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You may have already asked yourself why do printer cartridges are so expensive. A lot of people think that the manufacturers are simply overcharging us, so they go and buy a generic cartridge or even refill the same cartridge several times. What a lot of people don’t know is that there is a lot more involved in that “ink little box” than we imagine.

Besides the ink, a cartridge has more than 15 components, on average. Almost always the ink is over but these components are still new and we throw them away – including the printer head. Only in Epson printers the printer head is in the printer and not in the cartridge, which makes Epson cartridges cheaper and we don’t discard a component that is almost new. The competitors say that this is the reason why Epson printers have frequent clogging cases.

In our visit to Lexmark’s HQ in Lexington, Kentucky, USA, we saw that the cartridge price is justified by the investing made in R&D, trying to achieve better quality, durability and color fidelity on each impression.

In Inkjet Color Science Lab (Figure 1) scientists implement color processing algorithms and color reproduction tables. One of the functions is to convert RGB (red, green and blue, the primary light-colors) colors generated by the computer into CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and key, which means black) dots on the printed page. In this lab it is also defined the colors which will be used for each region in the world, since the color preference varies according to the region.
In American countries, for example, consumers prefer strong and reddish colors, in a way that portrayed people always look tanned. In Europe people prefer pale tones, as it happens in eastern cultures, but with slight different hue. A curious fact is the reaction of eastern people to pictures of American people. “In several tests we conducted, Japanese subjects looked at the pictures and said: ‘they look like drunk!’ referring to the reddish skin of the people portrayed”, said one of the scientists. “This is a very clear example that the ideal color on the picture is not close to reality but the color the consumer wants to see printed. Several times we wish a blue sky even though that doesn’t correspond to reality”, he explained.

Lexmark TourFigure 1: Inkjet Color Science Lab.

In Analytical Chemistry Lab (Figure 2) ink purity is researched. Using devices like plasma spectrometer it is possible to measure ink and toner components, preventing the presence of any impurity, hence reducing the risk of clogging the ink tip. 

Lexmark TourFigure 2: Analytical Chemistry Lab.

The ejection mechanism precision quality is controlled in the Print Physics Lab (Figure 3). There the size, shape and trajectory of each ink drop are measured.

Lexmark TourFigure 3: Detail of the ejection mechanism releasing an ink drop.

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In Image Permanence Lab (Figure 4) printing samples are evaluated under several lightning conditions (incandescent, fluorescent, simulated sun light, etc), heat and climate conditions, simulating several types of conditions that a printed page can face depending on its user. With these tests it is possible to say the lifespan of a picture produced by a given printer. The neat thing about this lab is that their tests are made with several different photographic paper brands. But of course Lexmark team works to achieve a better durability with Lexmark paper. The perfect match is always using paper and ink from the same manufacturer (Lexmark printer with Lexmark paper, HP printer with HP paper and so on). The best durability for a Lexmark product is 200 years using Lexmark’s Premium Glossy Paper and Evercolor Photo ink cartridges (used on the new P4350 and X3350 printers).

Lexmark TourFigure 4: Image Permanence Lab.

Other labs measure the electromagnetic interference (after all we don’t like to create any interference with our printer nor suffer any); create futuristic designs (we saw prototypes for printers that would be released 30 years from now); test how different consumers react to the usability of Lexmark products; and even install and use products from competitor companies to check what Lexmark can do in order to improve their products.

Lexmark TourFigure 5: Electromagnetic Compatibility Lab.

Lexmark TourFigure 6: Prototype being sculpted in Lexmark Design Lab.

Lexmark TourFigure 7: Usability Test Lab.