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  • John Bell

Tech Sense February 2024: Printers


            This month I thought I would start writing a series on computer peripherals.  Peripherals are those add-on devices that go along with the computer to add additional capabilities like data storage, displays, input devices including human input devices like keyboards and mice, and output devices like monitors, sounds devices, lights, and printers.  This month I also happen to be ready to purchase a new printer so I will start there.



            The first commonly available printer popular for personal use, was made by Epson in the late 1960’s before personal computers had started to become popular.  By 1980, Epson MX-80 could claim to be the most popular printer in the United States.  This was a dot matrix printer using tiny pins to bang an ink-covered ribbon against a piece of paper leaving an ink mark. 

            In 1984, Hewlett Packard (HP) released a laser printer built around a Canon engine and offered for $3495 at that time.  The laser printer created a much higher quality output closer to typeset printing and was much faster.  Faster than dot matrix printers were. 

            Also in 1984, HP released the first mass market Inkjet Printer, followed quickly by Canon in 1985.  The Inkjet was faster and quieter than the dot matrix printers, offering higher printing quality and color printing.  Color was important because the dot matrix and laser technologies did not offer color.

            Variations and other types of printers did exist, some built on typewriter designs, others requiring special papers to print on, but these never achieved the market size as the ones we have already covered.


Home Printing Today

            In the early 1990’s, I purchased my first laser printer, an HP IIP, for $1000.  Today I can purchase a small laser printer for under $100 but dot matrix printers are mostly gone.  There are three major types of printers commonly used in homes today, the inkjet printers, which in general are the most common, the laser printers, and the “all-in-one” printers.  These all-in-one printers typically include all of the functions of a printer, a scanner, a copier, and sometimes a fax machine all in one device. 

            Laser printers now come in black only and in color printing models.  The color models are more expensive than printing color using inkjets and most people think inkjet colors look better than laser colors.  Oddly enough, it is possible to purchase black only inkjet printers as well.

            Today there are only four major manufacturers of printers for the home market.  Yes, we still have Ricoh, Kyocera, NEC, and Xerox but none of these represents much presence in the home.  The four companies that do are HP, Canon, Brother, and Epson.


Inkjets and Ink

            Inkjet printers use ink to print.  The specially formulated ink helps to control the flow through the print heads, control the size of the ink drops applied to the paper, and prevent ink clogs.  A color printer needs at least four colors of ink, Black, Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow.  Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow are the primary colors for mixing colors, whereas Red, Blue, and Green are the primary colors of light. Some printers will add additional colors like grey, orange, green, or even lighter shades of the primary colors.  These extra colors help create more vibrant and accurate colors for printing photographs.

            Inks come as dyes or pigments.  Many printers include Pigment Black to improve the appearance of text and include a dye version of black for printing graphics and photo images.

Most ink comes in little plastic containers.  Canon and Brother printers tend to use small tanks that are simply removed and replaced when empty.  Other printers (like some HP printers for example) have printer heads built onto the tanks.  This means, the heads get replaced with ink.

            In general, it is best to buy printers that use individual tanks or cartridges for each individual color.  That way you don’t pay for three colors when you only need one. 


The Ink Scam

            Ink can be the most expensive part of running an inkjet printer.  Printer companies have been using the razor blade marketing scheme, where the cost of the razor is low because they make money on the blades.  Printer companies make the cost of the printer low because that over charge on the ink.  Third party ink companies started to create and sell compatible inks at much lower costs than the manufacturers, hurting their prices.  A single cartridge only last for 200 to 500 pages. The manufacturers started to add electronic chips to report when the tank is empty and check to make sure that the ink came from the manufacturers and not a third party.  HP even pushes updates to the printers to make certain if a third party has thwarted their scheme the third-party ink still will not work.  This adds no value to the consumer, but HP has used it to raise their ink prices by giving themselves a monopoly on ink for their printers.  HP customers have been so angry that have sued the company. This is why I stopped buying HP printers years ago.


Ink Tanks

            For years, many of us technically include people would refill our own ink cartridges and tanks ourselves, purchasing ink in bulk and saving lots of money.  This became more difficult when the printer companies began chipping their ink tanks.  Some manufacturers decided to make a change in their model and instead of removable tanks and cartridges created built-in refillable tanks.  Ink now sells in bottles used to refill the tanks when they get low.  The price of ink is much lower, and they last for 1500 to 3000 pages.  These printers do sell for a little bit higher in price, but the overall cost of operations is less.


Lasers and Toner

            The black and white laser printers are much simpler.  You simply remove a single toner cartridge and replace it with a new one.  A single toner can last for 3000 to 5000 pages.  And yes, you can refill toner cartridges, it just isn’t worth it.  I purchased my current brother printer longer than 7 years ago.  I have only replaced the toner once and I am still running strong.  I have another one that is even older and still works.  If you only need black and white printing, go laser. Color laser is a different matter.  I don’t know why but color lasers are more expensive due to the costs of the color toners.  The color is great if you are printing business documents and charts but nor as good for photos by my observations.  I suggest testing it before buying.


Wrap Up

            I didn’t expect this to take so long, and I am not done yet.  Next month it looks like I will have more on printers and printing. Until then have a great month.

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