Hardware

Peripherals - Printers

Printers

Printers are another type of peripheral you may wish to consider purchasing for your computer. There are two choices:

  1. A colour inkjet printer (such as the Canon BJC-4650 for traditional Macintosh and PC serial and Parallel connections, or the Canon S800 with USB ports; or Epson Stylus C80 or C70) at 600x600dpi (for plain text and simple colour images) or 1200x1200 dpi (the minimum resolution for colour photographic printing, and get one with at least a minimum of 4-colour separate cartridge system for producing high quality photographic prints and lower cost of purchasing the cartridges); or
  2. A black-and-white or colour laser printer (the more popular names in the business include QMS, Xerox, Brother, Hewlett-Packard and OKI among others; the Canon LBP810 isn't too bad either for around the $500 mark) at 600x600dpi.

For the professional desktop publishing business, one should consider purchasing a colour laser printer (roughly A$600 to A$2000), and try to get one with a glossy finish for photoquality work. (1)

Laser Printers

Laser printers are better if you want higher printing speeds, more printed pages for each toner/ink cartridge (varies from just a few thousand to somewhere around 25,000 pages or more), lower cost per page (roughly A$0.15 per colour page or A$0.02 per black and white page, with each page containing 15 per cent toner/ink coverage), and better printing quality (i.e. smoother, more sharply-defined text). However, the new range of inkjet printers are getting so good that the difference in print quality between a laser printer and an inket printer is almost impossible to detect. In addition, the more sensibly-priced inkjet printers do have the added benefit of being able to print in colour. And if you use special quality paper, the colour prints can be very near to photographic quality and with a glossy finish just as if it came from a traditional film photographic processing shop.

If money is no object and you wanted the best printer, go for a colour laserwriter. For example, Hewlett-Packard has released the HP Color LaserJet 4600 varying in price from the basic model at A$5500 to the top-of-the-range model with a 500-sheet tray, a 10/100 Base-T ethernet network card and port, and a 5GB hard disk for a mere A$10,800. All models come with a standard 400MHz processor and up to 416MB of memory for printing pages at a speed of 16 pages per minute with the first page coming out of the printer in less than 19 seconds. The one big advantage of this model over other colour laser printers is the ability to print all four colours (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) in a single pass of each piece of paper. So no more waiting for each piece of paper to pass four times through four different colours. The speed of printing colour pages is now the same as monochrome ones.

Or check out the new Xerox colour laser printers capable of printing colour pages at the same price as a black and white.

Or if you are not in the advertising, publishing or graphic design business and you are on a budget for a quality laser printer, you would be better off with a standard, but good quality monochrome laser printer (such as some of the Hewlett-Packard, the Canon range for about $A500, or try a Brother HL-1250 for around the same price; or try the exceptional network-connectable 20 pages per minute laserprinter for A$329 known as the Fuji Xerox DocuPrint 204A. This one produces a page costing A$0.03 to produce and the toner cartridge is quite cheap. Worth checking for those in the market for a new laser printer). The cost per page to print on any laser printer is much less than a good quality inkjet printer (even if the inkjet colour or black cartridges are separated in the printer for lower per page costs and you use really cheap ink refills).

When buying a monochrome (i.e. black and white) laser printer, you may notice how most printers tend to print on one side of a sheet of A4 paper. If you want to print on both sides, you usually have to reinsert the printed paper in the paper tray (hopefully placed in the right way) and keep your fingers cross that the black powder on the printed side of the paper won't come off and dirty up the rollers inside. Well now, there are some double-sided monochrome laser printers for under A$600. For example, the Panasonic KX-P7100 laser printer is one such printer capable of saving you money and the environment with its double-sided printing technology. Together with its 14 pages per minute printing speed, this printer should satisfy the needs of consumers and most business professionals today.

When buying a laser printer, don't just look at the printer price. Also check the price of the toner/ink cartridge and the number of pages it can print per cartridge. The price for the cartridge will vary between A$50 and A$500 (the higher price usually means it will print up to 25,000 pages). You are looking for a printer where the cost per page to produce is around A$0.03 or less. For colour laser printers, it should be around A$0.12 or less (compared to roughly $0.80 or less for a full colour page photograph produced on an inkjet printer).

Inkjet Printers

There was a time when an inkjet printer capable of producing quality colour prints would have set you back well over A$2000. Fortunately times have changed. Today the cost of many inkjet printers has come down to a level where the average "budget-conscious" consumer can easily afford one.

Should I buy one? Only if you are prepared to spend $1,000 or more for a quality inkjet printer. The biggest drawback of cheaper inkjet printers (under A$500) is how piddlingly small the amount of ink you get inside the cartridges and how quickly the ink gets used up. Even if you buy ink refills, the refills themselves are only marginally cheaper than buying the cartridges from the original printer manufacturers. Furthermore, the printing heads need to be cleaned or replaced and sometimes the cartridges themselves do not get enough air to push through the ink consistently and evenly during printing. Or the cartridges may suffer the opposite problem of having too much air causing them to lose all the ink when not printing.

Actually did you know that everytime you turn on an inkjet printer, it will use up some ink to fill the holes in the print head, some more ink to clean the holes of the print head, and even more ink if the printer decides to make a test print? Even if you wanted to print just one black and white page per day and you had to turn on and off the printer each day, the inkjet printer will use quite a bit of ink from the cartridges. Then you will be asking why you've only printed about 50 pages in 50 days and discover there is no ink.

And if you only want to print black and white (monochrome) text on paper, make sure you select "grayscale printing" or the printer may decide to use colour inks to create solid black text when in reality you don't need it.

Given how small the cartridges are and how clever the printer is in using up ink, it is now recommended by inkjet printer manufacturers that you should replace ink cartridges every 6 months with or without much use of the inkjet printers. And even less than 3 months if all you do is print one monochrome page per day or none at all if you choose to turn on your printer in readiness for printing each day.

Extraordinary!

You are better off purchasing a monochrome laserwriter. At least you get a few thousand pages printed without wasting the toner.

More problems with inkjet printers

Another problem with inket printers is the poor quality inks used to make a print. As more and more people make photo-quality prints on glossy paper using a colour inkjet, people have realised how long the inks last on paper when exposed to sunlight — roughly a few months before they fade. Epson is making headway in this area by improving the durability of inks and reducing the cost of ink cartridges in the latest PictureMate desktop inkjet printer to the point where you can print 100mm x 150mm photos at a cost of A$0.50 each and will last for years.

Actually, if the prints are protected inside a photo album, Epson claims the inks will retain its vivid colours for approximately 200 years. Behind a glass sheet and it is possible for the inks to survive up to 100 years.

And now the latest craze to get consumers to buy even more inkjet printers en masse are the all-in-one multifunction printers. These come with a built-in scanner (which doubles as a photocopier), a fax machine, and the inkjet printer. What makes these printers so popular is the price — many printer manufacturers such as Epson and Canon are selling them for as little as A$90. If you have to buy an inkjet printer and a multifunction printer is what you want, pay a little extra for a quality product (around A$500). There is less likelihood for one of the features to break down within 12 months of purchasing the product.

Otherwise, we recommend you avoid multifunction units altogether. Better to go for individual products that perform exactly as they should. If anything goes wrong, you don't have to send all the products in for repairs.

Well, whatever printer you decide to buy — inkjet or laserwriter — make sure it can print on cardboard, envelopes and on plain paper. In other words, it must handle a wide range of printing conditions and requirements if it is to be of any use to you over the long-term. Also consider whether the printer will be used in a network situation as some printers come built-in with network integration.

Take great care which printer you buy. Some printers may look like a great bargain, but in fact they are likely to be more costly to you in the long term because the printers (i) may need regular repairs and maintenance; (ii) they consume more inks than usual to produce a reasonable print result; or (iii) you get piddling amounts of ink inside tiny ink cartridges and therefore have to regularly spend money on buying new ink cartridges. This was a particularly notorious problem with many of the cheaper and older Canon inkjet printers sold in the late 1990s despite the reasonable quality output of the colour prints. To get a truly economical printer with quality features, expect to pay $A750 or more.

For low printing costs (i.e. more printed pages per ink cartridge), reliable, simple and high-speed colour printing (i.e. without an emphasis on extreme photographic-quality images), go for the Hewlett-Packard printers. If you want low printing costs but need a little more true-to-life photographic printing, go for one of the business or photo-dedicated inkjet printers from Epson like the Epson Stylus C80 or Epson Photo 1200. And if you want photographic-quality printing and you are not too concerned at the long-term costs of consumables, go for a Canon printer.

NOTE: This is changing as of 2006. Now you can expect Canon, Epson, Hewlett-Packard and Lexmark to sell you expensive consumables for their cheapest inkjet printers much to the dismay of consumers.

Ink cartridges versus ink refills

In recent times, you may have noticed an increase in the number of companies supplying ink refills for inkjet printers. Why? It boils down to the old inescapable five-letter word of life we all love to hear call "money". In other words, buying inks for your inkjet printer from the original printer manufacturers is usually pretty expensive.

And let's face it, buying new cartridges everytime you need more ink is environmentally unsound.

In the past, there was an excuse to buy the cartridges. For example, inkjet printers were generally designed to work on special paper requiring a specific type of ink capable of handling the temperature of the print heads, fast drying as soon as the inks hit the paper, special paper to accept the high temperature inks, and other physical characteristics associated with the printer and paper. Nowadays, new inkjet printers have to work on a wide range of common papers to be of any use and reasonably low cost for the consumer. This means the inks now have to be manufactured with similar physical and chemical characteristics (despite the hi-tech work gone into inks to make them quick drying, long-life, clean of impurities, and sufficiently contrasty and colourful on plain paper).

Because of this situation with the inks, some companies have seen an opportunity to supply "alternative" low-cost "refill" inks to meet the requirements of a relatively wide range of new inkjet printers.

But there is another reason.

Most inkjet printer manufacturers will either sell you a very economical printer with low "long-term" printing costs but often at a high initial purchase price for the printer, or sell you a very cheap printer, but the long-term costs of ink cartridges and other consumables are kept high as you keep coming back regularly to replace them.

Canon was particularly notorious for taking this latter approach in the early days because of their shear market dominance in the inkjet printer market. For example, the tiny Canon colour ink cartridges for home-based (i.e. non-business oriented) inkjet printers may look like a great buy at $18 each, but when you use them, you run out of ink very quickly and you were lucky to have printed about 150 colour pages using a Canon printer. In fact, things were even worse back then with each colour tank stuck together as a single tri-colour cartridge. So when one of the colours in your tiny tri-colour cartridge should run out during printing, you had no choice but to wait for the printer to finish the job and then throw the entire cartridge away and buy a new complete tri-colour ink cartridge.

Hewlett-Packard, on the other hand, are a little more forgiving in that you don't have to go into a computer store to buy a new tri-colour "stuck on" ink cartridge quite so often. Firstly, the company does give you a reasonable amount of ink and the printers are a little more economical. And for this, you should get about 400 colour pages with 15 per cent colour coverage (i.e. 5% per colour) on an A4 page. However, you will pay dearly for this convenience. The price for a single tri-colour cartridge (i.e. usually not separable for standard consumer printer models) is roughly A$80 (i.e. much more than buying three colour ink cartridges from Canon) and with a greater risk of wasting colour ink should one of the colours run out during printing.

If you want to seriously reduce the "long-term" printing costs using a Hewlett-Packard inkjet printer, you have to be prepared to pay A$1000 or more (as of 2001) for a professional "business-purpose" Hewlett-Packard inkjet printer with separate ink tanks and perhaps lower ink cartridge costs. Or consider purchasing ink refills for your particular Hewlett-Packard inkjet printer.

Epson was a relatively new entrant in the inkjet printer market. Their early inkjet printers produced excellent "photographic-like" results comparable to those of Canon with an efficient use of the inks. However, the main drawback of old Epson printers was their printing speed (mainly because it takes longer to squirt out the ink from a higher resolution "piezoelectric" print head of roughly 1440dpi x 1440dpi or more). Fortunately, Epson has recently made significant improvements in printing speed with useful technology like bi-directional printing. And Epson has been a little more considerate in at least providing the consumer with adequate ink to give you roughly 400 colour pages at 15 per cent colour coverage on an A4 sheet of paper. Also the price for a tri-colour cartridge is somewhere inbetween, if not lower than the other two major and popular inkjet printer manfacturers. However, you must be prepared to pay a little extra for Epson printers with separate ink cartridges and slightly higher printing speeds. And if you buy a really cheap Epson inkjet printer, be prepared to spend big on new Epson cartridges. The same can be said of Canon inkjet printer products too.

Lexmark is another new entrant. It has taken a similar approach to Canon in the early days by selling for example the basic Z617 inkjet printer for A$44 and sell the cartridges for A$53 each. Generic replacement cartridges may reduce the cost to $40 and greater savings is possible by choosing to refill the cartridges yourself.

All the while the inkjet manufacturers continue arguing and persuading consumers to buy their own brand of ink cartridges claiming it is the only way to get the best possible picture or document printed on any paper.

Should I buy ink refills as a sensible approach to the ink cartridge cost problem?

During the warranty period of your printer, we recommend that you stick with the manufacturer's own ink brands. After the warranty period, you should consider the ink refills for your particular inkjet printer model as it is far cheaper and comparable in quality to the manufacturer's own brand.

At time of writing this section, it would appear that some ink refill centres like New Reality Computer Supplies are offering ink refills that won't void your printer's warranty. If this is true, it would be an excellent idea to try these ink refills. Because in the end it will be your most economical option available to you (apart from giving away or selling your printer) for printing large numbers of pages on an inkjet printer. Otherwise stick to the manufacturer's recommended ink brands. (2)

Please note that if you do choose ink refills, make sure the cartridges are not completely empty or the attached print head in some cartridges (e.g. Canon) might get too hot due to insufficient ink and this may warp the tiny holes in the print head, making it harder for the ink to get through to the paper.

UPDATE
April 2003

It would appear Epson is starting to feel the pinch from people like Canon with the latest range of new business and consumer inkjet printers and the ink refill market with their cheaper inks. And with IT industry analyst IDC Australia reporting of the 20 million inkjet cartridges sold in Australia in 2005 about 77 per cent were "genuine" cartridges (compared to 13 per cent were "non-genuine" compatibles and the rest were "counterfeits"), we can see why Epson is eager to get consumers to buy Epson inks.

So now Epson has taken the gamble of focussing on the quality of Epson inks and Epson paper when using an Epson printer and how important it is to use only Epson consumables both in and out of warranty to get the best results.

In an advertisement published in April 2003, Epson provided a summary of tests performed using two alternative ink refills believed to be compatible with certain unnamed Epson printers. Epson claimed non-genuine inks cartridges can print up to 40 per cent less printouts. Non-genuine inks are also said to suffer the likelihood of quicker degradation when exposed to ultraviolet light (i.e. a fading of the colours from any inks printed onto paper), and certain non-genuine inks may cause damage to the ink feed needles on the print head of an Epson printer.

On the subject of colour fading, all inks from any manufacturer will eventually fade after 10 years of continuous exposure to ultraviolet light. It is just that some inks may last a little better than others. The new Epson inks are probably one of the better inks in this regard. But if you do protect your pictures from UV light and use a quality non-acidic inkjet paper, all inks should last a minimum of 10 and perhaps as long as 50 or 100 years.

As for the number of pages printed per cartridge, this will depend on who is supplying the inkjet refills and whether they were compatible with the Epson printers in the first place during the test. Unfortunately we cannot tell from the information provided by Epson. But assuming the cartridges used in the tests contained the same volume of ink, have the same ink expansion, density and viscosity characteristics when heated by the print head, then there should be no drastic difference in the number of pages printed by the cartridges.

Finally, the damage to the ink feed needles on the print head of an Epson printer could have something to do with the tiny metal filters attached to the needles.

If the needles didn't have the filter, one should be able to use non-genuine inks (so long as the physical characteristics of density and viscosity are similar) without damaging the needles. However it seems Epson is suggesting that non-genuine inks are not clean in the sense that very fine solid particles may contaminate the inks. By using genuine Epson inks, this problem would not exist. You see, Epson uses the mechanical expansion of a piezoelectric crystal when electrically charged which can create enormous ink pressure inside the needle until either the particle breaks up and goes through the filter or the needle has to break off.

Why does Epson have to put a filter at the end of the needle? Doesn't Epson sell a quality ink without the impurities in it? We don't know. But Epson claims it helps to prolong the life of your Epson printer. However, we are not aware of people like Canon using a similar technology.

Perhaps it is a necessary part of the technology used by Epson. However, if compatible ink refills for the Epson printer are manufactured correctly, they should not cause the same level of damage as genuine Epson inks unless Epson have designed the needles to have this filter so people will be enticed to use only Epson inks for the peace of mind of knowing the Epson inks will not cause damage. Epson probably knows it produces a consistent and good quality ink for its printer and therefore the ink can pass through the filter. But any possibility of an impurity in alternative ink refills could be seen as a way of frightening people into avoiding ink refills for the life of the printer. A good marketing ploy if it is true.

Well, who knows?!

UPDATE
September 2006

Canon is fighting back. The latest Canon inkjet printers now come with a chip in the inkjet cartridge designed to not only reveal how much ink is left but also tell the printer to stop printing if it suspects the cartridge was refilled. Ink refill manufacturers are, understandably, not pleased by the latest development from Canon. There is no doubt the sale of genuine inkjet cartridges is big business for Canon. The explanation given by Canon for introducing the chip is to provide a consistent and better quality product to consumers.

UPDATE
January 2011

It is claimed, according to a number of consumers in the UK, that printer manufacturer Lexmark (and possibly even Sunsung and Xerox) has released a firmware update file (021011) for printers that accept the Lexmark 100 ink cartridge designed to restrict them in a certain unfavourable way. When consumers were told on the false assumption that the update would provide alleged improvements to their printers, they would discover how the update actually locks the printers to accepting only original cartridges from the printer manufacturer. No longer were consumers able to purchase OEM cartridges (the cheaper variety with no apparent difference in quality). The move seems to be an attempt to ensure the printer manufacturer can get its fair share of profit from selling the original cartridges. As one user said with reasonable confidence:

"There is no doubt that it was Lexmarks firmware update that caused it as the cartridges were working perfectly well for weeks before"

The Office of Fair Trading and the Trading Standards Institute in the UK are currently investigating the claims to see if they are true and, if so, determine whether anti-competitive practices have taken place as well as false advertising claims.

At time of writing, manufacturers of compatible OEM cartridges have been scrambling to insert a new chip into the cartridges to fool the latest firmware update. These new versions should be called Generation 2 Compatible Lexmark 100 cartridges.

Colour laser printers making a come back

The time is now June 2005 and things have changed significantly in the printer market. As we write this section, a new breed of colour laserprinters are entering the market with one remarkable difference: the price. You can now purchase colour laserprinters for under A$1,000.

Of the colour laserprinters available in this price range, such as Canon Laser Shot LBP-2410 for A$699 and Epson AcuLaser C1100 for $799, there is one standout worth considering: Fuji Xerox DocuPrint C525A. Once you get your mouth around this long-winded name for a printer, you will be pleasantly surprised at the speed, features, number of pages per cartridge and the resonable cost of the consumables. With the Fuji Xerox DocuPrint C525A printer, you can print thousands of pages in modest amounts of colour from a colour cartridge worth A$192.50 or the black cartridge for A$110, prints fast (until it gets bogged down with heavy amounts of multiple-coloured graphics), and comes with a network card (although you will need to be proficient in installing the card due to its complexity).

Alternatively, you may wish to investigate one of the quietest and most economical colour laser printers in its class known as Samsung CLP-510 Colour Laser Printer for A$799. This one prints at 1,200dpi resolution and up to 6 ppm in full colour (depending on complexity of the graphics).

Still confused?

Never mind. Given the bewildering array of printers and high costs of consumables, some users might find it wiser not to purchase a printer. Instead it might be better to pay someone else to do the printing.

When it comes to producing colour prints from your digital photographs, you may wish to upload your files to Megapixels. For a cost of A$0.19 per print plus A$3.95 for delivery anywhere in Australia and a delivery time of three working days, this is not such a bad deal at all. You can even send in your memory card for processing (it will be returned together with your prints). Print quality is considered exceptional for what you get. You would have to pay a lot of money for a professional colour printer to achieve the same results yourself.

Alternative businesses capable of handling this type of service is AgfaPhoto and Fujicolor. Print quality is reasonable and takes a day or two longer to deliver than Megapixels.

Or visit your local library. It is likely a $0.25 per page will get you the best and latest colour laserprinter quality print outs possible.