Monday, December 10, 2007

Buying advice - printers!

Aside from my other semi-normal functions, I'm also a techno-guru of sorts. I get asked a lot of questions about recommendations about technology stuff, computers, hardware, software and the like. One thing that I am very picky about are printers. Now printers have evolved over the years and it's so incredibly easy to fall for the $59.99 inkjet printer that's on sale at your favorite retailer. The ad says all the right things: it can print straight from your memory card, it prints on high quality printer paper, etc...

Well - not quite.

Here's the deal about those cheap inkjet printers you tend to get: they are cheap for a reason!! Or rather - they are cheap initially, but just wait until you have to pay for replacement ink cartridges!

Over the years I've probably had about 6-8 different inkjet printers from a wide range of manufacturers. I found that it's more headache than not when it comes to printing from these ink disasters simply because of the cost value. When I purchased my first laser printer, I became instantly impressed with the consistent quality and the toner life I got from it. To compare:

Inkjet Printer:
- Costs $60.00
- Inkjet cartridges can range from $17-35
- Ink life is *maybe* 300 sheets.
- Banding will typically appear in most photographs you try to print when the ink is running low or the print heads need to be cleaned (which typically uses *more* ink...)

Laser Printer:
- Retails as low as $120.00
- Toner replacements cost as much as $85.00
- Toner life is at *least* 3000 sheets or more
- No banding, but as the toner starts to get low, the text will look splotchy. (Trick: take the toner out, hold horizontally to the floor, shake horizontally, place back into the printer) This trick buys you about 100-300 more sheets

Because the toner life of a laser is 3000 sheets, it would take 10 ink refills to match the same output. Hence, you could pay $120 for a printer that will print 3000 sheets straight out of the box. Or you could pay $60 dollars for a ink printer followed by (9 x $20 avg) $180.00 in ink just to match what the toner cartridge produces. $120.00 versus $240.00 to print the same 3000 sheets.

However....

If you're printing pictures - then your output will not reach 300 sheets as advertised. In the small print, you will see where manufacturers include caveats like: "depending on print usage" or "based on a print area of less than 10%" or some other like-minded message. Because the moment you go to print a 5x7 or 8x10 photo - your ink cartridges will be bleeding profusely and their life will end very very quickly. You will be spending a great deal more in the end per page than if you got it processed by your local Walgreens, Walmart or online at places like Shutterfly or Kodak Gallery.com

But what about quality? It sometimes looks great coming from your printer, but I've taken really great photographs, have them printed on extremely expensive photo paper, put into nice quality frames where they remain protected from the sun and other elements, only to watch the ink fade with time. The lush colors slowly evaporate from the print. Simply put, prints from an inkjet printer simply do not last. And if they are ever exposed to water or other liquids, they will smear and run. Your very expensive print, on very expensive print paper, using very expensive ink via a cheap printer - is ultimately ruined.

Further - you're not guaranteed the best results each time. Ink doesn't always behave the way it should - and as cartridges get used, sometimes they leave banding marks -- which requires you to initiate a cleaning protocol to clean the heads. It also means that you're quickly depleting your ink capacity - which means you'll be buying more ink quicker than you may normally would.

Yes - you can treat the images you print by spraying some sort of matte finish afterwards, but that requires additional work on your end just to ensure the possibility of retaining the right color and consistency of your artwork. Furthermore, the paper will have a tendency to curl - meaning that your print is ruined.

And this is why I do not recommend inkjet printers. Too much cost, too much hassle, and ultimately your prints are unusable with time. Why waste that much investment when you could have purchased prints from a vendor? You're not saving money, time, stress or headaches.

But what about Laser printing? I do like Laser printers. I do not rely on them for my artwork because the quality just isn't as good as when it's printed through one of my chosen vendors. I personally own HP printers - because in my tenure in the electronic world: "HP knows printers." That's not to say that I fully endorse every HP product, but when it comes to printers - they really know what they're doing..

Do I need to buy the most expensive laser printer out there? Oh heck no. I have two printers: a dedicated monochrome HP model that I paid $120 for on sale at an office supply store, and a HP color laser that I paid just over $300 for on sale at a different office supply store. (Hint: check the sales ads, and keep noting the prices). Most of the features you have in the upper laser models simply are not needed for the average user. If you have a small studio with multiple computers, then you may opt for a laser printer that has networking capabilities. Otherwise I've been extremely pleased with the lower end models and often recommend them to other clients.

Do I need two printers? Nope. I purchased my monochrome printer years before I got my color laser printer. That said, my default printer is the monochrome because the toner cartridges are cheaper ($60) in comparison to my color printer ($85).

BOTTOM LINE: Stay away from inkjet printers, find a good printing vendor around town or online for your prints, buy a laser printer for your normal printing.

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