Landscape Photographer Trevern Dawes Gives an in Depth Review of Rihac Large Format Products

The on-going cost of inks will always be a concern for the busy print maker, especially with the large format printers where ink costs are measured in the hundreds if not thousands of dollars. An Australian alternative ink solution comes from Rihac who have recently introduced bulk pigment inks for the Epson range of large format printers. Trevern Dawes takes a look using the popular Epson Stylus Pro 3880

If there is just one deterrent that prevents people from becoming heavily involved with inkjet printers it is the very high cost of inks. Most of the A4 and A3+ printers run at as much as $2 per ml. but as we move up into the large format printers that cost per ml. at least does comes down dramatically. Even so the prospects of further reducing ink costs are always appealing and here is where Rihac offers a solution.

We appreciate genuine cartridges (OEM – original equipment manufacture) are the recommended best solution but when it comes to alternatives we tend to have doubts re the possible damage to the printer, difficulty of setup, the longevity of the inks and the capacity to produce consistent quality output. Any producer of an alternative system must be able to offer something that works well in all departments, otherwise the word gets around quickly.

The Epson Stylus Pro 3800/3880 has proved to be a very popular printer in both amateur and professional circles. As there are likely to be more 3800/3880s in use compared to all the larger formats put together that printer becomes an ideal choice to trial the Rihac pigment ink kits.

There are two Rihac pigment sets. The core resin encapsulated pigment for the Platinum Photo Pro inks are sourced from Cabot in the USA (rated AAA) and retail at $75 per 250 ml. bottle while the other pigment comes from Diamond in the UK (rated A) selling at $55 per 250 ml. bottle. The difference is miniscule and basically relates to printer operation at 60 degrees ambient temperature. That is hardly likely to be a typical printing environment in Australia.

Both ink sets are multi-filtered by osmosis and will not cause any clogging problems. They also have colour gamut and longevity ratings in keeping with the OEM inks. The set supplied by Rihac for examination comprised the Platinum Photo Pro inks.


The Rihac kit for the Epson Stylus Pro 3800/3880 comprises a set of 9 refillable cartridges, a chip resetter kit, 9 bottles of 250 ml. ink, 9 x 10 ml. syringes and an instruction booklet. The total outlay is $900.

This might not seem all that appealing at the onset but we are looking at 2,250 ml. of ink. If we assume an A2 print consumes an average of 2 ml. of ink then that represents 1,125 prints at $0.80 each. For the sake of the exercise equal use of all inks is adopted. Our comparisons continue with an A2 print.

Now let's buy 9 x 80 ml. OEM cartridges at $80 each (this is not the cheapest price nor is it the most expensive).The 9 cartridges total 720 ml. of ink to create 360 prints at $2.00 each. A distinct advantage in favour of the Rihac system but let's take it further and buy another set of Rihac inks (the re-fill cartridges, syringes and chip resetter kit are a once-only purchase). The $675 for the ink produces another 1,125 prints and the cost per print drops to $0.60.

The appreciable cost benefits only come to the fore if very large volumes of printing are envisaged. If only a handful of prints are produced every few weeks or so then the ease of simply slipping in an OEM cartridge is evident enough.

One of the reasons some printer owners may not seek to go beyond the OEM cartridges is the thought of having to fiddle with syringes, ink bottles and tiny cartridge chips. This is part and parcel of the system but for those who don't take kindly to the requirements there may be friends who do and who are willing to help out.

It is a matter of confidence and patience. First and foremost read the instructions very carefully, prepare a well illuminated working area and go through what needs to be done several times before proceeding. Thin rubber gloves are recommended just in case of ink spillage. What appears to a daunting task is really straightforward and when all is completed you'll wonder why you ever had those up-front doubts.

The instruction booklet explains each step well enough but some more details and emphasis on things to watch out for would be helpful. A demonstration video on the Rihac website would be welcome as might a CD in the kit.

Before starting it is recommended to run a print head clean and/or prepare a test printout to check the print heads are working efficiently.

Indepth Analysis:

The Rihac refillable cartridges require 2 sets of chips to enable the cartridge to function. The two chips work in tandem.

When the first OEM cartridge is at about 10% capacity it is ready for replacement with a refillable cartridge. As the procedure requires the OEM chip to be still active it is important that the replacement is made before complete exhaustion of the OEM cartridge. This is best carried out when the printer first comes up with a "low ink" warning on the cartridge.

The cartridges are colour coded to help avoid any mistakes. The chip from the OEM cartridge is removed, placed in the refillable cartridge and the Rihac chip clipped on top.

Two very small plastic lugs hold the green chip on the OEM cartridge. With clean, dry hands a sharp blade is used to shave off the two lugs. The ultra thin chip is then carefully lifted out. A pair of tweezers could be handy, otherwise the cartridge may be held upside down close to the work area and lightly tapped to dislodge the chip. If this doesn't happen it's back to the sharp blade. The chip is then lowered into the slot of the refillable cartridge with the gold contact facing the base of the cartridge. A pencil or biro point is a good way to firmly secure the chip by its edges into position.

The Rihac ARC (Auto reset chip) set is housed in individual plastic bags, each cleared marked for its intended cartridge. The corresponding "L" shaped coloured chip is placed on top of the original chip, where light pressure will lead to a faint "click" to ensure the chip is flush to the surface. The same procedures are followed for the remaining cartridges

If all goes well there should be no spillages but just in case wear some gloves, have some newspaper on the work area and some tissue paper to clean the cartridge. After checking the orange air plug is still in the refillable cartridge the filler plug is removed from the cartridge.

The silver foil seal on the top of the ink bottle is pierced with the syringe needle. With the plunger pushed down the end of the needle is inserted through the foil and well into the ink bottle. This ensures no air enters the syringe. The plunger is drawn back slowly to extract the ink. By gently removing the needle from the bottle excess ink on the outside of the needle drains back into the bottle at the foil. Each cartridge is filled to about 80% capacity.

The needle tip is inserted into the filler plug and the plunger slowly pushed down to load the ink. "Slowly" is the key word as a "make haste and get waste" result occurs if the ink loading is performed too quickly. It is recommended to hold the cartridge at an angle. When the cartridge has sufficient ink the filler plug is re-inserted.

As the syringes provided are 10 ml. capacity it will take a series of fill ups. If this proved to be too tedious acquire a set of 60 ml. capacity syringes (about $10) and do the ink loading in one step.

Once the cartridges are in the printer and running it most important to remember to never let them run dry. If air penetrates it will adversely affect the ink flow. A good practice is to monitor the ink levels and top up at about a quarter capacity.

There are 9 syringe and needle sets in the kit, one for each colour. As each is used it is a good idea to store in clearly marked individual clip seal plastic bags so the syringes can never be mixed up. If per chance the wrong one is used and contamination occurs, the syringe should be discarded and replacements can be purchased from rihac or from a local pharmacy.

The preparation of the refillable cartridges is a once only affair while the re-filling is a continual on-going process. There is some time and effort involved but the benefits are considerable.

For ongoing maintenance the current instructions recommend to shake your inks prior to filling your cartridges. In fact it won't hurt to remove the cartridges from the printer, give them a gentle shake and return to ensure the pigment remains in suspension.

It is absolutely critical that no air enters the ink feed lines of the printer. Each re-filled cartridge must therefore be primed. About 10 mm is cut off the end of a priming plug and this is attached to the end of the syringe needle. The orange air plug is removed from the cartridge. The needle and its air-sealing plug are gently inserted into the outlet point far enough to open the spring seal. The outlet point has a plastic cover that is penetrated by the needle. There is no need to remove this cover, simply pierce through it. The plunger is drawn back until ink enters the syringe and the ink channel within the cartridge is full. The orange air plug is not re-inserted but is retained for further refilling.

It probably will take some time to prepare the first refillable cartridge but thereafter it shouldn't take more than about 10-15 minutes and then only a few minutes to top up. With careful handling not a single drop need be wasted.

To refill a cartridge the orange air plug is reinserted and when the fill up is complete the plug is removed.

There is no need to extract partially used OEM cartridges from the printer in order to install the Rihac inks. When each OEM cartridge reaches a "low ink" level the Rihac cartridge is fitted and the two ink systems continue until the Rihac set completely takes over. The difference in the properties of the inks has been measured at 0.07%. This is insignificant and means continuing with the printer's canned or custom ICC profiles.

No problems were encountered in the transition process from the first Rihac cartridge being installed, through the transition stage of a mix and match arrangement to a point where the printer was running completely on the Rihac inks. Interestingly enough if for any reason you decided to use OEM cartridges again they can be easily accommodated.

The Rihac pigment inks are resin encapsulated, a process where resin polymer is coated on pigment crystals. Coagulation is avoided and ink flow is smooth with even particle distribution. Better colour gamut is secured, especially on gloss media. There is improved scratch resistance, no metameric failure and longevity that surpasses 100 years. More detailed information is available from Rihac.

The notes on each 250 ml. ink bottle recommend the contents be used within 6 months of opening. There is probably a conservative figure and will not be an issue as the whole concept is one of regular printing where it is more likely to be case of all ink being used within 6 months.

For the specialist black and white print maker who has many prints to make the concept of just buying a "mini kit" comprising the Photo Black or Matte Black 250 ml. bottles (and perhaps the supporting Light Black and Light, Light Black) and the corresponding refillable cartridges etc. could be a most worthwhile proposition. It all comes down to anticipated volume printing and how the cost factors compare.

During the transition period from the first refillable cartridge installed to a full set in operation no changes in print quality were observed. A variety of print sizes on different paper brands and surface types were created and everything worked well. Epson Velvet and Hot/Cold Press papers were particularly impressive.

In considering any alternative ink system we not only look at colour accuracy and longevity but must also consider if print head clogging is likely to be a concern.

The printer, loaded with some OEM and some Rihac cartridges, was switched off for three weeks during an overseas trip. No problems have ever been encountered with clogging and head cleaning cycles with OEM inks so here was an enforced situation to see how the printer fared. The printer was switched back on and a head clean performed. The printer did its customary gurgling and printing resumed without a hitch. Altogether a good combination of a reliable printer and an alternative trouble-free ink system.

The same principles apply to the larger Epson printers except that the scale of things gets greater. The cost savings remain attractive but it will be necessary to run your own calculations to see how everything operates with a particular printer. .

When a refillable cartridge is inserted the ink level will be shown as full. As ink is consumed the printer will not show any variation from full so manual checks must be made on the cartridges. Although they are translucent containers the ink level within may still be awkward to see while still in the printer, however a small LED torch placed on top of the cartridge makes it much easier. Otherwise the cartridges are completely removed for inspection. This situation could do with bold emphasis in the instructions. Vigilance is necessary to ensure ink is not exhausted in any cartridge.

In considering any alternative ink system we not only look at colour accuracy and longevity but must also consider if print head clogging is likely to be a concern.

The printer, loaded with some OEM and some Rihac cartridges, was switched off for three weeks during an overseas trip. No problems have ever been encountered with clogging and head cleaning cycles with OEM inks so here was an enforced situation to see how the printer fared. The printer was switched back on and a head clean performed. The printer did its customary gurgling and printing resumed without a hitch. Altogether a good combination of a reliable printer and an alternative trouble-free ink system.


All the concerns about the Rihac pigment kit – damage to the printer, print head clogging, variations from canned or custom ICC profiles and difficulty in the set up – can be pushed aside.

The Rihac system functioned well over three months of regular printing and no problems were encountered with consistent print quality or the mechanical operation of the printer. The Epson Stylus Pro 3880 lived up to its "Pro" title and didn't falter with all the heavy traffic while the Rihac inks delivered consistent quality from the transition to a complete refillable set in operation. The printer has a most commendable feature when it runs out of ink and stops mid-print. No matter how long it takes to organise a replacement the printer continues and the print is not lost.

Getting the system started and the continual topping up of cartridges does require time and effort but when the cost savings are taken into account it is all well worthwhile. The bigger the printer format the bigger the savings. If, at any time, you need to return to the use of original cartridges, either completely or as a "mix and match" system, there are no difficulties.

As long as a close eye is kept on ink levels so they are topped up when down to about 25% capacity and a careful and methodical approach for cartridge handling is adopted then is it really is all smooth sailing. If need be prepare a check list of the procedures and tick each stage as it is completed.

It may not be all that significant but the Rihac system is more environmentally responsible as the refillable cartridges just keep going whereas the OEM cartridges must be discarded.

With the current Rihac kit for the Epson 3800/3880 consisting of 250 ml. ink bottles anyone contemplating the Rihac kit would need to be producing quite a lot of prints. Having mentioned to Rihac that smaller bottles would be more attractive for those who work in moderate volumes Rihac have recently introduced 100 ml. bottles and 100 ml. starter kits.

Although the instruction booklet is easy enough to follow, a short video, either on the website and/or included in the kit, would be helpful, especially for those who are not too confident.

The Rihac pigment kit for the Epson Stylus Pro 3880/3880 proved to be a very happy arrangement and the same could be expected of the kits for the larger format printers. Altogether the Rihac bulk pigment kit is an encouragement for those who would like to print big time but are hesitant about ink costs. If you seek to make many prints and don't mind playing around with ink bottles and syringes then you are on a winner with the Rihac pigment kits.

For further details or enquiries contact Rihac www.Rihac.com.au email:info@rihac.com.au. Phone is 03 9005 5555.