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HP brand to inject new life into ink

The company splashes a new name on the inks to be used in its photo printers.

Hewlett-Packard's new "Vivera" brand name for ink products could make a good impression in customers' minds, according to analysts.

The company on Friday put the label on its latest set of inks for printing photos on its inkjet printers.

Promoting Vivera inks could help HP fend off competition from lower-end ink sellers, even as it battles against photo printer specialists Epson and Canon, which also have come with brand names for ink products, analysts said.

"It makes a lot of sense," said Stephen Baker, an analyst at research firm The NPD Group. But he added that it won't be easy to convince consumers that ink brands really make a difference. "It's a tough slog," he said.

The slog is an important one for HP. Hewlett-Packard's imaging and printing group contributes the lion's share of the company's overall profits. Printing accessories are, in a way, more important to the company than the printers they're used on. "That's where the profits come from, the inks and the paper," said Ed Lee, an analyst at research firm InfoTrends/Cap Ventures.

HP announced Vivera inks as part of a broader consumer electronics product push Friday. The inks were introduced along with upgraded cartridges and new inkjet printers, including printers designed specifically for printing photographs. The number of photo specialty printers shipped in the United States is expected to grow from about 6 million last year to roughly 7.5 million this year, according to InfoTrends.

"Vivera," HP said, is meant to suggest "life, true-to-life, acclaim and longevity."

Accordingly, the company said, the new ink is designed to produce very high-quality photos that resist fading "for generations." HP said prices for new cartridges with Vivera ink are expected to range from $34.99 for a 14-milliliter "HP 97 Tri-color" cartridge to $19.99 for an 11-milliliter "HP 94 Black" cartridge.

Cheaper ink can be found on the market. For example, office supply retailer Staples sells two cartridges with a total of 84 milliliters of black ink compatible with HP printers for $45.04--less than a third of the price per milliliter.

Baker said the Vivera brand effort is a way for HP to distinguish itself from off-brand ink supply products. In addition, Baker said, the Vivera name and the attention HP draws to its ink research and development work are moves to thwart Dell's assertion that the choice of ink "doesn't really matter."

At the other end of the spectrum, HP is fighting Epson and Canon, each of which sell branded ink products. Canon's "Think Tank System" enables individual replacement of different color ink tanks. Epson says its "Durabrite" inks are water- and smudge-resistant. Lee said Epson's Durabrite" campaign has made a dent. "Certainly from an awareness perspective, it's helped the Epson name," he said.

HP is aiming to do something similar with "Vivera," and Lee gives it credit for the effort. "From HP's perspective, I think it's a good move."