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Author Topic: Reality Check: Inkjet media suppliers (Dept of Buyer Beware)  (Read 1692 times)
teddillard
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« on: November 02, 2012, 05:18:22 AM »
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I recently (in March of this year) left a job for a company who claimed to develop, manufacture and support their own line of fine-art inkjet paper.  I believed them when I took the position, and soon learned the reality of the situation...  if you call using a heat-gun to take off a manufacturer's label and then replacing it with your own, "manufacturing", well, I guess you can say you manufacture paper.  If not, well, you see where I'm going.  

The thing that was kind of funny was that some of these papers they carried were pretty damn sweet.  It's just that you don't have to buy them from there, and you don't have to pay top dollar.  Here's a link to my blog post with some of the papers we "manufactured":
http://teddillard.wordpress.com/2012/04/29/awesome-private-label-media/

...there are some of my favorites listed there.  For some reason the formatting doesn't work when I cut and paste here, sorry!  

But, for those who are laboring under the misconception that a small company can make their own formula of paper that can compete with the Big Boys, let me fill you in on a few things.  They can't.

As far as I know, even Epson themselves, for example, doesn't make their own paper.  Most inkjet paper is manufactured in a few plants, much on the same model as consumer electronics.  Some is manufactured to specifications of the customer (...that is, like Epson) but they need to be pretty big companies ordering huge amounts to be competitive.  A small Mon-and-Pop?  No chance that is going to happen.  

What some companies do, and very honestly, I might add, is to "Private Label" a paper.  They buy from companies like IJ Technologies, put their labels on the paper and sell them as their own.  The difference is, the companies that I've seen that do that are pretty up front and honest about it, and also provide added value in building a good array of profiles, give you some awesome support, and also cherry-pick stock.  (Let's face it, not every stock is going to be what you want, and if you share a supplier's idea of what makes a great Fine-Art paper, then you've taken a lot of guesswork out of trying new stuff.)  That's cool.  It's honest.  Not to mention, a lot of them sell at a pretty good discount.  This place I was at typically bought rolls of stock, steamed the labels off, relabeled them and marked them up 50%.  You'd be buying a $200 roll of stock for $300, and thinking it was something it was not.  

Besides re-labeling, here are some of the things I was told to do, as a routine part of my job.  

Profiling is a huge issue, and a huge joke.  To build a proper profile, anyone who's read much on this forum knows you've got to either build a profile for your special, individual printer, or do it the way Epson et al does it...  take about a dozen printers, profile them several times, then average the data to build a good profile.  Do you think a small company can spend that kind of effort?  This one certainly couldn't.  We'd build one profile on outdated equipment and software, run what was considered a "test" (I considered it a "joke") and call it a profile.

One thing that was pathetically common was to simply re-name profiles for new printers.  If you had a profile for, say, an Epson 9600, you could try re-naming it for the 9900, sending it out there and seeing if you get complaints.  I'm embarrassed to say I was told to do that dozens of times, and did it.  It's the only way a company that owns only 3 printers can claim, and appear to support, every new printer on the market.  I at least tried to get them to approach clients with current printers and use them to build new profiles on selected stock...  but that was only one stock, and sampled from only one printer.  Far from the correct way of doing things.  

A lot of the paper, because it's made in relatively small batches, had some serious consistency problems.  I've even seen that with a few bigger suppliers...  it's hard to keep a consistent line running unless you have huge production.  I was told to simply lie, and gloss over flaws in batches.  In some instances I actually was told to re-label batches so a customer wouldn't know we shipped him the same stuff.  

My favorite was how an entire pallet of stock was found to be defective.  They were reimbursed for the stock - a huge amount of money - and it sat in the "warehouse" (a garage under the building) for about a year.  I was then told to pull it out, clear the dust off it, make a label with a new name, and put it back on the shelves.  Sweet, huh?  

If you're going to buy paper from a company like this, then count on building your own profiles, or paying for them to be built by a reputable service.  Again, if it was bargain basement stuff, then fine...  but this particular place is selling for top-dollar.  Count on getting no support that you can trust, and count on not being able to count on the consistency of what you get.  

The most awesome part is how the owner claimed to be an expert in Color Management and Fine Art Inkjet printing, and to be selling and manufacturing the "finest products available".  He also claimed that some of the biggest and best names in the business started the company with him...  If it smells like BS, it probably is.   Roll Eyes

This may seem inappropriate, or kiss-and-tell, or whatever, but here's the thing.  When I started working in digital imaging, in around 1998, I made a commitment to be honest, and do my best to give the straight story on products.  I was a photographer trying to pay the rent for 25 years, and I wasn't going to sell other guys like me crap.  I built a pretty good reputation doing that, and I think my judgement is pretty well respected.  You may not agree with me, but you can't say I'm trying to lie to you.  After working at this company for two years, I feel like that got flushed down the toilet.  The worst part is the people who get taken by stuff like this are either those who don't know better, or people who simply are too trusting.  

I took the job because I trusted the guy to be telling me the truth.  By the time I understood the depth of the BS, I was in over my head.  It's the only job I've ever walked out on.  Enough of my talk-therapy.   Tongue  

Bottom line?  Know what you're buying, and there's a lot of cool paper out there from honest companies...  but there's a lot of snake-oil out there too.  By buying from the manufacturer, or from a reseller who sells private label stock, you can get some great stuff at some good prices...  but buyer beware.  
« Last Edit: November 03, 2012, 04:12:16 AM by teddillard » Logged

Ted Dillard
Jim Pascoe
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« Reply #1 on: November 02, 2012, 06:31:33 AM »
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Ted, is this really any news - especially as the link you have posted was published in April 2012, though you say you only recently left the job.  I would have thought almost all inkjet paper is probably made in a handful of factories.  Here in the UK I get all my paper from Permajet.  But I am convinced it is exactly the same as that supplied by Fotospeed.  Can I prove that?  No, but they seem to have exactly the same papers in their ranges at similar prices but with different names.  Is it a problem?  I don't think so.  It must be normal in almost all markets for companies to buy-in products manufactured by other companies, rebadge them and add their own marketing guff plus a hefty margin, and sell them on.  What's the problem.  Only the naive would not realise this.  Some companies specialise in development and manufacture, others in marketing and distribution.  There are of course a few companies that can do the whole thing.  Many well known products that are heavily marketed and with premium prices are in reality no different to their cheaper alternatives.

As for canned profiles - surely it is always better to get a custom profile made anyway, and most of the major paper sellers here now offer free profiling if you use their paper.
If their paper supply start to become inconsistent I would soon stop using them.

I can see your point, but I really think that without naming names is there much to be learned here?  The lesson must be try the papers and see if you like them.  Some people will not be satisfied with a photograph unless it was taken with a very expensive camera system, edited on a super computer running the latest software, and printed on a piece of paper that costs a small fortune.  If people are fooled into buying very expensive paper just because it has a special label - that is their choice.

Your last paragraph was right - buyer beware.

Jim

PS - Just to add, none of my post should be read as in any way critical of Permajet (or Fotospeed).  They are an excellent company to deal with, superb products and competitive prices.  My points were more general.
« Last Edit: November 02, 2012, 08:43:21 AM by Jim Pascoe » Logged
Ernst Dinkla
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« Reply #2 on: November 02, 2012, 07:30:03 AM »
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Jim,

It does not look like Ted is naïve on what distributors do; distributing goods to a market they know and getting payed for that work in a percentage of the selling price. The things he describes how it is done in that company makes the difference to a company that gives good service and asks a reasonable price for that work. Leaning back as a consumer and letting  things happen is not a contribution either to the system we live in. We vote with our wallets based on the information we collect. There are tools and countermeasures possible to get what you pay for; part of that is getting the right information, another one is deflating BS marketing balloons en public, marking goods that are returned is not bad practice either, etc. Ted's confession here confirms that a tiny bit of paranoia has its place in the market. Buyer beware.


--
Met vriendelijke groet, Ernst

http://www.pigment-print.com/spectralplots/spectrumviz_1.htm
400+ inkjet paper white spectral plots, November 2012:
rearranged categories, still adding Photokina samples.
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elolaugesen
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« Reply #3 on: November 02, 2012, 07:44:00 AM »
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I use Permajet and am happy with the paper and the service provided.  I know that some of their papers are made and packaged by Hahnemuhle (a hahnemuhle flier was in a sealed box by mistake instead of permajets)  Also one of their good papers one size was deleted and next day I saw the same size deleted on hahnemuhle's site.
Overall lots of help, good service, good papers.

However , profiles are a different matter,  My old trusty epson 3800 misbehaves with the 2008 generated 2.4 (LOGO/GregMacbeth) profiles.  I get the cyan/dark border all around my images.  Tested profiles from other suppliers too.(same software) same results.  Only the datacolor 2.0 profiles will work properly

I am happy with my Datacolor spyder3prnt.    does the job..  Of course there are better tools out there but my clients are happy with the paper and with the images.
 I know Permajet do not make their own papers, and  the story about taking years/lots of effort to develop their own inks(must be kidding) I do not believe.  But service and products work for me.
cheers elo
« Last Edit: November 02, 2012, 07:47:06 AM by elolaugesen » Logged
aaronchan
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« Reply #4 on: November 02, 2012, 11:54:55 AM »
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There are companies who do their own conversion as well. When we say conversion that means the company will buy a jumbo roll which might be 5 meters wide and 1000 meters long, and they use their own facilities to convert this jumbo roll into the size that our printers can take. Conversion is a expensive labor job in some countries so that might be a way to sell their paper as their own brand. Also, some company does there own coating, specially in China. Few companies that i know buy paper base from other companies such as H or M, and they do their own coating as well.

Re-labeling is very common in other market as well such as clothing, stationary or hand tools. I don't really see the problem as long as the quality are equivalent to the original and the price is cheaper.

aaron
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BrianWJH
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« Reply #5 on: November 02, 2012, 05:16:48 PM »
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I think the important and salient points for this supplier are:

  • "I was told to simply lie, and gloss over flaws in batches.  In some instances I actually was told to re-label batches so a customer wouldn't know we shipped him the same stuff."
  • "My favorite was how an entire pallet of stock was found to be defective.  They were reimbursed for the stock - a huge amount of money - and it sat in the "warehouse" (a garage under the building) for about a year.  I was then told to pull it out, clear the dust off it, make a label with a new name, and put it back on the shelves"
  • "One thing that was pathetically common was to simply re-name profiles for new printers"
  • "Again, if it was bargain basement stuff, then fine...  but this particular place is selling for top-dollar"

In my book this is unethical and deceptive behaviour, I just wish we could name and shame this supplier.

Cheers.
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teddillard
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« Reply #6 on: November 03, 2012, 04:32:41 AM »
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@Jim, I edited the post.  Better?   Roll Eyes  I quit in March, made that post a few weeks later, and have been giving the whole thing a lot of thought about how to handle this since.

As far as a custom profile always being "better" than a "canned" profile, I can't really categorically agree in today's market.  Many of the profiles from Epson, Crane and other manufacturers are really great, and better than most people can build for most purposes, unless you have the top of the line equipment and run profiles the way you really should.  (Bill Atkinson showed me how he does it, and he's running about 6 samples of 3 targets each, then averaging the data.  And that's for just one printer.)  That's a discussion for the Color Management forum, really, but for a company to misrepresent their support and process was really to my point.  

If I, as a customer, know the profiling is non-existent or generic, then I wouldn't waste time trying to use it.  I can't tell you how many support calls I fielded from customers who wasted tons of paper and ink trying to use those profiles, because they were working from the premise that these were the best of the best profiles possible.  Ultimately I did tell many of them to profile the paper, have it profiled, or hire us to make a custom profile (for upwards of $150/paper/printer)  So the pattern was, claim awesome support, when it falls through tell the customer they can pay a crazy amount for what they really shouldn't need in the first place. And sell them more paper and ink.

@Ernst, I really didn't think of it as a confession, but you know, you may be right.  So I can do a couple of Hail Marys and be on my way?   Grin

@Brian, yes, those are the salient points - unethical and deceptive practices.  My intent wasn't really to name and shame, though...  a bit of creative Googlin' will give you any names you're looking for, but the intent was to simply tell the story that these kinds of suppliers are out there, and to be wary when buying from small vendors who seem sketchy.  These are the ways in which they are sketchy.  If you're aware of this kind of thing, and start dealing with paper suppliers and start suspecting they are the company I'm referring to?  I'd say it's time to start looking for another supplier who is better.  I think that was Ernst's point as well.

I often refer to paper selection in fine printmaking in comparison to fine wines...  it's a matter of personal taste, and paper can have all the complexity of a good wine, when used for a fine print.  A great wine can come from a family vineyard that produces a few hundred bottles a year.  A great, low-cost paper cannot.  

« Last Edit: November 03, 2012, 05:48:54 AM by teddillard » Logged

Ted Dillard
Ernst Dinkla
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« Reply #7 on: November 03, 2012, 02:43:58 PM »
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I use Permajet and am happy with the paper and the service provided.  I know that some of their papers are made and packaged by Hahnemuhle (a hahnemuhle flier was in a sealed box by mistake instead of permajets)  Also one of their good papers one size was deleted and next day I saw the same size deleted on hahnemuhle's site.


Measuring the Permajet art paper range right now and I see probably as many qualities that resemble Innova as Hahnemühle. Weights do not tell everything either.



--
Met vriendelijke groet, Ernst

http://www.pigment-print.com/spectralplots/spectrumviz_1.htm
450+ inkjet paper white spectral plots, November 2012:
rearranged categories, still adding Photokina paper samples.
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enduser
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« Reply #8 on: November 03, 2012, 09:04:06 PM »
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When I bought my Canon I was amazed at the huge range of papers that the machine lists when loading.  I spoke to Canon about where to buy these and they said "They're all Mitsubishi and we'll send you a list of what they call them.  Be careful though, since Mitsubishi make paper for dozens of brands."
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darlingm
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« Reply #9 on: November 04, 2012, 05:03:56 PM »
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In my book this is unethical and deceptive behaviour, I just wish we could name and shame this supplier.

 Roll Eyes  So, uh, totally off topic of this thread, and not related to this post or poster in any way, but it's interesting how you can learn from many people where they've worked by posts on their blog.

Oh, yeah, so back to this thread, thanks for your insight.  It's not just inkjet media this happens with.  So many industries are running on this model now, with so many manufacturers claiming to manufacturer things that are just relabeled.  Happens left and right in the computer industry.
« Last Edit: November 04, 2012, 05:05:32 PM by darlingm » Logged

Mike • Westland Printworks
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