Pantone is not a manufacturer of inks, Pantone is a color matching system.
When you're using Pantone colours
You are not using a "Pantone color", you are using a color that is labeled in a specific way by a system that has some specific rules and values to be reproduced by ink manufacturers and print shops.
I will separate "rules" and "values" here.
A rule is a recipe, this comes in Pantone's formula guide. "X parts of this ink + Y parts of that one".
And values are specific for "absolute" values, for example translating the Pantone color to a Lab color, to be measured with a colorimeter or spectrometer.
Will you get the same level of quality ink in different printer shops?
This depends on the quality of the ink manufacturer, a print shop does not make inks.
There are some excellent manufacturers of inks, some German, some Japanese, some NorthAmerican, some more local on specific countries.
Some of the big brands have some commercial and licensing relationship to label their inks as "Pantone", but some other simply use other standardized systems, like Toyo.
Then you need to understand the supply chain. This is not linear, but I need to make a decision to form a list.
- Print shop
A manufacturer can make inks based on several specifications or several color systems, but they could be tied to one by contract.
are there some alternatives on the market that you can buy cheaper?
Some brands have different labels for different quality inks, some cheaper inks, some more expensive.
Cheaper could mean they are not paying some licenses or could mean a specific pigment or chemical is not used and it is using another instead.
Cheaper can also mean that you could use some colors that are more common than others, for example, fewer people use X color than Y color, therefore X color is more expensive because the print shop needs to buy that color only for you.
One specific answer is to find a local manufacturer. Where I live there is a brand named "Sanchez" which is a well-known provider with excellent quality inks, but it is local.
What else could influence the quality and longevity of the inks (and in what way)?
Quality could mean several things...
- Accuracy of color, which depends not only on the color, but also to the density and transparency of the ink.
- The consistency of the pigment, for example, particle size.
- The consistency of the mix. An ink is not only pigments but agglutinants, solvents, etc.
- Some additives are to protect pigments from degradation, UV filtering, fixation, dry speed, toxicity.
All those things are stipulated on specifications. And these specifications not only for the manufacturing of inks (which are company specifics) but all printing process. Humidity, temperature, paper, etc.
But there is a more immediate thing you need to consider.
Are the inks, regardless of the manufacturer, prepared by "eye" just based on the recipe? or they are prepared by a recipe using a standardized process. The main practical difference is the amount of ink.
If you are printing a small quantity of stuff, you probably need one-quarter of a Kilo of ink. And that is it.
If you want "cheap" the printer could prepare some ink using base color inks, and adjust "by eye" the color. (No manufacturer makes all Pantone, but the base color sets)
If your project is several hundreds of thousands of pieces, it is better to ask some kilos, not to the manufacturer, but to the ink supplier. This company will mix the same base inks but with some more rigorous methods, weighing the ingredients and probably using some spectrometer to confirm the color and density.
And normally you need to pay, let's say 10 kilos of ink.