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Interview with Inkologist Thom Brown - HP

A lot has happened over the last few years at HP, so we wanted to take a moment and catch up with Thom Brown, their certified “inkologist” and see what the changes in technology have meant for HP ink. 

1)What, if anything, is different from inks that are used with the PageWide Officejet Pro X printers?
Certainly there is and there are similarities and differences. You?re obviously familiar with the Officejet and Officejet Pro models. Between Pro X and regular Officejet Pro, they are both focused on plain paper printing, or even brochure printing at a high quality. They are also focused on things such as speed, and a low running cost. As we've talked about before, all of the HP printers use pigmented ink for their ink technology as opposed to dye-based like other vendors.

In terms of the differences, the Officejet Pro X printer are designed to be the world?s fastest inkjet printers. However, as you might expect, that results in some design issues. First you have to take into account the speed. We?ve gone from roughly 20ppm or so with standard Officejet models up to 70ppm with the Pro X models. Now, the ink at that speed basically has to dry in literally one second before the next page comes out. So to deal with this, we realized we had to change the density of the ink, the pigment impact, if you will.

The Officejet Pro X ink then has many pigment volume molecules than the standard, and this works to help the ink dry faster because there is less liquid with the higher density. Another reason for the denseness of the ink is that basically now the ink all has to be put down at once through the 40,000 nozzeles. Take the idea of a painting a room in your house, you will in all likelihood have to put down multiple coats to get the color you want, especially if it?s a darker color. This is how an older Office jet worked because the ink would be put down in segments across the pages layer by layer. The dense pigment allows the ink to get onto the paper at the speed it needs without running.

The ink, print head, and printer are all designed together to fulfill a certain user type (home, office, photo, etc., …) so during the R&D phase this all needs to be taken into account.

Another thing we were concerned about was the life and integrity of the printhead itself. In this model, the printhead has to absolutely last for the life of the printer. As you know, ink is more than just the color on a page, but it acts as a lubricant for the printer. To handle this, we developed what I like to call "pond scum". With these models, when the ink gets exposed to air, it automatically is designed to build up a protective layer, the pond scum, over the nozzles. Then once it is sealed, just like with all other HP models, a rubber grommet comes up over top and provides further protection.

2)What new developments have there been with HP ink that you'd like to share?
By looking at our design, we always look at performance and reliability, it can?t be halfway. The second thing is how we improve speed, and ink is a big part of that. Also we always look at the mechanical aspect of a printer and ink. Our ink has to be stain, water, highlight resistant, all that is done and tested with every ink we manufacture and sell. For us, with inkjets we need to be comparable to color laser printers at both the sub-$500 and sub-$1,000 price points.

3)If you can comment, I know we have spoken before about HP pairing inks with printers, what types of factors go into determining if the formulation is the correct one for the printer?
Everything is designed together at once for our printers and ink. Basically the engineering and marketing team get together and look at the feedback received from customers. The marketing team sets goals, and it is the job of the engineers to build the printers to meet the goals. Every product starts with design objectives like print speed, cost per page, and network connectivity. Additionally, we want to be clear that the Officejet Pro X with PageWide technology is the world?s fastest printer, as tested by the Guinness Book of World Records, has 50 percent lower CPP and energy use than color laser devices and does this without compromising the durability of the prints.

4)Some OEM vendors like Epson and Brother have "invented" a new category of ink yields, "Extra-high capacity"…Does HP have anything like this, and is there a limit to how much ink you can really put in a cartridge? Do cartridges have to be within certain dimensions, truthfully?
We have XL cartridges obviously, but nothing called XXL or anything like that. It really comes down to need. In a recent report by IDC, I read that basically the average person prints about 60 pages a month. Obviously there?s some variance by country, but 60 is a reasonable average. The typical person also purchases roughly three sets of cartridges in a given year. There's definitely a physical limit to the size a cartridge can be in terms of fitting in the printer. But that is all part of the design process.

As part of my job I travel all around and talk to people about ink and ink technology. We recently finished a study based on what I've learned. I talked to people about their ink complaints and I discovered then the complaints were from people who had older (more than 5 years) printers. Inks today are much different than they were 5 years ago because the technology has changed so much. I also discovered that what people do is as soon as they are done printing, they shut it off. When that happens, the cartridges can?t return to where they are parked when not in use, and can be exposed to the elements.

HP inks are designed to not dry out during normal use, we?ve done other studies where we left ink in a printer in the proper place for up to 6 weeks between prints, and there?s been no difference in the quality of the output. I actually recommend that you never shut down an HP printer, and it makes sure that the ePrint and other technology can do what it needs to. You don?t want to have to go turn on the printer every time. We have all types of safety measures in place to protect our ink and the printhead. On HP packaging we do have a suggested time by which to use the printer ink, because the chemicals can change over time, but that's usually two years or so down the road.

5)What types of things do you see coming down the road for inks for HP and in the industry in the next 5 years or so? What hasn't been done that you think ought to?
If you look within the past year, the trends are speed, and a low cost per page. We've spent a lot of time focusing on the ink for office environments. There's lot of cool niches out there which we've looked at edible ink, but nothing we're producing at this point.