Should You Buy Ink in Bulk?

Discover the pros and cons of buying ink in large quantities.

Want to save money on your ink budget?  Barring using third-party inks, you have two options: buy in bulk or install a bulk ink system.

The famous writer Mark Twain once said, “Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.” This is a truism in the world of journalism because the popular thought of Twain’s day was that the reporter could make his views widely known through the print medium.

But how does that famous quotation play out in the world of large format printing? Should you buy ink in bulk? Or should you purchase only small quantities, say a month’s worth at a time?

The answer has two parts because there is the issue of buying in ink bulk and installing a bulk ink system. Let’s explore the options.

Buying Ink in Bulk
If you like to pinch pennies, and like pinching quarters and dollars even more, then buying ink in bulk could put a big smile on your face. You can buy ink in bulk for a discount just like you can buy pre-packed goods at a wholesaler like Sam’s or Costco. You may wind up with a lot of corn, but it will be cheap corn.

When deciding whether to buy bulk or not for your printer, certain issues need to be considered. First, “Is the machine really designed to use bulk ink?”, asks Shaun Holdom of Ink Technologies, Ltd (ITL). “Most of the large production machines such as the grand format machines from Vutek, Nur, etc., are designed with bulk inks in mind and they have a built-in reservoir ready to receive the inks. Your next decision is using the original manufacturer inks or an alternative.” Determining your options for buying ink in bulk or not depends on your machine as well as the multitude of inks and ink bulk adaptors available.

“The primary reason to buy ink in bulk is to reduce the price through the elimination of the packing. There are not a great number of drawbacks related to buying ink in bulk, as long as there is not the potential to exceed the product’s shelf-life,” says Maria Bragg, marketing development manager of 3M Commercial Graphics.

Some ink cartridges actually have a chip that causes it not to work after a certain date, so if you are consuming ink at the cartridge level and you plan to buy in bulk, then be sure to check with the manufacturer about the expiration date.

The printer companies aren’t trying to be slick. They put expiration dates on the ink just the same way the milkman puts expiration dates on dairy products. The ink doesn’t spoil, but it does begin to dry out after a period of time. And it’s not merely a matter of poor ink quality, dried out ink can actually do damage to your print heads.

Calculate Your Ink Usage
To stay on the safe side, calculate your ink usage for three months before you invest in bulk ink purchases. Make a note of how much ink you use on any given month and how often you have to replace the ink source. Take into account if you have an especially busy month and compensate your average usage.

Of course, it’s always better to have extra ink than not enough. But having way too much can quickly erode the savings you attain from buying in bulk when it goes to waste. If you know how much ink you use and you know how long the ink’s shelf life is, then you can better gauge how much to buy at once.

On the other hand for many printers there is an inherent convenience associated with packaging tailored to the specific device. Also, many inkjet printers have proprietary ink delivery systems, which can preclude using ink that is purchased in bulk quantities. The lesson: Know thy printer.

Betting on Bulk Ink Systems
The other side of the bulk ink equation is printers that use large ink tanks. Major manufacturers like Mutoh and Mimaki let you install a bulk feed ink system. One popular option is Sun Chemical Screen’s S-Tech bulk ink feed system, which was developed specifically for installation on the Mimaki JV3 range of inkjet printers. These types of systems allow sign makers to save significant money.

“It offers a cost-effective alternative to purchasing the original equipment manufacturer’s pre-filled cartridges. As well as reducing the printer’s outlay on consumables, S-Tech reduces down-time as the large-capacity 600ml ink tanks can be topped up on the run, even while the printer is in operation,” says Tony Cox, digital business and marketing manager for Sun Chemical Screen.

“This can significantly increase productivity. What is the point of having a high-speed digital press installed if you have to stop it running to refill the ink?” he asks. That’s a good question. The way Cox sees it, printers don’t often realize there are alternative products available in the market and often believe that swapping consumables is too risky or complicated.

Sun Chemical is looking to break those myths. Says Cox, “With products like S-Tech bulk feed system, Sun Chemical Screen makes the process of changing ink suppliers safe, fast and financially beneficial. “

Bulk Ink BullDog Style
Next up, BullDog Products’ EasyFill Pro bulk ink system. EasyFill is built for the real life demands of production digital printing. The EasyFill system is designed to work well with any manufactured product. The freestanding device lets you use both water-based and solvent-based inks, and it is compatible with all brands of Piezo printers, such as Roland, Mimaki, Mutoh and Epson.

Each bladder on this system holds in excess of one liter of ink. Even better, the EasyFill system can be refilled during printing operation without changing the ink pressure on the print head and therefore without interruption to the printing process. The system also features an in-line filter to prevent any particles from coming into contact with the print head, an advantage that maintains print head life. The EasyFill Pro system aims to help users produce work faster while substantially reducing their cost of ink.

“This ink system removes the hassle of ink cartridges and allows printing companies to get more profit from their current print activities,” Karla Witte, the director of development at BullDog Products. Customers who use about a liter each month will save more than $500.00 each and every month. If you have multiple machines, that would mean exponential savings.

Mixing it Up with Mutoh
Belgium-based wide-format piezo inkjet printer and signcutting plotter manufacturer Mutoh launched a new bulk ink system in 2006. Dubbed BIS, the system is marketed as an option for its Viper digital transfer and Viper TX direct textile printers. So if you are printing on fabric, this is might be a good option for you.

The bulk ink system comes with eight permanent ink supply cartridges fitted into the Viper or Viper TX printer’s cartridge slot. Each cartridge offers electronic and mechanical overflow protection. Ink supply tubes transport the ink from the bulk bottles towards the permanent ink supply cartridges.

Each ink supply tube has its own filter pump that prevents dust particles from reaching the print head so you can avoid head obstruction. What’s more, a constant ink level is maintained inside each permanent ink cartridge. This guarantees a steady pressure inside of the print head, a continuous uniform drop mass and a consistent print quality.

So what are you waiting for? Don’t just buy ink by the single cartridge. Explore one of these options and start saving money today!



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