Printer makers back cartridge test standard

There may soon be a way to determine how many printed pages you really get out of an inkjet printer cartridge.

A group of leading printer manufacturers, including Kodak, Canon and Hewlett-Packard, said last Wednesday it's backing a recent standard published by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

Standard ISO/IEC 24711:2006, which still needs industry adoption, establishes how ink and toner cartridges for inkjet printers and All-in-One printers must be tested.

The standard cites how many cartridges must be tested to determine an average lifetime (nine of them), what constitutes a standard test document (five pages printed with default printer settings) and the kind of machine on which the cartridge must be tested.

Analysts agree that there has been a longstanding need for this kind of standardisation in the industry, but they're not sure it will make much difference to consumers.

"It'll make a difference to those consumers who actually look at that info, but I think the vast majority of consumers don't look at that," said John Shane, director of communications supplies consulting service at InfoTrends. "For that small percentage who does, this will be a good way to help them compare."

Currently, each manufacturer applies its own standards for determining cartridge life, according to Bob Palmer, InfoTrend's director of printer research. This makes it hard for consumers to comparison shop adequately when deciding on a printer or printer cartridge.

"They do it themselves and say 'We based it on 15 percent coverage,' but one vendor's definition could be a page that's all red or all text, and another can use photographic content," Palmer said. "So the way they did it before was providing their own spec. (The new ISO recommendation) says they may submit them to the standards committee, (the committee) will give them a rating, and then they can put this rating on the product."

The announcement coincides with Kodak's release of its own inkjet printer line and an assertion that it will offer ink prices at 50 percent of its competitors. Critics contend that until Kodak provides how many milliliters of ink are in each cartridge, it's hard to determine whether its claim is accurate.

Members of the industry group supporting the standard -- the International Committee for Information Technology Standards -- include industry heavyweights Dell, Epson, IBM, Lexmark, Okidata, Pitney Bowes, QualityLogic, Ricoh, Spencer Lab and Xerox (in addition to the aforementioned Kodak, Canon and HP). But there's no word on when these companies plan to implement the standard, or when consumers, if they care to look, can expect to see an ISO rating on cartridge packaging.

"I don't think consumers will know the difference," said Andrew Lippman, a research analyst for inkjet cartridges at Lyra. "It's more for the industry competitive fairness practices. It's really to have everyone on an even keel in terms of comparing specifications."

Lippman said that the quality of cartridges used by a printer is only one of many things to consider when choosing a printer. Plus, even if a cartridge standard is established, as with other printing standards, there will still be debates among manufacturers.

"They have standards for the speed of a printer, and there are other standards like image permanence (how long an image from an inkjet photo printer will last)," Lippmann said. "The standard for the time in printing a photo is something that Kodak has debated with others. The standard currently quotes the 'draft speed' of a 4 x 6. Kodak and others say that there is no way you want to print in draft mode, as you will get poor quality."

"Printer cartridges have gained a lot of attention, with the Kodak printing announcement -- which pushed the issue of cost-per-page and point-of-purchase price of a cartridge at retail -- but there are debates over what the actual cost per page is," Lippmann added. "Each manufacturer has their own claim."



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