Printer majors rally around ISO toner lifespan standard

But what about print quality?

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As the debate over the price of toner and ink continues to bubble over, printer makers Epson, HP, Canon and Lexmark have attempted to show their noses are clean by jointly announcing they will support the ISO's new laser printer toner cartridge yield benchmark.

The standard, ISO/IEC 19752, defines a universal measure of monochrome toner cartridge longevity. Some printer manufacturers have long been criticised for quoting cartridge life stats that are not matched by real-world experience. The ISO's benchmark is not only intended to provide a metric more relevant to users but one that allows better vendor-to-vendor comparisons.

The benchmark defines a standard page to be output using default printer settings. At least nine toner cartridges available on the open market are used to yield a statistically significant maximum page count. Each is run until the printer stops printing. And at least three printers are used to cater for variations in the hardware. The environment in which they operate is also defined and controlled.

Crucially, the benchmarks can be used to measure the longevity of manufacturers' own cartridges, third-party products and refilled cartridges equally.

It's these latter products that the major vendors hope the ISO standard will expose as poor value. Users are currently faced with expensive-seeming 'official' cartridges or cheaper no-name alternatives that may not deliver comparable print quality or toner longevity. The standard should allow them to more easily compare products - assuming, of course, that the third-party producers submit their products for testing.

So far the standard only applies to black-and-white lasers, but the major vendors said they hope the benchmark will be extended to cover colour lasers and inkjet printers. These standards are expected to be complete by the end of 2005.

Even then, the ISO may need to go further: there's no metric for print quality, only how many copies a given cartridge type can churn out. It's possible for a product to offer a superior ISO-based longevity rating yet yield poorer prints than lesser-scoring alternatives.

Details of the ISO standard can be found at the organisation's website, here. ®

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