Inkgard Software Saves, and Output Quality Suffers
As I mentioned earlier, Inkgard's cartridge and toner products come with a one-year subscription to Inkgard software, which sells separately for $10. The program works with any printer, according to Inkgard, and can cut ink or toner usage by as much as 75 percent. That's a jaw-dropping claim, all right, and it's an ink-saving enhancement that Inkgard's own cartridges could certainly use.
I tested the Inkgard software twice on a Windows 7 laptop. Each time, my printer held a fresh pair of Inkgard cartridges. The 52MB app downloaded and installed effortlessly. Once I activated the software, the Inkgard Getting Starting Wizard launched, and showed me how to configure the Inkgard app as the default printer. Setup took just a few minutes. The next time I printed a document, Inkgard's speedometer-like Smart Ink Control screen popped up. The default ink-savings setting is 25 percent, which I used in nearly all of my tests.
The Smart Ink Control dialog box offers ink-savings suggestions for various print jobs. Printing photos? Reduce ink usage by 10 percent or less. Email? Well, quality doesn't matter as much, so try 65 to 75 percent. The greater the savings, obviously, the lighter the prints.
To find out which setting works best, you should print a sample page. For instance, I printed a page from a Macworld magazine article containing color blocks and an abstract image. I selected five different settings: 0 (no savings), 25, 45, 55, and 75 percent. Presented here is a detail of the same area on each page (click each sample to view it full-size); in these samples, you can see how text and images grow progressively lighter as ink usage decreases.
For me, the default 25 percent savings level produced the most acceptable results. Although color and grayscale images lose considerable sharpness at that setting, they're fine for everyday home and office use. For high-quality photos, however, you'll probably want to get as close to full ink usage as possible.
The yield results were impressive: Under the default 25 percent setting, Inkgard's software boosted the output of its own cartridges to 175 pages in the first test, and to 197 pages in the second. That's an average of 186 pages, which is 60 percent higher than the 116-page average of the Inkgard cartridges without the software. The cost per page came out to a much better 15 cents--cheaper than either Cartridge World's or Office Depot's remanufactured cartridges. The Cartridge World and Office Depot competition used full ink coverage, however, and therefore produced better-looking images.
Inkgard Software Less Effective With HP Cartridges
Finally, I tested Inkgard's software with a fresh pair of HP 60 ink cartridges. The 25 percent setting boosted the HP cartridges' page yield, but not by much: The total went from 134 to 152 pages, for a mere 13 percent improvement in yield. The cost per page improved at the same modest rate, to 23 cents per page from 26 cents per page.
Inkgard could not tell me why the Inkgard software produced greater savings with its own cartridges than with HP's. The company said that the software does not care what brand of cartridge is used.
With Inkgard's software, print quality from the HP 60 cartridges was mediocre, but still acceptable. Take a look at the samples here, showing the Macworld page with and without Inkgard (click the samples to see them full-size).
Inkgard Software Delivers--But Not Much, Perhaps
I was unable to try Inkgard’s Software with other cartridges. Judging from my trials with Inkgard's own cartridges and with HP’s, the savings appear to vary widely. I was more disappointed, however, by the varying performance of the three sets of Inkgard remanufactured cartridges I tested. Inkgard's products work, but not predictably.