Printers: The bane of our computing lives?

In most cases emerging technology has been a boon to our computing lives. From enhancements in communications and accessibility afforded by miniaturization and portability to the benefits of improved speeds and data storage capabilities presented by newer protocols and advancements in hardware. Everything, it appears, is getting smaller, faster, better – with one notable exception – the humble inkjet printer.

It seems to me that printer manufactures have used the newer technology more for their own benefit and to our, the consumers, detriment. How infuriating is it when you want to print out a text only page in black and white and the printer will not oblige because one of the color cartridges is low on ink? Helloo, we don’t need color, we only need black! And can someone please explain to me why, in many cases, a set of replacement ink cartridges costs more (or darn near as much as) the original purchase price of the entire printer?

I can attest, from personal experience (make that frustration), that Canon is one of the worst offenders. Some years back I paid through the nose for a top of the range Canon Pixma MP800 because it included the then rare ability to scan and save from 35mm slides and film. I had a bunch of old family slides around that I desperately wanted to transfer to digital format before they became too old and marked to be of any use. That machine included so many built-in impediments it was nigh on intolerable. Not only would it not print anything at all if even one ink cartridge was low, it would not accept any re-filled cartridges – the built-in Canon software identified the refilled cartridge and refused to operate. And that thing was a pure ink guzzler, I admit I was doing a fair bit of printing in those days but a trip into town every 3 or 4 months would invariably lighten my wallet by around $130.00 for a full set of ink cartridges – that totes up to around $400 to $500 per year!

The straw that broke the camel’s back came when the printer finally refused to recognize even new genuine Canon cartridges. Canon were always perfectly willing to exchange the cartridges but it was not they who were constantly running backwards and forwards into town to make the exchange – and with no guarantees that the replacement cartridges were going to fair any better. That printer is now sitting unused on a bench in my garage, it still works when it feels like it but I simply could no longer afford to feed the beast.

I flirted with HP after that, very good hardware but their software is absolutely abominable – insidious and intrusive, it played havoc with my system. All started out well but after a couple of days the printer just would not work properly. I uninstalled the software (at least I thought I did) and attempted to re-install but it kept telling me it was already installed so no go. I then used a search utility to hunt down the possible culprit, I was simply amazed at the numbers of entries leftover from the supposed uninstall, if I remember rightly totaling somewhere around 670.

No doubt HP make fine printers and provided they continue working okay will do a good job, but look out if for any reason the software misfires, it’s an absolute nightmare. I ended up returning the HP printer and swapping it for a similarly priced Epson.

I am still using an Epson all-in-one today and am much happier with that brand. The built-in software allows for situations where one or two cartridges are low on ink and automatically compensates, allowing you to keep on printing. The Epson replacement cartridges are cheaper than most (certainly cheaper than Canon’s) and seem to last longer too, although some of that may be down to a reduced workload. The software is minimal yet fully functional and trouble free, and I have not experienced any problems with the machine recognizing genuine cartridges – which brings us to a separate yet connected question – should we use refilled cartridges or stick with genuine?

I guess it all comes down to affordability – let’s face it, the only reason we even contemplate refilling cartridges is because of the ongoing costs and to save money. I openly admit I used to be squarely in the refill camp, I’m not a miser by any means and can afford the extra dollars but why waste good money. Then something happened which completely changed my outlook. I noticed that many of my archived printouts, around 6 months to 12 months old, had faded badly. Color and black and white documents on plain A4 paper were so faded they were almost illegible. Photos printed out on glossy photo paper were faded and/or discolored beyond belief. At that time I was acquainted with someone heavily involved in the printing industry, so I sought his opinion. He strongly advised on sticking with the genuine article, saying that the ink available from refill centers was not the same high quality as that which comes with genuine cartridges. I deferred to his superior knowledge – after all, the evidence was right there before my very eyes – and have used genuine ink cartridges ever since.

In closing I will offer this advice: if you are contemplating purchasing a new printer, regardless of brand or pricing, make sure you check the cost of replacement cartridges before making any final decision.

We would love to hear your printer stories, brand preferences, and whether or not you refill cartridges or stick with genuine.

About the Author

Jim Hillier

Jim is the resident freeware aficionado at DCT. A computer veteran with 30+ years experience who first started writing about computers and tech back in the days when freeware was actually free. His first computer was a TRS-80 in the 1980s, he progressed through the Commodore series of computers before moving to PCs in the 1990s. Now retired (aka an old geezer), Jim retains his passion for all things tech and still enjoys building and repairing computers for a select clientele... as well as writing for DCT, of course.

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