BOOT CAMP 190 (30/08/01)
PRINTING ON A BUDGET
Colour inkjet printing technology has now reached the point
where it is possible to produce prints of near photographic quality; some of
them are so good that only an expert with a magnifying glass could tell the
difference. They're not expensive to buy either and there are some very capable
models on the market for less than £100, but there's a catch, well, several
actually but the most obvious one is running costs. This week we'll look at some
of the ways you can get the most from these remarkable devices, without having
to take out a second mortgage.
Manufacturers have developed increasingly elaborate ink
delivery systems to achieve the high resolution and colour accuracy needed to do
justice to a new generation of high performance multi-megapixel digital still
cameras. Whereas in the olden days – two or three years ago – colour printing
relied on mixing just three coloured inks – cyan, magenta and yellow – and
sometimes black as well today's photrealistic printers use four, five or even
six different coloured inks.
Inevitably it's not the ink that costs the money but the
disposable cartridges and the fact that few millilitres of ink they contain
often runs out at alarming speed. It brings to mind the old story about how
Kodak never made a penny selling cameras, the real money was, and probably still
is in the film and processing. The same can almost certainly be applied to
colour inkjet printer 'consumables' and we have reached the absurd position
where the cost of replenishing the ink tanks on some models of colour printer
can be between a third and a half of the original purchase price!
Some manufacturers pile on the misery with combined
multi-colour ink cartridges that have to be replaced, even if only one colour
has run out and it's a little known fact that ink cartridges can be drained
without printing a single page. Most models go into a cleaning and priming
routine every time they are switched on and this uses up a small amount of ink.
On some models the cartridge can be emptied in as few as 60 on/off cycles.
That brings us to top tip number one and that is to avoid
switching inkjet printers on and off anymore than is necessary. On the other
hand you shouldn't let your printer remain idle for more than a couple of weeks
at a time, otherwise the print head or cartridge may dry out or clog. There are
ways and means of unblocking cartridges – see this week's top tip – but if the
cartridge has been drying out for some time it may not be recoverable. Get into
the habit of printing a test page every ten days or so, and make sure that the
printer isn't placed near a radiator, window or source of heat.
Inkjet printer owners can dramatically reduce running costs
by using third-party 'compatible' cartridges, which can sell for a fraction of
the cost of the original manufacturer's product. Another way to beat the odds is
to use refill kits, which although often messy and complicated, allowed
cartridges to be recycled several times before the print quality deteriorates.
Naturally printer manufacturers discourage both practices and issue dire
warnings that warranties will be rendered null and void, performance will suffer
and printers may be damaged by non-approved cartridges and inks. In practice
most users will experience few problems and in a worst-case scenario the only
thing likely to be damaged by inferior ink is the print head or cartridge, both
of which are throw-away/replaceable items.
Tip number two, investigate the cost of compatible
cartridges. They are now widely available from leading PC dealers and stationery
suppliers, most of them come from entirely respectable sources, some are even
made in the same factories as the originals, sold under well known and respected
brand names and are fully guaranteed. If you're still not happy about risking
the manufacturer's displeasure then wait until the printer's warranty has
Manufacturers have come up with a variety of cunning schemes
to discourage the use of compatible cartridges and refill kits, including
'smart' printer management software that decides when the cartridge needs to be
replaced, and most recently, 'chipped' cartridges or ink tanks, that tell the
printer when they are empty. Management programs are notoriously conservative
and some models routinely report a tank or cartridge as being empty when there
is clearly plenty of ink left, which is both wasteful and expensive. Within a
few weeks of any new printer appearing the Internet is alive with ruses, fixes
and devices that counter every new strategy the manufacturers dream up.
Tip three, investigate any money saving fixes available for
your printer, all you have to do is type 'refill xxxx printers' (where 'x' is
the make and model number of your printer) into the find field of a search
engine like Google (www.google.com) and
nine times out ten you will be rewarded with scores of hits from fellow owners
and companies supplying low cost consumables.
Chipped cartridges caused a few problems at first but devices
that can reset or reprogram the chips are now widely available, that allow the
use of compatible cartridges. In most cases the chip from an empty cartridge is
simply removed, and after being reset inserted into the new full cartridge. It
only takes a few seconds and the cost savings can be very substantial, even
after taking into account the cost of the programmer (typically £10 to
It is fair to point out that the quality of refill inks and
compatible cartridges may not be as good as the original with the same
light-fast/anti fade properties, but for routine jobs and printing text this
probably doesn't matter.
Next week – memory cards
Replaceable ink container, sometimes one colour or black but
occasionally three or four or more colours, which may or may not be integrated
with the print head
Printing technology that produces high quality prints on
specially coated paper that in some cases almost impossible to tell apart from
normal photographic prints
Device that squirts microscopic droplets of ink onto the
paper as the print head passes over the paper
If you have a partially filled cartridge that won't print, or
the text/image is streaked or fading from top to bottom there's a good chance
that the print head is partially or fully blocked by dried ink. If it won't
respond to your printers cleaning routine here's something to try, you've got
nothing to loose! Find a bowl or shallow container and fill it to a depth of a
few centimetres with a 50/50 mixture of very hot water and bleach or ammonia.
Immerse the print head – the part where ink comes out -- into the solution and
leave it for a couple of minutes. If the dried ink dissolves you'll see it start
to flow in the water. Dry it off carefully with a soft, lint-free cloth and try