Rhinos, Cheetahs, Giraffe - it's all the same ink, unfortunately

Posted 6 July, 2011 Anthony Tan (staring at yet another render. But still loving it for some reason..)

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Partly prompted by ordering ink for my thirsty little bubblejet, and partly by an Alertbox article note, it reminded me about all the times where I wish people had named things more appropriately, or avoided naming things at all and just picked descriptive names (like 'Large', 'Medium', and 'Small'). Epson in this case, shows how you can go a tad overboard..

While printing out some layouts for a revised CV I got that dreaded 'ink low' message and promptly started shopping for replacement carts. Standard process I figure, head to the site for my printer - a handy dandy Epson SX515W, find out what cartridge numbers I'm after, and then, order. Oh, but it's never that simple with printer consumables..

Wildlife spotting with Epson

I appreciate that part numbers like T0711, T0621 and T1001 aren't the most comprehendable of names, and so you need to provide some form of differentiation, and on the surface this works nicely. Part numbers start to blend together, but the image on the carton is more prominently used (you can buy Truck, or Penguin, or Hummingbird Inks). Cracking the hood of my printer, it appears that I'm after Cheetah inks... So far so good, but I'm also aware Epson do different types of inks for different purposes.. perhaps there's a specialty ink that I'm interested in? I mean, I don't do a lot of printing, and I've been wanting to play around with some coated paper, so perhaps there's something other than generic ink I can get.

Narrowing it down..

Righto, backup tactic, heading to the product page for my printer. Looks pretty straight forward. I have cartridge part numbers, colours, and prices to guide my decision, obviously not everything is suitable for my printer. Okay, so I'm after black ink, what can I use? Epson tells me:

"Ideal for everyday printing, Epson DURABrite Ultra Ink is perfect for printing high-quality documents and lab-quality photos, thanks to the unique pigment-based ink technology encapsulates ink particles in a protective resin coating." coming in the following sizes

  • Cheetah Inks : Black (T0711) - £10.27
  • Girraffes[sic] Inks: Black High Capacity Twin Pack (T0711H) - £22.58
  • Rhino Ink: Black (T1001) - £22.27

Here's that same potential problem again - I can use ink from three different 'families' and based on the names, you'd assume there's some material difference in the three (or potentially, you might guess that a T0711H is simply a larger T0711, if you looked at part numbers), but alas, there's not.. the only difference is the cartridge size (respectively: 7.4ml, 11.1ml, and 25.9ml), and all three formulations are identical.

Confusion, and over-differentiation

It doesn't help that the animals all have different characteristics which ostensibly could be ink related - is rhino ink for archival? Is the Cheetah ink fast drying and best on a say, glossy papers? And why is the Giraffe ink only in black and a twin pack? Is it a specialty black of the range?

Generally, names that work tend to actually reflect some truth about the product, or clue you in on something that's relevant, and doesn't add confusion. In this case, as the only difference is ink size, choosing a trio of names that implies difference isn't helpful. Even if cartridge sizes were clearly visible, there'd still be this half thought that there was something you were missing unless Epson placed a clear 'there's really no difference apart from size' message up.

Even the images of the packaging could've helped, but alas, no. Here we see designations L, XL, and High Capacity. Is High Capacity smaller or bigger than L? Or do the four droplets indicate that High Capacity is bigger than both XL and L with just their one droplet? (Clearly these people never studied their Isotype)


Admittedly, part of the problem is having such a wide variety of printers and non-compatible cartridges, and I'm not sure how to do it better given the current product lineup. Actually, no, wait, I can. I'd standardize on a Medium/Large/XL designation, one/two/three droplet symbols, and include the ink type in the name so you'd now have Epson Rhino XL DURABrite Ink, Giraffe L DURABrite Ink, and Cheetah M DURABRite Ink.

Opportunities lost

At first blush, it appears to be much of a muchness for Epson as once you have a printer, you're a captive market. Right, but flipping things around, let me rephrase the problem be that Epson is in fact, just selling the same ink in three different sizes. This is a company who has a whackload of experience in printing, has spent untold dollars refining various ink formulations so that they actually work better than the competition (I presume), and works really hard to convince you of the quality of their inks, so you don't go for generics... and yet they've just managed to make me only care about price?

Case in point, my first reaction to the animal names was as I've indicated, to get the feeling that there is indeed, something different between the three lines in terms of ink characteristics. It demonstrates the effect a well chosen set of names could have to hint at something more than the obvious, and steer me away from a simple dollars/pages consideration.. that's a huge potential upsell to the right market, but alas, not in this case.

(for the curious, I ended up with a twin pack of Giraffes Ink)

Just paint on the canvas...
London Open Bike Polo Tournament 2011 - Hackney Downs
  1. Isotype (International System of TYpographic Picture Education) is a fascinating system/set of principles developed to communicate information.. I'm sure you've seen examples all over the place influenced by that early work. Here's an example of the style, and one of the principles that you represent greater volume through symbol repetition.
  2. One interesting observation, not naming related, was that I still draft like a public servant - pen and paper to sketch out rough concepts, transcribe and type to get them into rough shape, then back onto paper paper for edits and layout checks. Oh and when you save your document as a PDF, make sure that you avoid subbing in bitmaps for fonts - makes selecting text really hard (along with, say, searching your PDF resume for keywords...)