Printers – A love and hate relationship

Back when printers were cheap enough for the average consumer could buy people would make several backups to floppy disk and a printed hard copy.
I remember reading A+ certification books that had two or three chapters on just printers alone.
When printers were starting to decline in sales for the home user companies started to toss together multi-function devices that print, scan and fax. Things couldn’t get better but there is a major downside.
This to me was very noticeable when Windows Vista veered it’s ugly head. My mother had bought a Compaq that had XP but was offered a free Vista upgrade from HP/Compaq. When she bought the computer she also bought a brand new Lexmark all-in-one multi function printer. When she had me upgrade the system to Vista it was printer suicide. Thinking there was a driver or let alone a driver on the way for the printer since it is still new and Lexmark still supported it. Nope, wasn’t Vista compatible and Lexmark stated there will be no new driver and told everyone to buy a new printer. By this time I was getting calls from people asking how to get their printers working in Vista and so forth. I was going crazy at this point.

To make matters worse companies such as Kodak made great printers with one evil intent to keep getting money from you. There was even a class-action lawsuit on this. I had one of these all-in-one printers, I forgot the model though. What would happen was when a user inserted a new ink cartage the printer would put a time stamp on some little chip on the cartage so after thirty days the printer would say it’s empty. So if you printed say two papers in the whole thirty days then you’re screwed.
Other companies also block out other functions when you’re real low or out of ink. So if you needed to only send a outgoing fax you need ink. If you wanted to scan a photo to the computer you need ink. These are not failsafe but intended for you to buy more ink. It’s not hard to program the microcontroller to tell it to not print a scanned document or print received fax when it’s out of ink.

Refilling your ink isn’t as easy as it use to be. There are kits you can buy that is cheaper in the long run to refill your old cartage but now there are basically real-time clocks added to the cartage that will stop you. So if the cartage is a year old the printer will think the ink is dried up. Also the sad thing is you can still buy at OfficeDepot Apple DMP ink ribbons but HP 22 and 56 are not carried anymore.

If you attend to print a lot or even a little your best bet is to invest in a Laser Printer. They’re are pros and cons but in my opinion it’s worth it.
The toner costs about $50.00 and up but you can get anywhere from 500 to 1000 prints from one cartage. They’re huge and take up a ton of space, not to mention mostly print in monochrome. However it can sit there for a year or more and still print fine. They’re cross platform so if you have a Mac, PC and a Linux box then chances are it is supported since Laser printers are favored in the business world. You can even upgrade the memory and add a print server card to make the printer function on a local network so if you some how end up with a OS that doesn’t supported it you can still use it though the network ether by uploading the document via HTTP on the print server and printing it from there or from another computer with simple file sharing. There are color laser printers but they are costly but think about it in the long run. Do you really need color prints? If you want photos done there are places you can take a memory card to and have professionally printed photos created. Doesn’t cost much and still cheaper then ink a cartage. For scanning I would try and find a old flatbed scanner. However I would research and make sure it is supported or if anyone had made any 3rd party drivers. Most flatbed scanners vanished around the induction of Windows XP. However if you can find one that is Linux compatible then you can use a print server to host it. For faxing there are a few ways to do this. There are some faxing services that will let you send a Fax from your computer. Basically it’s a email that is converted to a fax and spits out a fax on the other end. You could go to a thrift store and find a fax machine for a couple of bucks. I myself use to have home server that had a old 56K data/fax modem that I can send and receive faxes. If anything there’s the UPS store and FedEx.

In general printers are cheap and at times the printer is cheaper then the ink. You could even waste money on keeping the ink flowing and out of nowhere they just die.

For a electronic hobbyist these modern printers suck for harvesting parts from. At one time they used stepper motors, digital logic, motor controllers and some beefy mechanical parts. Now it’s mostly plastic, use typical brushed DC motors with digital encoder wheels and sensors. SMD parts on the controller board and a micro controller that uses a special reader/writer that costs a couple grand. A laser printer however still uses stepper motors and motor controllers. However a laser printer itself is a awesome tool for the electronic hobbyist. You can make printed circuit boards and control panel bezels with it to just name a couple of things.

A friend gave me a Brother HL-1850 Laser printer and he said the toner has been in there for years and the casing is a bit discolored. I hooked it up to my laptop last night and Debian almost got it ready automatically so I tried out the CUPs server by pointing my web browser to http://localhost:631
and just added the printer manually. Works a treat and prints very nice. I have to say this is one of the nicest laser printers I’ve had yet. All because of this printer it made me think how typical consumer goods have gone down hill and how companies like to stick it to ya.

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