August 31, 2006


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The printer dilemma
Some inkjets might be less than stellar
By John “jaQ” Andrews

Printers, they be cheap.

It’s not uncommon to see inkjet printers given away for free when you buy a computer, or a digital camera, or a ham sandwich.

You might be surprised to learn that many of those printers are crap.

Yeah, I said it. Getting something for nothing is great and all, but cheap or free printers can often cause more trouble than they’re worth. From frequent paper jams to hopeless software to ink cartridges that last 10 minutes, cheap printers will cost you so much more in frustration and despair than you saved in Benjamins.

There are a couple things you can do to at least reduce your risk of being shafted by your printer choice.

Don’t buy a printer that’s cheaper than replacement ink cartridges.
You wouldn’t buy a $1,000 car that cost $2,000 to fill up with diamonds and orchids every week, so check how much replacement ink costs for the printer you’re considering. Cartridges for inkjet printers can run upwards of $30, so if you’re looking at a $19.99 printer, consider where the manufacturing effort is going. For one thing, that printer probably doesn’t come with a full ink cartridge.

In addition, the replacement cartridge probably contains a significant portion of the electronics necessary to run the printer. Do you really want to pay for that over and over? Cheaper ink cartridges mean less waste and a better probability that third-party replacement cartridges will work well. Which brings me to the next point.

Don’t buy from a company that claims non-OEM ink will void your warranty.
Generally speaking, OEM (original equipment manufacturer) ink cartridges are best for your printer. Some of that is just common sense — a Toyota part is best for your Toyota car, right? — but some of it is sneakiness. Printer companies have been known to put chips on their cartridges that have no purpose other than to confirm they’re the same brand as the printer. Who do you think pays for that?

Buying off-brand ink will not void your printer’s warranty, but works best when the only thing being replaced is the ink. If the cartridge also includes the printhead and electronics, a third-party product might not work as well.

Do consider an all-in-one or fancy photo printer.
Yes, they’re more expensive. Yes, they have features you may rarely use. But you might find the extra features fun, and the higher initial investment means you’d be very unhappy about throwing your incompetent printer against the wall. Manufacturers know this, and do build a bit of quality into their more pricey machines.

A photo printer might include an LCD screen and card reader for selecting photos right from your digital camera. Not only is this a groovy feature, it bypasses bloated software on your PC. An all-in-one machine probably includes a scanner, making your printer a copier as well. Scanners are wicked cheap to manufacture, so the vendor realizes a profit there and doesn’t have to sleazily make it up with overpriced ink.

There’s probably no such thing as a trouble-free printer, but a little investment up front can save you money and heartache in the long run.

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