With the old Canon Pixma in need of new cartridges, I had a dilemma; spend £18.47 on compatible ink, £26 on Canon OEM ink or else get a low-end replacement printer. The Canon cost me £29 new a few years ago. It doesn’t work on Linux, it’s ugly as sin, it’s noisy, slow, print quality on cheaper paper is terrible. Should I call it quits and start over?
Specs for home inkjet printers have changed in the last few years; if you shop around you can get a multi-function, all-in-one printer-scanner-copier with wireless printing for under £35 ($55). Some wireless network cards will set you back more than that. It’s all down to volume sales from far-Eastern factories.
Come on Down
I want the inkjet for occasional colour pages. Low page counts, limited print runs. I’m stil running one of a long line of cheap HP LaserJet printers for regular quality black-and-white, which lowers the specs for performance of my home inkjet printer; no long print-runs on high-quality. Swapping for a colour laserjet, economic as they now are, isn’t worth it for me when I consider the cost of colour toner.
If you look at the market leaders, the home inkjet market is crowded and confusing. HP DeskJet, Epson Stylus, Lexmark, Canon Pixma, Brother and Kyocera all have multiple models under the brand, most with sub-£30 entry models. How do they do it for the money?
It’s not the old model of subsidised hardware selling-in high-priced consumable cartridges; the black and colour ink cartridges for most models are much more reasonably priced as the manufacturers standardise and rationalise cartridge types; compatible cartridges are more readily available and in high-capacity versions.
And for a budget printer, it’s pretty fast, with a quoted maximum of 16ppm mono, 12ppm colour. There are no fancy extras – you even have to supply your own USB cable – but it does exactly what it says on the box, providing low-cost, fuss-free printing for as little money as possible.
The first decision is dedicated printer versus multi-function device to serve as printer, scanner and standalone copier. A little larger than the dedicated single-purpose printer, the versatility of multi-function devices brings a lot to the low-price band. The feature of the All-in-one scanner/copier, which you can use without even switching on the PC also appealed. Although the scan resolution is not that high, for quick A4 pages in low volume, what do you need? The scanner will most likely be a basic 1200dpi model. If you want higher resolution scans and specialist functions such as negative scanning, you’ll want a dedicated device.
The printing criteria will be something on these lines:
- resolution – for both images and text
- print speeds, measured in pages per minute (ppm)
- media capacity, or the maximum number of sheets the printer’s paper tray can hold probably isn’t a priority for a budget inkjet.
- cartridge capacity – this varies greatly according to the types of documents you’ll print. Graphics and photos guzzle ink, plain text is printed quite frugally, until you get to banner and poster-sized text.
- wireless connection
- memory card slot for direct printing from camera SD cards
- USB port to connect external devices, such as mobile phones, directly to the printer.
- ENERGY STAR qualified models for low power usage
- Paper handling – sizes of and types of paper the printer can print on. This is important for photo-printing on photo papers.
- Printer foot-print, height, width and weight (a colleague caused devastation in his study when the shelf collapsed destroying not only the printer but everything underneath).
- Looks. Not much you can do about this, particularly if you value price and performance over aesthetics. Its a shame most of them either look like a bread-bin or Darth Vader’s toaster.
Help and Support
You’re not getting a five-start service at these prices, so make sure you buy a reputable name, with a decent user guide or manual (look for on-line copies from the manufacturers’ web-sites) and check for both on-line and telephone support. Also check the manufacturer’s warranty cover.
This was and still is a concern; these are all complex assemblages of delicate plastic parts. One Epson Stylus 880 I owned years ago ate it’s own innards so thoroughly I considered it a ritual suicide. Devices at this price range are not designed for industrial print runs.
So my process was roughly to take a look around my favourite review sites and decide what price bracket I’m in – cheap. Checking the ink-cost, I ran quick spreadsheet calculation of printer plus in cost over say, three years, then took a look at the ink costs of the printers in the next price range up.
I resolved not to get blinded by the latest shiny, so I actually took out the newer models released this year. Unless you’re happy paying the premium price for the newest kit, look down the range for established models. The exception to this would be the time limited promotional offers on new kit.
In Part Two, I’m going to put this into practice and choose a printer. More than that, I’ll buy one! RC