One year ago I bought an Epson Stylus Photo 1400 which is a dye-based printer capable of delivering photographic quality prints up to A3+ paper size (in the USA this is called “Super B”; the actual size is 13″ x 19″ or 329 x 483 mm). The printer is using six cartridges of Epson’s Claria inks.
The print quality is very high, but so is the price of the original inks. I have therefore bought also a third-party ink called “efillink” from inkfillshop. This allowed me to reduce cost of the ink by more than 90 % (really!). Of course, there are some differences between the Claria and third-party ink, but I wanted to know how big the differences really are and here are my findings:
Differences when printed
Right after the printing, the results are virtually identical (both printed on Epson Glossy or Premium Glossy Photo Paper). There is a very small difference in color rendition, that might be fixed by using slightly different color profile, but for most practical purposes the changes in colors are negligible (and you have to compare the prints to find them), so this might only worry you if you strive to get exact colors. To tell the truth, I even liked the efillink colors better :)
However, the Claria ink is more durable. It starts with the resistance against the water, whether it is cold, hot or even oily. I have tried them all :) and the result was only a slight color bleeding. The efillink is also surprisingly good, but the bleeding is more pronounced.
The longevity is another issue. I have already read that Claria outlives the efilling, but I have made my own test – I put the two prints near the window and left them there for one year. I used that window, so there were mostly shielded from the sun by the glass, but often not and a few times several raindrops fell on them (I had already learnt that this basically doesn’t matter).
The results after one year in such an extreme conditions:
The Claria ink is on the left, the efillink on the right. Claria has barely changed, it looks like a fresh print. Please ignore the triangular shape on the right photo, it is a ruler that was used to weight down the paper.
Another prints made with efillink were stored in drawer. This seem to be intact, although I haven’t made identical Claria prints, so there is nothing I can compare it to and I am not sure if I hadn’t made any pre-print adjustments in the image, so I cannot reliably test it by printing it again. Anyway, for my eyes it seems to be perfectly fine.
The efillink will not disappoint if you won’t store your prints on direct sunlight. Putting them in a dark place is ok and in my opinion framing them and putting them behind a glass helps too, but I haven’t made this test. I wouldn’t sell prints made with this ink, but it is perfectly acceptable for my personal usage. Considering the enormous cost savings it is a good alternative to the original Epson’s Claria ink.
If you have any comments or your own experience with a third-party ink I will be glad to hear it!
Interesting comment by Mark McCormick considering the lightfastness appearead in a DPReview thread about this article:
“Unless your print was placed directly in a south facing window in a place like Florida or Arizona, your 1 year condition is not as harsh as it may sound. Your prints very likely received no more than 5-10 megalux hours exposure (equivalent to about 2.5-5 WIR display years or about 10-20 Kodak display years). I noted what appears to be very easily noticeable fading in the effilink and a just noticeable amount of fade in the Claria in your test.
The moral of the story is that this third party replacement ink is indeed no match in lightfastness to the Claria ink, and even the Claria ink is showing subtle changes well before its industry-sponsored 90+ year ratings would suggest. That said, if one takes care to reduce illumination levels on a print, even relatively fugitive dyes can go many years on display without showing serious amounts of fade. “