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Lighten Up 19 July 2002 Edition
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Dave Barry is a writer for the Miami Herald and sometimes his columns are very funny and relevant. Here's what he has to say about spam.

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A Licence To Print Money
No, this isn't another rant about monopolies, telcos or dominant software vendors -- it's about printers.

Several years ago I bought an Epson Stylus 600 inkjet printer and I was very happy with it. The quality of the printing was second to none, even when plain old paper was being used.

What did annoy me however, was the price of ink cartridges. Within a year of use, I'd probably spent two or three times the price of the printer just on ink.

This came as quite a shock after years of laser and dot-matrix printer use where the cost per page was very, very low.

At the time, this heavy ink cost was problem enough, but since I bought my printer, things have gotten far worse.

Readers Say
(updated hourly)
  • In some cases... - Philip
  • Printing at home... - Nik
  • Epson Stylus 600... - Ray
  • Ink and taxes... - PeterB
  • Printer Ink... - Nathan
  • Printer Ink... - Alan
  • Crayon based printing... - Conrad
  • Consumables... - George
  • ink cartridges... - Grant
  • Printing Costs... - Lindsay
  • Have Your Say

    Obviously the inkjet printer manufacturers have decided that there's no money in selling printers per se -- but there's a fortune to be made in selling ink.

    As a result of this mindset, we've seen the price of good quality inkjet printers fall through the floor, while at the same time the price of replacement ink cartridges has gone through the roof.

    Now some of the more "economy minded" computer users out there soon discovered that they could save a small fortune by refilling their old cartridges using third-party ink kits.

    This infuriated the printer manufacturers who saw these little squirts muscling in on what had become their major revenue generator -- so they got clever.

    First they tried using scare tactics. "The use of third party inks will invalidate your warranty and damage your printer" was one of the most common claims. Unfortunately, while most people stuck with the manufacturer's ink for the first 12 months while the printer was under warranty, many of them switched to cheaper refills after that.

    Not to be thwarted, some manufacturers decided to go hi-tech. To prevent you and I from refilling our old cartridges with new ink, these manufacturers have gone so far as to embed smart chips into those cartridges that effectively disable them once they're empty. Even if you refill them, the printer will still insist that they contain no ink.

    Of course the wisdom is that if you plan to do a lot of printing then you shouldn't be using an inkjet anyway. Laser printers are much cheaper (and often faster) to run if you're doing more than a few pages a week -- and those who print a lot often consider colour to be less important anyway.

    So inkjets are best for occasional use right?

    BZZZT... wrong answer.

    My good old Epson 600 worked just fine and dandy while it was burning an inky hole in my pocket and chewing through ink cartridges at an atrocious rate but as soon as I cut back my frequency of printing to perhaps once or twice a month it spewed.

    Here's the problem -- many ink jet printers don't like sitting idle. The ink in the printer head will eventually dry up and block the incredibly fine holes, which leads to really, really bad printing.

    In the case of the Epson, it will let you waste an entire set of ink cartridges trying to clear the blockage using its little cleaning routine -- but that won't help one bit once your head is really blocked.

    Other printers such as many of the HP line are a little better insomuch as the print-head is built into the ink cartridge itself. This means you can simply toss out the cartridges and buy new ones ($$$). In the case of the Epson however -- you have little option but to throw the whole printer in the bin because the cost of repair is frequently more than the price of a new one.

    Before everyone emails me saying "have you tried this" with links to the numerous websites that offer hints and tips on clearing blocked print head nozzles" I should say -- yes, I've tried the whole range of options and my Epson's print head is still blocked.

    So what do YOU use for printing and how reliable, cheap and effective is it? Chances are that I'm not the only person experiencing the inkjet blues right now.

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