Alternative inks: after-market ink, third party ink for solvent and UV Print

With original OEM ink prices so high, it is natural for printshop owners to look for lower priced alternative inks.

There are so many companies offering third party ink that for several years I could not distinguish one from another. Then gradually over the years I learned to recognize that some of these companies were of substantial size and offered a high-quality ink. The ones I noticed were Triangle, Bordeaux, Van Son, Staedtler, AT Inks, Sam-Ink, and others. But Van Son has not continued to focus on after-market wide-format inks. Staedtler was not successful with their excellent Lumocolor ink in part because they had no printer manufacturer to alter the printer hardware to accept Lumocolor ink.

The jargon for these inks is after-market, third party or refill inks. But inS reality the better inks of these inks are as good as the original ink. Indeed most of the larger after-market ink companies are supplying ink to some of the OEMs already. Sun Chemical, a billion dollar company, was OEM ink supplier to ColorSpan, Gandinnovations, etc. but they also now offer third-party ink.

Bordeaux ink production, third party ink after-market solvent ink
Bordeaux ink production

So the challenge is to figure out which ink is acceptable and which ink is made in a garage or basement. Since one of FLAAR's offices is in Central America, we see after-market ink every day. For example, AT Inks, InkWin, and Triangle inks are used in Guatemala. Currently we are doing a long-range project to study signage at archaeological parks and museums. This type of application is cost conscious, so looking for an ink at lower price is logical.

Since I am a research professor, in order to understand after-market third party inks I have begun a research project to get to know the different ink companies so I can distinguish one from another.

FLAAR did the same with water-based printers between 1997 and 2004, with UV-curable printers between 2004 and today, and we continue studying eco-solvent, mild-solvent, and full-solvent printers as well as keep track of dye sublimation printers for soft signage. So doing research on after-market inks is a natural extension of our long range interests in learning for ourselves but then publishing what we have found out so that the general public has the results available too.

The printers that people tend to want to use after-market ink in are D.G.I., Mimaki JV3, Roland HiFi, Mutoh, Infiniti, Challenger, Gandinovations Jeti, Seiko ColorPainter 64s, Scitex Vision, VUTEk, HP Designjet 9000s, 8000s etc. For example, in early 2010 I visited a large and successful printshop that had four Gandinnivations Jeti printers and a DGI PolaJet. He was using AT Inks in the Gandy Jeti solvent and also in the DGI.

Bordeaux Digital PrintInk

Bordeaux Digital PrintInk, refill cartridges
Bordeaux Digital PrintInk booth at FESPA 2007

The full name of the company is Bordeaux Digital PrintInk but I will abbreviate it as Bordeaux or Bordeaux Ink. At FESPA '07 in Berlin two ink companies attracted my attention: Bordeaux and Sunflower. Since a trade show is too hectic (and there are more booths to visit and inspect then there is time), I felt that it was best to visit the ink factories to learn more about each ink company. So I spent about a week in Russia to learn about Sunflower, and then spent a week in Israel including three or four days in the world headquarters of Bordeaux, as guests of Moshe and Ruth Zach.

Bordeaux offers

  • Eco dye sublimation inks
  • Green inks for Mimaki
  • Cartridges of eco-solvent ink in 220 and 440 ml sizes for Roland, Mutoh
  • Water-based inks
  • Oil-based inks
  • UV-curable inks (not finished the year I was visiting their company in Israel).
Color Management Reports
Glossary of terms on color management
Book reviews of publications on color management
Book reviews of publications on color management

While spending a week in Russia I noticed that Bordeaux Ink was one of the leading suppliers of generic ink in that country (with MegaInk being the other main after-market ink source for Russian printshops). I had been in Russia to inspect Sunflower UV ink and see how Sun LLC cures UV ink with LED lamps on their NEO printer.

The first results of my week in Israel is being presented in a separate FLAAR Reports, so this web page will be short (since all the documentation is better read in the full-color PDF; however be sure to get the updated version of the PDF). My reason for making the trip all the way to Israel was to check and see if the ink came from a Chinese ink supplier. The main problem with a Chinese source for ink is that you don't know one day to another where the ink really comes from, or what is inside the ink. The formula can change month by month as they find cheaper chemicals to adulterate it with (as everyone has found out with lead paint on toys, dog food, and even toothpaste).

alternative inkjet ink, generic replacement ink, Bordeaux Digital PrintInk, refill cartridges, bulk ink
Samples using the Bordeaux inks. FESPA Digital Amsterdam 2009.

What I found out about Bordeaux ink so far is in the FLAAR Reports. Indeed I learned that they were already into ink chemistry in the mid-1990's, before they became Bordeaux. Moshe and Ruth Zach already was working with the first flatbed printer capable of inkjet on rigid materials (many years before Sias Digital, many years before Inca, many years before Durst, and years before Zund/Mechatron/Perfecta Print).

Our next step was have been to visiting printshops that are using Bordeaux inks to learn from their experiences. But in Guatemala everyone was using Triangle ink or ink from InkWin, or AT Inks, so I never was able to find anyone using Bordeaux. So I visited the InkWin factory and found they had access to a more sophisticated ink testing lab than most other ink companies elsewhere in the word. I also am visiting factories of other ink companies, since during a tough economy more printshops seek a reliable after-market third-party solvent, eco-solvent, mild-lite solvent inks. So during 2010 I visited the factory of AT Inks in India and the factory of Sam-Ink in SIngapore.

Bordeaux Digital PrintInk evaluations
Bordeaux staff at FESPA Digital, Amsterdam 2009.


Bordeaux Digital PrintInk reviews
This is the Bordeaux booth. FESPA Digital, Amsterdam 2009.

FLAAR will continue to study after-market third-party replacement ink. But our policy is to work with a company on a year-long basis because otherwise we don't know at what point they switch sources.

Bordeaux Ink is not on the exhibitor list for ISA 2017, FESPA 2017, or SGIA 2017. We will check whether they will exhibit at FESPA Africa. We hope that this situation can be better understood so that distributors and end-users can have a secure pipeline of ink. Many capable experienced sign industry people worked there in 2016. We are understandably curious what the situation is going into the future.


Most recently updated April 10, 2017.

First posted September 2007. Updated July 8, 2008 and February 16, 2010.