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Buying a Printer

With the cost of ink for inkjet printers getting ever higher, if you just want to print correspondence or 'greyscale' photos, you may wish to consider an economical mono laser printer. e,g, Brother HL-1112 for around 40. As soon as it has warmed up it will shoot out printing at 20 pages a minute and, if you buy clone toner it will cost under 1 penny a page.  Eventually you will have to buy a drum for it but you can even find clones for those. An alternative a colour laser is a possibility.  Colour prints are remarkably good these days and, although the cost of ink may seem high it will keep going  many times longer than a fiddly inkjet will do. You can get a Dell Colour laser wireless all-in-one + fax from IJT is free if you purchase three sets of toners. In total, with delivery this will cost 248 (Sept 14) but should keep you going for a while. There are four cartridge sand the average for remanufactured ones is about 70 per set. Blacks are quoted at getting around 2000 copies.

Printing from an iPad to a standard printer is difficult but not impossible if the printer is attached to a PC that is connected to your local network.  I sometimes email stuff to my PC and print from there.  So, it is advisable to get a wireless printer.  Here is a good example for people who are happy to print in mono.  Refills make this a very economic option and it is around 50

At last, Epson has realised that the cost of ink is a problem. They are selling the EcoTank L355 refillable ink jet printer. Let us hope that this is the beginning of something new and other printer manufacturers will follow suit and bring the prices down.

Epson Ecotank printer

Which magazine studied inkjet printers and whether they used more ink if they switched off between sessions.  The result were very surprising as an HP used MUCH more if switched off but the Canon used much more if it was left on Standby. This may not be the case for all versions of these printers but I am going to leave my HP Deskjet 3050A printer on Standby in future !

inkjets compared

Tip : I sometimes use an HP Printer. I have always found HP printers print rather 'wet', even in standard mode.  They print perfectly adequately in Draft or Fast Draft and use less ink (and print much faster).  To set your printer to print this way 'by default' you need to go to Start, Printers, right click on the printer icon and click 'Printing Preferences'.  Select the Draft preference and click Apply.  If you want to print at a higher quality e.g. for a photo, you will get the opportunity to change that preference for that one print job. With older Windows you may have to find printers in  the Control Panel (from Start).

I also find it useful to change the settings, via Printing Preferences features, to 'Show Preview'.  This means it displays what you are about to print. I often then don't print the last page if it just contains some useless information. Also, when printing the 130 page iPad manual, I set the printer to print two pages side by side. Even in draft it was perfectly legible and save a load of paper.  And some printers print both sides of the paper, pulling each page in and printing on the other side.

Wireless Printers seem to be the 'in' thing.  I didn't get one until I got an iPad. I got an HP3050A all in one for a very reasonable price.  I installed the driver disk for printing and scanning and it was very straightforward.  The iPad also recognised it very simply. So, now I can print from anywhere in the house if I am using a wireless enabled PC.  Again I set the printer to print in draft mode and, as well as saving ink it shoots the text pages out as fast as a laser. It was so good I got one for my daughter and she was able to set it up for their three laptops very quickly, so the kids can print their school work directly instead of having to save it to a memory key, copy it to the desktop etc.  So everyone is pleased.  The printer is sold with the small capacity cartridges. So I bought a set of the higher capacity ones, which are much more expensive. But the chart below shows the vast difference in the yield from the two types.  Note that the double packs are the lower capacity. But, like many printers, it would not accept anything but original HP cartridges. Eventually I found it cheaper to get a Canon Printer (IP7250) which would accept clones.

HP301 cartridridge yield

In the past I have bought post card sized gloss but didn't have much success in lining it up when printing photos.  To my surprise, when printing from the iPad, I was able to place some cards on the right of the input tray and send a picture directly from it.  It printed perfectly with a small border at the bottom, which may already be designed to detach.  Or you could write on it.

If you use Chrome and the Google browser you may have experienced the problem whereby part of the right hand page fails to print.  If you are printing emails make sure you find the 'Print All' printer icon at the top, rather than go through the 'Spanner' icon on the right. If you use Picasa to print photos, do remember to click 'Shrink to fit' before printing.

I got a colour laser printer at a boot sale (!).  Normally I wouldn't dream of a colour laser because of the cost of ink but this was very cheap and included 4 cartridges.  Frankly, I meant to sell it on Ebay but decided to try it out.  What surprised me was the quality of colour prints on plain paper.  They came out semi gloss on bog standard 80gsm paper. This Canon is a super printer.  Never jams, and is fast. But the day came when I had run through all the toner and I looked for the price.  Well, Canon wanted over 80 each and there are four !  No way! I have continued to use this printer despite the cost of refills. I get sets of four from EasyInk V at 99 and they last a good while.

Heavy duty printing Some printers will simply reject card (say 220gsm) but it is surprisingly difficult to find one that is recommended for this work.  Of course a straight path is essential, so most HP printers and All in Ones are out of the question (but see above for the HP 3050A) unless they say 'two way feed', like the Canon PIXMA MP560. Ink is still fairly expensive at over 35 (for five cartridges) but the clone makers may do them cheaper.

n.b. If you have lots of empty Hewlett Packard, Xerox or Lexmark ink cartridges you may get something for them by contacting Cartex at or see prices at This is not a 'click through'.

Computer Active did a lab study which showed that the cost of ownership of some inkjet printers over an 18 month period can be as high as 1,775! This was based on printing 30 colour pages a week, using original cartridges - but excluding the cost of paper.

It is difficult to advise what printer you should get because, as with computers, it depends on what you wish to do with it. Things to take into account are speed of output, whether you need quality colour, the space on your desk and - almost most of all - the cost per page. More about this at the end of this article.....However, I have recently been investigating economy printers and I find that some Canon, like most of the other manufacturers have gone down the road of restricting the use of clone cartridges (and charging a lot for their own). It is now more difficult to find a printer that uses clones. I like my HP printer but, on cost grounds, it loses out. It costs about the same to buy some printers as it does to replace a couple of my HP cartridges.  I tend to refill them, get refills or shop around on the net. However, it is still possible to get cheap clone cartridges for most Epsons.  

Printers change even faster than computers, so any reference to a specific model would be out of date before I uploaded this to the site


The most popular printers, by far, are Colour Inkjets.  They all produce excellent correspondence quality these days and the speed of the slowest is adequate for the (patient) home user.  You should never trust the manufacturer's claimed speeds as they probably refer to a lightly printed page in Draft Mode.  More of this later. But it is certainly possible for the faster Inkjets to keep up with what laser printers do. One 70 Epson claims to produce a business letter in 1.6 seconds (that is an incredible 37 pages per minute)

Watch out for how much ink there is in cartridges.  Older printers used to use cartridges with up to 40 millilitres of ink.  These days you can buy a printer which uses HP cartridges which contain as little as 5 ml of ink ! (e.g. Types 342 and 110) According to my conversion tables that is a metric teaspoonful. If you sneezed it would disappear ! And they cost 16 each (Viking). If you don't believe me, study the Viking catalogue. The average older HP cartridge (e.g type 57a) is around 17 ml, so the variation is astonishing. Look out for the double pack offers. But watch out for the economy sizes e.g. Type 57GE LC (light capacity) has only one quarter the volume of ink. Only worth buying if you want to refill it.

For cheaper original HP cartridges try, IJT or  or do like a friend did and get them on Ebay. These were a 'Buy now' advert and they worked out at around 7 less than you would pay in a shop (for colour - type 57a)

All in one or Multipurpose Another type of printer is the Printer/Scanner/Copier/Fax machine combo.  If you are need more than one of these functions (or just need the desk space) it may pay to look at these, which can be as a little as 45 or less these days (Epson,Canon, Lexmark, HP) and they may be wireless and have memory card slots, so you can stick your camera memory card in and some have touch screens to control them.

Clone Cartridges ? : It is no use saving on cheaper cartridges if the result is poor. I have usually found the quality of photo printing satisfactory with clone cartridges.  In the case of one Computer Shopper article the results for some of the clones were encouraging, being judged equal to or better than the originals.

Epson were not going to miss out for ever on this market so their current printers use a cartridge which includes a 'chip'.  These are more expensive still but the 'clone' makers soon caught on and imitated this technique. But Epson are still trying to prevent their cartridges being copied. So, you would be lucky to find an Epson printer that doesn't use 'chipped' cartridges. The old 400, 600, C20 and C46 ranges used non chipped ones and were cheaper to run.  N.B. Jettec, one of the refill companies says "Some Epson cartridges have a memory device which stores the ink level.  You will need to purchase a Jettec chip resetter to reset the ink level before you can re-use (refill) the cartridge" Both Epson and HP printers may show the ink level as empty even after you have replaced the cartridge with a new 'clone'.

Hewlett Packard Cartridges (and Xerox/Lexmark) not only contain the ink but also the print head and some electrical contacts. These cartridges are patented, though you can get 'remanufactured' ones - even in Tesco. Some do refills, which are a little cheaper and you can refill them yourself (which saves a lot).  It is a messy job and there is a limit to how many times you can refill before the print head becomes inaccurate. But you may feel it is worthwhile with a pair of HP cartridges costing as much as 44. Most Lexmark cartridges are in the same price bracket.    

You may have noticed that some printers and cameras are described as having 'Pictbridge' capability.  This means that you can connect the camera directly to the printer, see a display of a picture  on the printer and print it without the need to start your computer.

Speed.  Printing speeds vary enormously. You should take the advertiser's claims with a large pinch of salt. ALL quoted speeds are based on DRAFT mode. With some printers this can be quite faint and is certainly no use for photographs. That said it is quite a good idea to set your printer to draft mode for day to day work.  In addition to making your cartridges last twice as long you will find the pages arrive much quicker.  You can always change back to a higher quality for an individual job. HP printout tends to smudge until you have allowed the print to dry for at least a couple of minutes.  But for standard correspondence an HP printer looks pretty good in Draft mode - and smudges less. Change the 'default' mode via Start, Settings, Printers, Properties rather than when printing an individual file (which will just revert to the previous settings next time)

Photo Printing Glossy paper can be from 10p per sheet upwards (but try Aldi) and to get anywhere near the weight of the paper used by the pros you need to look for at least 275gsm on the box. This could cost you 1 a sheet !  So, if you want cheap (and high quality) prints of your photos, I suggest that you take or them to a professional photoprinter. Take your disk or memory card to Boots or upload your pictures to an on line service e.g. Ebuyer. Saves a lot of hassle. You can always enlarge the favourite ones later. Doing it yourself might be convenient but it is certainly not economical. The alternative is to have a useful viewer (e.g. Microsoft's Picture Viewer in slideshow mode or Picasa) on your computer and display them there full screen. Or send them to friends with an email (or CD) or display them on a photo website such as Kodak or Picasa. That way you wont notice them yawn !

Location : You need a printer that will fit in with your work area. Many printers have a paper feed at the back and feed out at the front.  It is surprising how much room this takes up and if you use a workstation type desk this style may not be convenient.  A Hewlett Packard printer (or most lasers and all in ones) feeds paper in from the front and out to the front and is more suitable in cramped situations or in cupboards, on shelves or some workstations.   

A word about connections.  Older printers were designed to connect via the 25 pin parallel port at the back of your computer but these days almost all may have a connection to the half-inch USB type port that all recent PC's have. There is no great advantage in one or the other.  If your new laptop has no 25 pin socket and you want to use your old printer you can get a 25 pin to USB adapter.  Try Ebay.  But shops rarely supply a USB cable so you have to be prepared to buy this extra.  The prices charged for cables by the average 'box shifter' are very high.  As much as 14 for what would be 2 or less at a computer fair or cheap shop.

Connecting over a network. Many people now have a small network at home either connected by wires or wirelessly through a 'router' which may have been supplied by your broadband supplier. Obviously, young Mike will want to be able to print his homework and there is just one printer connected to the main one. How does one share this printer ?

First go to the printer section on the computer to which your printer is attached...or is wirelessly connected if a wireless printer. You may have to go to Start, Printers (if necessary go via Control Panel). Right click on the printer and click on Sharing and tick Share this printer. Add a name to that printer. Now go to the laptop or other remote PC. What I do is create a small document with Wordpad, then go File, Print. The printer will not appear until you click Add a printer, Search for a Printer. When it finds one click that to add it. Then try and print the small document.


One problem people mention is that, if they wish to stop the print run part way through, this can be difficult.  Normally, printing is sent to your computer and then on to the printer.  You will notice a delay whilst the computer 'thinks' about it.  And the slower the computer (and more complex the page) the longer it will think. But, if you then go to stop the print run by switching off the printer or for some other reason the printing is interrupted e.g paper jam, when you switch the printer on (or free the paper jam) the computer keeps on sending information along the cable.  It may even turn the printing into 'garbage' and may print a couple of lines of this on each page.  You should be able to clear the printing by going to a printer icon on the bottom line.  The software varies but you should be able to Cancel the print from there. Unfortunately,this does not always work and there is always a delay. If that does not work you may have to turn the PC and printer off.  Even this does not always clear the print 'buffer/queue' held by the computer.  Try leaving the computer off for a little while before switching it on again. It is quite important to clear (cancel) any unprinted items as you may (WILL) find that you cannot print anything more until you do. But, if you get through a load of paper and ink during this exercise, all I can say is - you are not alone !

Problems. All inkjet printers are likely to clog up (the ink jets) from time to time, especially if left to dry out for a while.  You may not realise this until you print a colour photo and it comes out all blue or orange. Most printer software comes with a test facility to determine which of the colours is not printing correctly. Then there is usually a head cleaning routine.(see your manual)  This attempts to suck ink through the jets until they are clean.  Sometimes this will work with one cleaning; sometimes you have to do it several times.  The procedure is very wasteful of ink, often sucking through all the colours and black and wasting it onto a big piece of blotting paper hidden in the base of the printer. Sometimes it doesn't work at all and you are left with a printer that is, say, only good for printing black.  What to do ? I have tried all the possibilities, from dismantling the printer to injecting water through the jets (Epson) to my latest effort with an HP 930C. Nothing would make it print Yellow so, as a photo printer, it was a write off.  I drilled a hole in the top of the cartridge (over the yellow compartment), injected a large quantity of yellow ink and, finally, blew down the hole until the ink came out of the jets !  One nice HP930C was saved from the scrap heap.

Tips: To prevent drying out it is as well to use a printer at least once a week. If you buy cartridges in bulk (having remortgaged!) bear in mind that they have around one year shelf life, though keeping them in a fridge is said to increase this.

Tips on refilling.  You can buy refill kits for most makes of cartridge.  I have tended to use packs from Inktec. Be sure to wear rubber or plastic gloves if you want your hands to look decent after. Keep them on until you have completed the job, replaced the cartridge and given it a test. Do the whole job over a sink that can be washed down after.  Make sure you know where the refilling holes are.  Some cartridges have to be pierced using a supplied augur. Hold each bottle upside down and pierce the cap with the hypodermic needle.  Try not to inject air into the cartridge. Most printers have difficulty sucking the first ink through and have various techniques to do this. In the case of HP cartridges you may find a 'cradle' in the refilling kit along with a larger hypodermic tube.  This should be connected to the rubber protruding from the bottom of the cradle and the hypo tube used to suck a small amount of ink through.  In the case of a triple colour cartridge the combined inks coming through should be almost black. Some printers may 'chunter' away to themselves for 30 seconds when they detect a new cartridge as been loaded, then send out a test sheet.  If the first print looks as if any of the inks have failed to come through you may have to try different techniques.  Read the manual.  Generally, if you click on Start, Printers and right click the printer and then on Properties, you can check if there is a Utility to clean the cartridge and do a test print.  Do not be surprised if the ink level shown under Properties is incorrect.  It doesn't matter as long as it works. In the case of Canon you may be asked to confirm that a cartridge has been changed. If you are refilling more than one cartridge, stick tape over the top and bottom until you wish to use them.

And finally.... To get a 'professional' opinion as to which printer to buy read the section at the back of each Computer Active called Computeractive Recommends.

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