The care and feeding of personal printers

September 9, 2014

Unless you are unswervingly loyal to the old, Thomas Paine-style printing press, you have probably noticed the deceptively cheap $30 single-function printer with $50 black-and-white/$80 color ink cartridges that only last a week and print out crappily at best. This brings to mind the old adage: Caveat emptor, or, let the buyer beware.


After exhaustive investigation of the fare at our local electronics stores, my family purchased a Kodak ESP Office 6150. We bought it because of its multi-functionality and good ink-price-to-use ratio. Granted, it was $170, but all the cartridges together are only $50, last a long while, and print well consistently.


The software that comes with it is pretty convenient if you are not proficient with image re-touching. If you want a great scan of a picture, need to e-fax some tax documents, or print out some flyers, this is a solid all-in-one home printer.


However, I am not sure if it is just the age of the printer (two years), or if it has something to do with the irrepressible curiosity and prankster-ship of our three small children, but it no longer prints well. We have cleaned the heads, changed the ink, and even gone through the system with a can of air, but to no avail. The scanner works fine, but it may be time to put the old girl out to pasture.


The company I work for issues its technicians the Brother MFC-J6920DW Professional Series Inkjet with full 11"x17" capability and expanded connectivity options. At $250 plus tax and shipping, this is an all-around excellent printer too. The ink cartridges are relatively expensive (about $100 for black-and-white and color), but they last a long time and provide clean images and document prints.


This model can be used simultaneously by a number of individuals without much delay through its connectivity software and network. It is one level shy of the big upright commercial printers.


You can scan a document or image and then save it to plug-and-play media, like an SD card or flash drive, or send it to a computer file on your network or to designated email addresses.


It is just as proficient printing out images as spitting out stacks of technical schematics. Granted, if you do not set the paper in just right—and with two trays and an impressive range of sizes to set, there are many ways to go wrong—you may find yourself spending more time trying to correct a paper jam than waiting for your documents to come out.


I much prefer the Brother printer to the Kodak, but at approximately two feet by two feet by three feet, the volume of the former is prohibitive unless you have lots of spare room. It will not fit in most printer-designated office furniture, such as a sliding printer cubby or desk armoire.


There are a lot of printers out there. Be proactive when you shop. Your copied documents and images, as well as your wallet, will thank you for it. Having spare ink cartridges is one way to save time, and keeping extra paper on-hand makes reaching the bottom of the tray mid-project less frustrating.


And I cannot stress this enough: Read the manual. At the very least, skim the sections on routine maintenance and troubleshooting. Follow that advice to preserve the service life of your printer.


Some general tips:


•Dust the printer regularly and wipe surfaces with a clean, dry cloth.


•Check the paper ports for foreign objects like toys, keys, or other small objects.


•Keep your paper and ink up to good levels. You may not need to change the ink the moment it dips below 100 percent, but there is no reason to let the paper tray dwindle to the last sheet in the ream.


•Clean the heads and align the printer heads whenever you change your ink cartridges, or whenever your service manual suggests it. If gunk builds up, it can make a clean print job impossible.


•Know your printer’s limitations. Some may not be able to print to all areas of the page. If you print a document, make sure the text and graphics are within these margins.


•Keep your printer in a cool place with decent air flow. Just like any electronic device, printers get warm and may overheat if used too long, too often, or with ventilation ports clogged or otherwise blocked.


•You can buy the best ink on the market, but your paper will also play a role in the printing process. If you get cheap, yellowing, thin, or uneven paper, you will most likely get an inferior printout.


Adrian Miller is a Field Service Technician with extensive electro-mechanical training and experience. He is the Zenith’s web and graphic designer.

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