Wide Format Cartridges: Refilling Your Revenues
- By Jim Andreottola
- Oct 01, 2010
You’ve been here before. A potential customer walks into your shop holding a cartridge 10 times larger than anything you’ve ever filled. He can’t tell you what ink he needs; all he knows is that it’s used in his $15,000 wide format printer. Rather than make a significant sale and gain a new high-end repeat customer, you apologize for not being able to help him and send him to your competition. The story doesn’t need to end this way. Instead of that feeling of disappointment you get when that customer comes in, you could be experiencing anticipation. After all, OEM cartridges for large format printers typically cost between $100 and $200 per cartridge. With most of these printers using at least six cartridges, and many of the newer printers using 12 cartridges at a time, that’s somewhere between $600 and $2,400 of potential revenue per printer. There certainly is some money to be made here … and that money should be in your pocket.
In the past, many owners of print shops utilizing wide format printers just stuck with the OEM inks and cartridges. Though they’re more expensive, it was traditionally perceived as the easier way to go, and with plenty of business to go around there was no need to test this idea or weigh it against offsetting costs. In today’s slower economy more print shops are exploring their options. Many are buying remanufactured cartridges or bringing their empties to a refill shop and finding significant cost savings without perceived loss of convenience or quality. Savings of $50 to $100 per cartridge are difficult to pass up. In addition, customers are holding on to their printers longer now so there are more out of warranty printers in use. Normally, once the printer is out of warranty users are much more willing to try alternative supplies.
While refilling as a profession is not necessarily easy, if you or your staff already fill cartridges used in an office environment on a regular basis, then you already have the knowledge base you’ll need to add wide format cartridges to your repertoire. Apply this knowledge with a little patience and some practice and you’ll be refilling wide format cartridges in no time.
Most large format printers use water-based inks, just like those you use every day. However, there is a portion of the market (mostly designed to print images to be displayed outdoors) that uses either solvent, mild-solvent, eco-solvent or UV-curable inks. Most remanufacturers and refill shops are not equipped to fill solvent or UV curable ink cartridges for a variety of reasons, most notably the ventilation requirements for dealing with VOCs (volatile organic compounds) emitted by many of these inks. And while eco-solvent and mild solvent inks are very popular, most of those not using OEM inks either use a bulk ink system or compatible cartridges. These factors seriously limit your opportunity for remanufacturing these cartridges. Considering this situation, I will focus on the largest and most accessible portion of the market: aqueous-based wide format printers — those using cartridges filled with water-based inks.
First, it is helpful to understand what these printers are used for. Knowing a bit about the printers will allow you to intelligently speak with prospective customers about their needs and ultimately make them more comfortable and therefore more likely to give you their consumables business. Large format inkjet printers are defined as inkjet printers that print at widths between 24 inches and 72 inches. Smaller than 24 inches would be considered a desktop printer and larger than 72” would be considered a grand format or super wide format printer Most of the large format printers using water-based inks can be placed into two basic categories: 1) graphics printers and 2) CAD printers. The graphics printers will generally go through cartridges more rapidly but both are surely worth a look.
The most common printers in both the graphics and CAD markets are HP and Canon. Both are brand names and technologies you are likely already familiar with. Graphics printers tend to be very versatile printers, with higher print speeds and photo quality capabilities that can be used for just about anything. However, the main uses for these printers are point-of-sale advertising including display ads and window posters for the retail environment and trade show graphics. Next time you are out shopping, take a minute to look around you’ll find many inkjet prints at the supermarket, your bank, liquor stores, convenience stores, fast food restaurants, home improvement stores and car dealerships. All of these businesses utilize large scale, indoor signage to promote their products and specials. Many of these signs are inkjet printed. And of course there’s the trade show graphics market. If you’ve ever been to Recharger’s World Expo you know that, like any trade show or convention, the hall is full of banners, pop-up stands, floor graphics — everything is covered with high-quality, wide format, mostly inkjet graphics.
CAD printers are commonly used for quality (though not photo-quality) printing needs. Your basic blueprints are created digitally using a variety of CAD (or Computer Aided Design) software and then printed using inkjet printers. Architects, contactors, municipalities and engineering firms will use these printers to create architectural renderings, maps, building plans, floor plans, 3-D models and land plots.
Some of the wide format graphics printer models you’re likely to see most often are the HP Designjet 5000, 5500 and Z6100, as well as the Canon iPF-5000, 6000, 8000 and 9000 series printers. Several other manufactures offer quality products for the graphics market as well, including Epson, Roland, Mutoh, Mimaki, Kodak and others. The most common wide format CAD printers include the HP Designjet T600, T1100, 4000 and 4500, as well as the Canon iPF-500, 600, 700 and 800 series printers. Océ and Xerox also stand out as major manufacturers to be familiar with in the CAD market.
It’s important to consider these brand statistics because familiarity with the most common brands can be a key factor in getting you started. Consider the fact that HP has the largest market share, as is the case in the desktop market. This means that many of the things you already see on a daily basis will carry over to large format cartridges, not to mention the relative ease of refilling most HP cartridges. Add it all up and large format HP cartridges are a great target to start refilling. Along these same lines, Canon also has a line of large format printers that have been gaining in popularity the last several years designed to compete with HP and also use cartridges that can be remanufactured with just a little bit of practice. There are also many Epson printers in the market, but these tend to be slower and therefore more efficient with their ink, meaning the refills will come with less frequency. This may make them a less than ideal starting point, but another available revenue stream nonetheless.
I could actually argue that refilling these various large format cartridges is easier than many of the desktop cartridges you deal with. You don’t believe me? How’s this: There are no sponges or screens used in wide format cartridges. That’s right. These cartridges either consist of a bag within a plastic shell design (similar to HP 10, 11 and 88) or they are just an empty plastic reservoir (similar to HP 02). Physically, wide format cartridges do not bear much of a resemblance to desktop cartridges. But, when you take a closer look and think about how they work they are not so different at all and you can certainly get the remanufacturing process down. A good place to start is inquiring with the manufacturer of your refill equipment, your ink vendor or your chip vendor to gain some insight on refilling wide format cartridges. Just about every wide format cartridge does come complete with its very own chip but they can either be replaced or reset quite easily.
Learning to refill and remanufacture cartridges for wide format printers will turn out to be well worth your time and effort. By adding this to your remanufacturing expertise you expand your potential customer base, and of course you stand to increase your sales and profits. Business customers whose primary concern is printing will likely tend to be more reliable and regular given good service and a quality product, and will tend to repeat business more often than other customers
As is the case with anything, the more you put into it the more you will get out of it. Think about it: Your price for remanufacturing or selling a refilled wide format cartridge will be 10 to 20 times greater than the price of your standard desktop cartridge. Even though your material cost will be higher, your profit margin will be higher as well. A greater percentage of your cost will be associated with materials rather than labor, making productive man-hours more lucrative. When you then take into account that the large format printers use six to 12 cartridges at a time and then consider they can use more than a full liter of ink per color each week, remanufacturing large format cartridges could very quickly become a significant money maker for your business.
Contact Jim Andreotolla at email@example.com.
Jim Andreottola is director of sales & marketing for American Ink Jet Corporation (AIJC) and has more than 12 years experience in the inkjet industry. He heads AIJC world-wide ink sales for the wide format and desktop product lines. Andreottola earned his BA from the University of Massachusetts.