May 202010

Well I recently bought this Canon Pixma MP640 and it prints photos beautifully. But the downside is that it takes 5 cartridges (ink tanks) and they cost about ten pounds each (a bit less if you shop around). Now I don’t want to have to restrict my printing out of photos because of overpriced ink (£2/ml – that’s more than most perfumes), so I have evaluated a couple of alternatives.

I did a bit of web research. Someone on one of the online forums I hang out on suggested a continuous ink system. That led me to City Ink Express. When I got there, I saw their refillable system and rather liked the look of it. They sell a kit which includes ink tanks with auto-reset chips, 100ml of each ink (FotoRite) and 5 syringes with blunt needles for tank filling. Instructions were good and there are even online videos to guide you through the process. I bought one. It cost me £50 + ~£5 postage and arrived promptly. As the original Canon cartridges ran out I replaced them with these.

City Ink Fotorite kit

City Ink Fotorite kit

This ink worked fine in routine document printing. Once I had replaced all except the Canon photo black (it still hasn’t run out) I printed a few test photos, duplicating ones I had already printed with the Canon ink. This was to make a direct comparison. Now I wasn’t expecting miracles, but I was looking for the holy grail of “cheap ink that is as near as possible to an exact match to the OEM Canon stuff”. (I don’t want much do I?) Here are the results…

Canon left, Fotorite right

Canon left, FotoRite right

Canon left, Fotorite right

As you can see if you look closely (click any image to enlarge it) the eagle has a bluish colour cast. The blue sky on the sunflower looks an odd colour and the Canon yellow is much more vibrant. The butterfly shot is a much closer call between the two, but if you look closely at the butterfly’s black body, the FotoRite ink gives a decidedly bluish cast. I did have a go at adjusting the photos’ colour balance to try and duplicate, but it was a bit hit or miss. I know you can buy a calibration kit and change the printer profiles – but who’s got time for that? No. I’d like to see if I can find an ink that will give me what I want…

  • Results as close as possible to the Canon originals
  • Economical to refill

…without messing about with hardware profiles. So the search went on. I found an interesting thread about the
“German “Durchstich” refill method for the PGI-520/CLI-521 cartridges” on (via google) :rotfl: My eyes were opened to the possibility of refilling the original Canon cartridges, which I still had. In that thread there are a couple of inks that come highly recommended. The thread also warns of using inappropriate inks, which can burn out your print head. OctoInk comes highly recommended on that forum, so I banged off an email to Martin with an enquiry, and got a reply within a couple of hours – always a good sign. I decided to try his ink, which is made by Image Specialists in the US. OctoInk appealed because they are UK based and well recommended. I ordered ink and a few 21 gauge needles on Monday night, it was packed that night, shipped on Tuesday and with me on Wednesday. This is the ink I bought. It cost me £21.30 delivered for 100ml of each of the five inks. (Update 6 december 2010 OctoInk now sell a kit with everything you need for the Canon Pixma MP range)

I filled the cartridges according to the Durchstich method, installed them and cleaned the print head, sent a nozzle test page through the printer and then printed out the same three test photos (on the same paper of course – also remember I’m still using the Canon photo black – but that’s the same for all three tests now). So here are the results. I captioned the photos this time. Each set of three was photographed in one shot so the lighting for each is identical.

I did a blind test with Tomek and Malgosia, putting the three photos in random positions and asking them which they liked the best. Tomek picked three out of three OctoInk image specialists. Malgosia picked one Octo outright winner and the other two she couldn’t choose between the Canon and the Octo.

My own opinion of the OctoInk Image Specialists’ Canon Compatible CLI221 + PGI220BK Ink Set is that it is a very good match for the Canon ink – particularly if, like me, you don’t want to mess about with printer profiles. This ink is good enough for me to use as a direct replacement for the original ink. And instead of costing £2 per ml, I got 500ml for £20. That much of the Canon ink (admittedly with brand new tanks each time) would cost £1000. This should mean I don’t have to be a tightwad with my photo printing, which is exactly what I set out to achieve. Thank you Martin from OctoInk. 🙂