is to adjust the position of the strip you’re printing each time you print a new strip

1. Edit the image in your favourite software application and adjust it to the correct output size. If you want white borders and a title, you can use the Image>Canvas Size setting to position your image on the page. In the example shown, the image size is 17.0 x 25.7 cm. To place it on an A4 sheet of paper (21.0 x 29.7 cm), simply change the Canvas Width and Height to 21.0 x 29.7 cm. Save the image either in a special ‘printing’ folder or with the tag ‘for printing’ added to the file name.


2. Using the Crop tool, select a strip that runs through a critical area of the image where you want detail to be fully resolved. The strip should be rectangular but it can be almost any size you want – as long as it covers the key ‘exposure’ area. Do not change the size of the image as this could change the print quality. (There is no need to save the ‘test strip’ unless you wish to use the same area subsequently. If this is the case, tag the file name with ‘test’.)


3. Load the printer with an A4 (or smaller) sheet of the paper you will use for your final enlargement and re-set the paper size and orientation accordingly. Open the printer driver and set the paper size and orientation to match the paper you’re using. Uncheck Centre Image and use the Position settings to position your test strip on the sheet of paper.

4. Print the test strip using the settings you plan to use for the final print. Now assess the test strip, checking colour, brightness, sharpness and any other adjustable parameter that is relevant. Make the required changes to the saved image file you plan to print from and, if you wish to check them again, get ready to make a second test strip on the same sheet of paper as you used for the first.

5. Repeat the steps above until you reach the point where you position your second test strip. Use the Image>Image Size control to see how large your cropped test strip is (re-crop it if necessary to ensure it fits on the sheet of paper). Measure the distance from the top (or side) of the page and adjust the Position settings to make the second test strip fit in either below or beside the first one.


6. Load the paper in the printer again so the second test strip is correctly printed. (Most printers work from the top of the page downwards, which means you should load the paper top-downwards.) Print the second strip and evaluate it as outlined above. When you’re satisfied the colours and tones in the test strip are correct, open up the editing image you’ve tagged ‘for printing’ to make your final print.

With care, you should be able to fit between four and eight test strips on a single sheet of A4 paper. Success depends on accurately measuring and setting the correct position for each successive strip – and remembering to orientate the paper correctly each time you make a print.




For all your printer needs visit Exceed your vision.