Which Printer should I buy?
Before you buy any sort of printer I advise you to make sure that the cartridges used in the printer are easily obtained and do not cost too much. In my experience it is easy to get cartridges for Epson, Hewlett Packard and Canon printers at reaonable prices. Several companies refurbish print head cartridges - mainly Hewlett Packard and Canon. I have not seen comparable supplies of cartridges for other makes.
Don't Buy a Combination Printer and Scanner
It is always best to get your printer and scanner separately. I have encountered many instances where either one or the other part has failed. The result has been that the whole machine has become a useless pile of junk. Scanners are becoming less popular and scarcer now as more and more people switch to digital photography. If you need a scanner, get one that will do the job you want to do with it. Blind people need scanners to scan letters which are then converted to wordprocessor text with an optical character reader program. The blind person's text to speech program then reads the letter aloud. In many cases a good digital camera can provide a good enough digital copy of a photograph (if carefully set up) so a scanner may not be absolutely necessary.
Which sort of Inkjet Printer should I buy?
There are basically two types of inkjet printer that can print in colour. The Epson type has a fixed print head and the Hewlett Packard type that has (mostly) print heads in the cartridges. Canon produces printers of both types and a halfway system with a removable print head unit that takes small cartridges. The fixed print head printer uses cheaper cartridges that are only ink tanks. It has one drawback. If the printer is only used occasionally, the print head can dry out and become blocked. The printer is then likely to be very difficult to get going again. It is very hard to clear a blocked fixed print head. The printer that has print heads in the cartridges can also suffer from a blocked print head. If this should happen, only a cartridge is lost. Print head cartridges cost more than the ink tank type but often contain more ink .
If you need to try to clear a blocked print head, see my way to clean. printheads
The method shown pictorially is mainly based on my experience with refilling HP deskjet cartridges. I also include information about using special cleaning cartridges for Epson printers.
If you have an Epson printer that has stopped printing but still goes through the motions of printing, see Additional Notes For Epson Printers.
All cartridges can be refilled with ink but the ink used must be the correct sort for the cartridge. There is no universal ink for inkjet printers. Print head cartridges are usually worth refilling provided that you get exactly the right ink. If you want to refill your cartridges, it is best to top them up before they run out. (Treat them like the fuel tank in your car.) The very latest cartridges from Hewlett Packard and Epson have chips in them to record the amount of ink used among other things. If the chip says that the cartridge is empty, refilling is useless. I have found an almost new cartridge that suffered from this problem. The chip said it was empty although it was 95% full. There was no way out except to buy another new cartridge to get the printer working again.
Nearly all compatible cartridges for Epson and Canon printers are made in China. Although Epson and Canon say that you should not use them (they would, wouldn't they) the compatibles work just as well as the maker's own cartridges. Remember, it takes a lot of money to set up a plant to make compatible cartridges, and a compatible cartridge maker would soon go bust if customers did not want more of the same cartridges after trying them once. Compatible cartridge makers depend on repeat orders to keep going so they have to make them as near perfect as possible. I suspect that some of them are even better than the originals because the results I have seen have been so good.
Don't Buy the Cheapest or the Newest Model and NEVER BUY A PRINTER BUNDLED WITH A COMPUTER
Remember that all printer manufacturers make a range of printers. Pay as much as you can afford for your printer. Don't go for the cheapest one in the range if you can help it. Don't buy the latest newest model either. The chances are that there will not be any cheap cartridges available for it for several months. Beware of "Bargains". Guess why?There have been many cases recently of printers (usually Lexmark) being sold at prices that are the same as (or less than) the cost of the cartridges they contain.
Don't buy a printer that uses "permanent" ink unless you want to leave your photos in the sunshine. Permanent inks use pigments that ire insoluble. If you get a printer that uses permanent inks and the printhead dries out with lack of use, it is unlikely that you will ever get the printer going properly again. Ordinary dye inks do not suffer from this problem. My advice on cleaning printheads only applies to printers that use dye inks. Dye inks will fade if exposed to strong light for a long time. They will last for years if kept in the dark and won't fade noticeably in typical room lighting.. If you want an archive print of a very good picture, arrange to have a Cibachrome copy made of a fresh dye inkjet print. The Cibachrome process is used in photo booths that produce passport photographs. Alternatively arrange to get a colour laser copy made. Then you won't have the possible expense of replacing a pigment ink printer.
Beware Expensive Cartridges!
You will find that ink jet cartridge specialists have difficulty in obtaining cartridges at sensible prices for almost all makes of printers other than Hewlett Packard, Epson and Canon. One make of printer that has been sold at a very low price recently (or bundled with a computer) suffers badly from this problem. I have seen a Lexmark printer advertised on the Internet new for USD 29.00! (Less than GBP 15.00!) The cartridges for it are so expensive that just 2 black and 2 colour cartridges cost more than a medium price Epson printer and two years supply of compatible cartridges.
A Cost Comparison Between HP and Epson (and other printers)
Since I started this page I bought an Epson Stylus Photo 750 printer. It printed almost as well as one could wish but it was rather slow. It took around 20 minutes to print a full A4 photo picture. I did a lot of A4 photo quality prints for a particular job and found that I could do around 25 prints before a change of one of the cartridges was needed. From this I concluded that it took around 2ml of ink (from both cartridges combined) to print each picture. The Epson compatible cartridges equivalent to the SO20110 or SO20193 contain 42ml of ink. The compatible equivalent to the SO20187 contains 17ml as does the SO20093.
Three colour plus black Epson printers use cartridges like the SO20089 or SO20191 that contain 38ml. The SO20108 and SO20189 black cartridges both contain 27ml. I sold a pair of Epson compatible black and colour cartridges (irrespective of type) for £6.00 when I worked at computer fairs. Compare this with the HP 1823A cartridge with a print head that contains 38ml and costs around £45.00 RRP. The HP 51641A is a bit cheaper (but is also very similar to the 1823A) and contains 40.5ml at a price of around £28.00 RRP. HP black cartridges contain varying amounts of ink from 20.5ml to 40ml and cost around £25.00 RRP on average. There are no compatible cartridges for HP printers or those that use HP technology like Lexmark. The choice is between the originals or commercially refilled cartridges that tend to be less good than the new ones.
The ink use calculation assumes that equal quantities of all colours and black are used by all makes of printer in a picture. This is not what actually happens but it is a fair way to make comparisons. This is because both Epson and HP have equal quantities of ink in the three colours in their 3 colour cartridges. If an Epson ran out of magenta after doing a number of pictures, the HP would probably run out of magenta for the same amount of printing, if the cartridges held the same volumes of ink in total. When any one colour runs out, the cartridge has to be replaced anyway.
In the assumption that the same volume of ink is use by
both makes of printer for the same size prints it can be seen
that it is horrendously more expensive to print pictures with
HP and similar cartridges. It costs me around 32p in ink to print
an A4 photo quality picture with my Epson 750. With a 3 colour
plus 17ml black Epson printer like the 660 the cost would be around
35p. With a 3 colour plus 27ml black Epson printer like my 1520
the cost would be around 31p. The same picture printed (at
lesser quality) with my HP 850C printer cost around £1.27.
If my HP printer used the 1823A instead of the 51641A the cost
would be £2.08. The cost assumes that equal quantities of
colour and black inks are used. The prices per ml are are calculated
for both colour and black separately and then combined to give
a net cost per ml. This allows for the different quantities of
ink in the black cartridges. To sum up: My HP850C costs 4 times
as much for the same amount of colour printing as either my Epson
750 or Epson 1520. An HP printer that uses the HP1823A cartridge
with the HP51645A cartridge costs 6 times as much to use as either
of my Epson printers. ( The Epson prices are based on compatibles
bought separately. Cheaper bargains are available for pairs or
more cartridges at computer fairs. I can show the calculations
to anyone who would like to see them.)
As far as I can tell, Lexmark and Brother printer colour cartridges contain less ink for your money than most HP cartridges. Their colour cartridges are the same physical size as the black cartridges so are likely to contain less ink than the relatively larger HP colour cartridges of a similar type.
Update June 2007.
I am now using an Epson 830 printer that prints twice as fast as my old 750 printer. I bought it not working at a car boot sale for £10.00. It is a dye ink printer that uses 5 colours plus black. I used my cleaning method to get it working again. The quality is slightly better than the 750 and I can get a pair of cartridges for it at a computer fair for £4.50.
Epson Cartridges with Chips
A few years ago Epson has intoduced a series of printers that use chipped cartridges. The chips offer no advantages to the user over the original system that Epson used for its earlier printers to indicate the amount of ink left. It must therefore be concluded that Epson introduced the chips to make it difficult if not impossible for the compatible cartridge makers to produce cartridges for the new printers. If that was Epson's intention, it has failed because the compatible companies have now produced cartridges with compatible chips. These tend to cost a bit more than the unchipped cartridges but are still considerably cheaper than the Epson originals. Epson has a crazy pricing system for their cartridges. As I said, when I sold compatible cartridges at computer fairs all chipless cartridges were sold at £6.00 a pair. This was possible because the compatible trade prices are fairly consistent for colour and black cartridges. The variations in the trade prices for the compatibles bear no relationship with Epson's prices. I haven't got the figures available now but it was easy to compare two cartridges like the SO20093 and the SO20187 from both sources. One might be 10p more from the the compatible source while the difference could be as much as £1.50 the other way from Epson.
Just before I gave up selling cartridges at computer fairs the Epson chipped cartridge TO17 was listed at £25.00. It contains the same amount of ink as the SO20187 that was listed at around £16.00. I sold the compatible chipped TO17 cartridge for £3.00. My friend bought an Epson 680 printer just to check how well the compatible chipped cartridges worked. He printed one of the sample pictures from the Epson CD on a range of coated papers until the original cartridges ran out of ink. He marked the backs of the printouts "Epson". He then fitted the compatible cartridges and did the same as before but marked the backs of the printouts "Compatible". When I looked at the printouts it was impossible to see which cartridges had been used when two prints on the same type of paper were compared. The only way to tell which cartridges had been used was by looking at the backs of the printouts. The relative scarcity of the chipped compatible cartridges meant that the suppliers could charge relatively high prices when they first became available. Now the prices have fallen a lot and I guess will continue to fall down to levels that are only marginally more than for the original unchipped cartridges.
At least one company is now offering a gadget to re-program Epson chips so that the cartridges can be refilled and used again.
In December 2001 I heard that Epson and HP had threatened to boycott Ce-Bit - the biggest computer show in Europe if third party suppliers of cartridges and papers were also exhibiting. I also heard that the third party suppliers of ink cartridges and papers had organised their own show to exhibit their products. HP can control the sales of their cartridges because they hold the patents (with Canon) for their type of inkjet technology. Epson cannot do this because anyone can make compatible ink tanks. However, if the costs of printing are compared at the recommended prices that Epson and HP charge for their products it would appear that there is not that much difference between the two. This tends to indicate that HP has come to an agreement with Epson to arrange that the two companies make their customers pay similar amounts for similar amounts of printing work. The compatible ink tank suppliers undercut these costs so much that neither HP nor Epson can face the competition. The papers that HP, Epson and Canon sell to go with their printers cost more than those supplied by other paper companies. I have bought boxes of 200 sheets of 100gsm matt coated paper at Lidl for £3.00. It is brilliant for producing CD jewel case liners. The European paper companies obviously think that the inkjet printer market is a growing one because there is tremendous competion between them for quality and price for their products. There are now several suppliers who offer ultra glossy coated papers that can make pictures printed by photo printers look just like chemically produced photographs. These papers are sold at computer fairs at prices that are far below those charged by HP, Epson or Canon.
If you don't need colour, Buy a Laser Printer.
If you don't need colour, buy a laser printer. They cost more but are much cheaper to run.
Lasers come in two types. One sort has a fixed drum and just needs toner to keep it running. The other has a toner and drum cartridge combined. The fixed drum type will run for several years before the drum has to be replaced. However, replacing a drum can be expensive. The toner and drum cartridges cost a lot if bought new but several companies refurbish them at around half the price of new cartridges.
In general, you get what you pay for. The more expensive printers are generally better made, run faster and usually have features that are not found on cheaper models. At one time only Epson printers could print at 1440 dots per inch with photo colour cartridges. Now Canon and Hewlett Packard have caught up a bit. Their latest printers produce excellent results - at their horrendous prices for their printhead cartridges!
All printers will print OK on good quality photocopy paper but they will produce much better results with the special coated materials designed for use with inkjet printers. These materials can be paper or plastic based and vary a great deal in thickness. The thickness of paper based materials is measured by weight per square metre. Standard photocopy paper weighs 80 grams per square metre (gsm). An A4 sheet of 80gsm is one sixteenth of a square metre and therefore weighs five grams. Coated papers for inkjet printing weigh between 90gsm and 260gsm. There is some relationship between weight and price.
There are four basic surfaces to choose from: Matt, Glossy, Satin and a Linen Effect. (One maker calls Linen Effect "Canvas Grain".) Glossy and Linen Effect papers are generally single sided. The heavier Matt papers are often double sided. Some companies offer a Glossy/Matt combination and there are different grades of glossy paper.
Inkjet ink is water based so it takes a little while to dry after being squirted onto the paper. Epson printers have many little spiky rollers to stabilise the paper after it has been printed. If the ink is still wet when it reaches these rollers, the resulting printout will be ruined. Because of this the print material makers have produced an "Instant Dry" Glossy paper that absorbs the ink very quickly. It is only necessary for the faster Epson printers. Most ordinary inkjet papers dry quickly enough to prevent this problem with the middle and cheaper ranges of Epson printers.
Non paper materials include White and Clear Glossy Film, specially coated Real Canvas, and printable Magnetic Sheets.
So-called photo printers use paler toned inks in addition to the normal ones. Most use Cyan and Pale Cyan, and Magenta and Pale Magenta in conjunction with Yellow and Black. Canon adds an additional Photo (pale) Black for some of their printers.
The purpose of the paler inks is to enable the dots of ink to be placed closer together in light toned areas. This reduces or eliminates the grainy effect caused by using darker toned ink dots spaced further apart to achieve a light tone. However, all photo printers can have their performance improved by using the best quality printing material. The results produced with photo printers with super papers really do look as good as conventionally produced photographic colour prints.
The quality of the printed image depends on the quality of the source image. At a reasonable standard of image resolution of around 500 dots per inch (dpi), a printed photo will look good if printed with 1440 dpi resolution. (Do not confuse the two.) The printer resolution should be at least twice the image resolution for best results. This means that the typical digital camera that can produce images of 1024 X 768 pixels can just about manage a two inch wide picture and still look sharp. A good 35mm camera using ISO200 film gives a sharp picture around five inches wide. ISO100 film with a top line 35mm camera will give a super sharp image seven inch wide. The resolution of film is inversely proportional to its ISO rating. Halve the ISO number to get a picture 1.4 times wider (and taller) for the same sharpness. Bigger pictures than around seven inches wide require bigger cameras than 35mm to achieve the top level of sharpness. The superb pictures that are on the CDs provided with Epson printers have all been taken with professional plate cameras that use a sheet of cut film that is at least five inches wide. High resolution pictures take up a lot of space on the hard disk or in memory. The Canon 35mm slide/negative scanner produces 27 megabyte files. A digital camera may store several pictures in one megabyte.
Decide what you what your pictures for. A picture that you will look at closely needs high resolution. A picture that will be hung on a wall does not need to be so sharp.
Notes (mainly for those who live outside the UK.)
The prices quoted for cartridges and paper are those that were charged in December 2006. They may now be different. Lidl is a German-based supermarket chain that offers lower prices for most of its goods. Lidl has special offers of non-food goods ranging from nightdresses to tools every week. The cheap boxes of inkjet printing paper have only been seen twice in my local store in the last 18 months. They sold out quickly both times.
RRP means the manufacturer's Recommended Retail Price in the UK. ml = millilitre = 1/1000 litre.
A Personal Note
I bought my Epson Stylus Photo 750 printer in February 2001. When I got it home I set it up exactly as instructed in the manual. It didn't work. I tried using the clean and nozzle check facility a few times without success. I then started counting the number of times that I used the clean and nozzle check utility. I had reached 45 when the printer indicated that I had run out of ink from one of the original Epson cartridges. I then put in a pair of MMC compatible cartridges. The printer automatically did a clean and nozzle check when the cartridges had been replaced. Then I saw one very small line printed in cyan from the nozzle check. After five more tries with clean and nozzle check, every line in every colour was printed perfectly. When I tried printing one of the Epson sample pictures the results were perfect.
For non-Epson owners: The nozzle check for older printers prints a series of 3mm lines in very shallow steps that give the impression of short sloping bits of the lines used for music scores. There are four sets of these lines with the three colour and black printers and six sets with the five colour and black photo printers. More modern Epson printers like my 830 print solid blocks of colour for nozzle checks. (See the image in the Photo Quality paragraph to get an impression of this type of nozzle check printout.)
MMC cartridges are sold in bright red boxes with the MMC logo
on them and in green boxes without the MMC logo. MMC also make
very effective cleaning cartridges for Epson printers. These have
more solvent and paler ink than the normal cartridges. The yellow
ink is so pale that it is hard to see in the printout of a nozzle
My Epson 750 has now been replaced by the newer 830. For the record: I have no connection with the MMC company. I just report on my experiences.
I have since bought second hand an Epson Stylus colour 1520 printer. I use it for the less critical work and for printing on A3 paper. It uses a compatble SO20108 27ml black cartridge that I can buy for the same price as the SO20187 17ml cartridge that I use in the 750. It therefore gets the lion's share of the black only work.
Buying a Printer
Cleaning Printer Printheads
The Essential Bits and the Less Essential Bits
`How It works
Windows 3.11 for Workgroups, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows 2000 and Linux
Installing Red Hat 6.1 Linux
Nickel Cadmium Batteries
Please send your comments to: Wilf James: wilf dot james at ntlworld dot com