Expert Q & A: Thom Brown, Inkologist, on Printing Facts, Figures & Technology

Expert Q & A: Thom Brown, Inkologist, on Printing Facts, Figures & Technology

Gregory Han
Jul 12, 2013

Thom Brown is a supplies technology expert within the marketing services organization for HP’s Printing and Personal Systems Group (PPS), or you can call him an "inkologist", as noted by his humorous name tag up above. Who better to ask about the science and manufacturing behind the inkjet printer and cartridge system...

In layman's terms, could you tell us what goes into making the average inkjet cartridge, and how these components come together from the time a user presses "print" to the eventual print out? 

There isn’t such thing as an “average inkjet cartridge,” because each ink cartridge is specifically designed for each printer. When you hit the print button a series of electronic instructions are instantly delivered directly to the tiny ink nozzles that are 1/3 the width of a human hair. An energy pulse creates a vapor bubble that forces tiny ink droplets out through the nozzle and onto the page at roughly 31 mph (which is speeding in some principalities). This complex process happens up to 36,000 times per second during your print job and is comparable to me or you trying to drop a nickel into a bucket from the top of a 30 story building, every time. 

One of the most common complaints about printers is in regards to the cost vs. capacity of inkjet cartridges. Historically speaking, is the average inkjet printer offering more sheets per cartridge than 5-10 years ago? 

Some people might claim the amount of ink in a cartridge has dropped over the past decade, and there’s actually good reason for this—it’s true. But it’s only true, because HP has pioneered ways to make its ink incredibly efficient, allowing it to do more with less. While amount of ink has gone down, the amount of prints has increased, providing bang-for-your-buck now more than ever. It is also worth noting that we list estimated page yields at, so our customers know that if they’re using a 564XL black cartridge, they’re going to get about 800 prints from that package.

As someone who has used printers for both every day office-style printouts and also archival quality photo prints, I've noted ink quality can vary. Could you elaborate about the difference in material components and the characteristics of ink formulas which separate for everyday use vs. art quality printouts? 

At HP, we listen to our customers to try and understand the wide range of printing needs and habits that exist. Recognizing that one ink cartridge does not fit every printing need, we have a portfolio of cartridge offerings at various price points for consumers to choose from. We offer two general inkjet print head designs—both offering the most innovative HP technologies. The first is an Integrated Print Head (IPH) design, meaning that the print head is part of the ink cartridge. 

The second design uses a separate long-life print head as part of the printer in which ink is fed through ink tanks or individual ink cartridges (IIC). The IIC cartridge design can be found in many of HP’s newer photo printers and is designed for customers that want versatile home use and photo printing. IPH is designed for the cost-conscious customer, who is mostly interested in text printing with more limited color and photo needs. Both cartridge types are built on the same dual-drop volume technology, which delivers an extremely small drop size and allows customers to print detailed images and graphics with smooth transitions.  In addition, our Officejet Pro printer series offers pigmented inks which approach the expectations of durability in the office, typically found with toner on laser printers.

The aftermarket brand-compatible inkjet cartridge market has exploded, even available in big box home office supplies stores (alongside Walgreens, Costco). For average users, is switching to refilled cartridges really going to affect printout quality when the majority of printouts are non-essential text documents? Does HP themselves recycle/reuse cartridges? 

According to a 2011 Buyers Laboratory study, 72 percent of tested refilled ink cartridges failed during use or right out of the box, while Original HP ink worked every single time. In addition, original HP ink printed more pages on average than the refill inks. How much more? Not five percent more, not 10 percent more, not even 50 percent more: HP inks produce twice the amount of pages per cartridge on average than the refilled cartridges.

HP reuses ink cartridges through its industry-leading “closed loop” recycling process that takes old ink cartridges, distills them down to their constituent plastics, combines them with other plastics, like used water bottles, and creates brand new ink cartridges. This means every time you purchase an HP cartridge, you’re getting a factory fresh cartridge that consists of recycled parts. It provides the best of both worlds—a product that’s environmentally sustainable AND a high quality product. How environmentally sustainable? HP’s Planet Partners return and recycling program is available in 69 countries throughout the world and in 26 years, before it was even “cool” to recycle, has recovered 2.3 BILLION pounds of products for reuse and recycling. We’ve kept 280 MILLION ink cartridges out of the landfills and used the pieces to create over one BILLION new print cartridges.

Are there any tips you could give our readers in regards to optimizing quality of their printouts, conserving ink, or other not-so-commonly-known techniques related to home printers? 

There are definitely ways to optimize the quality of your printouts while saving a little ink and money. HP directly offers the following money-saving  

  • High yield cartridges: HP offers high-capacity value (XL) cartridges, which typically offer up to 2.5 more prints for black inkjet cartridges and up to three times more prints for color inkjet cartridges compared with standard Original HP ink cartridges, at a lower cost per page.
  • Multi and combo ink packs: Inkjet cartridge multi-packs offer savings of up to 10 percent over single ink packs. 
  • Photo Value Packs: Ink cartridges and high quality HP Photo Paper come together in one package that lets users print photos at home for a low cost per photo.

There are also a number of not-so-common techniques for consumers to conserve ink and paper, and as a by-product save some money.

  • Print using Draft settings: Printing a draft copy uses less ink and prints faster than a document printed on “Normal” settings, saving you both time and money. Printing on draft settings creates text that is slightly lighter and not as defined, which is a great way to save money when printing short-lived documents - as long as you don’t require a high-quality print. 
  • Change your font: A quick and easy way to save money is to simply print with a font that uses less ink! A CNET study found customers can save up to 31 percent on ink costs by selecting the right font - Century Gothic came out on top! The same study suggested that the average user who prints 25 pages a week could save about $20 a year by switching to a more economical font. 
  • Change settings to reduce paper usage: Printing double sided documents and widening your margins are two great and simple ways to squeeze more text onto the page.  

What about mixing and matching HP branded cartridges with aftermarket refilled options? 

As I discussed before, HP Supplies are designed to complement each other and we are confident that you will get the absolute best results when using original HP Supplies from start to finish. For some customers, the reliability of their printing system might matter most and when they select “print,” they want to know that their printer will operate problem-free and their document or photo will be printed correctly the first time. 

Not only is “print—don’t reprint” a customer expectation, it also serves as a way to save on costs and print more environmentally friendly—preventing useless prints and thus eliminating wasted ink and paper. While HP does not prevent the use of third-party inks in any of its printers, consumers deserve to know the risks they are taking with “bargain inks” when it comes to quality, reliability and value. Simply put, your results will suffer if you take the mix and match approach to your print system. 

How is HP looking to address the public's perception about ink cost beyond arguing quality? 

A 2011 Buyer’s Laboratory study found that on average, original HP Ink cartridges print up to two times the pages than refilled cartridges with zero percent failure, and that refilled ink failed during testing or right out of the box 72 percent of the time.  Quality, reliability and value may be three of the main factors to consider when purchasing your ink, but consumers should also keep in mind both efficiency and productivity of your print system. 

The combination of all these factors is referred to as total cost of ownership (TCO) and it is an accurate way of determining the true value of your print system. When deciding which system will be most cost-effective and best fit their printing needs, consumers should examine the TCO in terms of how long they will own the printer; what they want to print, such as text, graphics, photos, web pages, etc.; how much they print, or in other words, their average monthly print volume; the desired output quality; what kind of paper will be used, and the importance of key usability choices such as speed and ease of use of the system. 

We know that consumers place different priority on the various aspects of TCO, so we offer a broad range of printing systems with different capabilities and various combinations of purchase and running costs. Each print system is designed to provide the best overall value to match a specific set of customer printing needs, while delivering an unrivaled combination of quality, reliability, speed and ease of use at competitive prices.

Considering the proliferation of portable smart devices, what are HP's plans about connecting and integrating mobile devices with printers?

It really does seem like everyone is on a smartphone or tablet these days doesn’t it? Well, HP understands this, and we’ve got a great way for people to stay connected to their printer, no matter where they are or what device they’re on. It’s called HP ePrint, and it allows you to send documents and photos directly to your printer, with no special software required – just an internet connection. 

The software works on a number of devices including iPads, iPhones, Android devices, Blackberries, desktops and laptops. 

Another awesome new program is HP Live Photo, which is a mobile app now available for iPhone and iPad. The app uses augmented reality to make photos come to life. The app enables users to share glimpses of their day-to-day lives by creating hard copy photos that launch short personal videos on your mobile device. Although currently only available on iOS devices, we think this app has the potential to be the next big thing in print, because it allows us to inject life into the printed page.       

A special thanks to HP and Thom Brown!

(Images: HP)

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