Drinking Champagne, every day

Posted on Jan 13, 2008

A couple of days ago I gave in to a week of pressure and went out to buy a new colour ink cartridge for our printer. It took a week of pressure because I object to the prices that I'm charged for inkjet ink, but even more I resent the overall structure of the industry that is able to keep the prices so high.

In this specific case we needed to copy a couple of forms before sending them off in the post and print out a simple letter. In both cases only black-and-white (re)production is required, so why does the fact that I'm out of colour ink matter? The printer has separate colour and black cartridges, but refuses to do anything if either of them is exhausted.

Once I bought "clone" cartridges to try and keep the price down. I was cautious and only bought one colour and one black, on the basis that if it worked out well it would be easy to acquire more (by mail order). The colour cartridge seemed to work okay - maybe the quality wasn't quite as good as the originals, but very little of our printing is sensitive to having perfect reproduction. After a couple of weeks the printer complained that the printing head was "clogged" and needed to be replaced. Whilst it's not possible to definitively associate this with the clone cartridge, it's the only time it's ever happened during the five or more years of ownership. Back to branded cartridges :-( (As a side note, some careful attention with damp kitchen paper and ink-spattered hands got things moving again.)

On another occasion a newly inserted colour cartridge was determined to be unacceptable, as it was "out of date". It is entirely possible that the cartridge was a couple of years old, though I'd have been surprised if this was true.

The printer, an HP OfficeJet d125xi, was originally chosen because it had some desirable seeming qualities:

  • duplex printing, to save paper,
  • sheet fed copying,
  • network connectivity (with a bought later on Ebay module),
  • two paper feeders, allowing nice and nasty paper to be loaded at the same time,
  • separate colour and black ink, so that they can be replaced at different times.
It was a moderately expensive purchase at the time and has been unpopular for most of its' life. It's large, taking up a lot of room, and noisy. It's very difficult to get the paper lined up perfectly straight, so often the output is crooked on a page. Worse, the printer can only image over a subset of the A4 page, so something at the top or bottom of the page is often truncated. I've always regretted not choosing the version that included FAX capabilities, particularly over the last couple of years when I've been working at home (Kinko's in Hemel Hempstead charged me around twenty quid to send twenty pages to a US fax number once).

On the plus side, having easy access to a colour photocopier has been wonderful. Kids' homework often takes the form of a couple of sheets of A4 and it's now easy to copy them before they're mangled by the first attempt at completion. With good paper and a new ink cartridge we've had some nice prints from digital photographs even though that's not really the strong point of the machine.

Overall, it's time to replace it with something new. The requirements are:

  • colour printing - photo quality is not a requirement, but it would be nice,
  • single sheet flatbed copier - the sheet-feed copy facility in the current printer has been used maybe twice, so it's not really needed. I suspect that we could live without colour copying,
  • FAX capability,
  • built-in network connectivity - no add-on or external boxes required. Wireless is interesting, as it's much easier to choose where to put the printer,
  • separate ink cartridges for black and colour - multiple different colour cartridges sounds good, but how does it work out in practice?
  • the printer should be able to print or copy a black and white document if no colour cartridges are inserted,
  • the device should be smaller than the current behemoth.
Any suggestions? I'm toying with the idea of buying a small "all in one" mono laser printer and supplementing it with a cheap colour inkjet, given that most of our printing would be fine on the laser and they appear to be significantly cheaper to run.

Printer ink itself appears to be one of the few true niche consumables of computing - there's nowhere else where I'm forced into a monopolistic relationship with a provider. Is there a viable way out of this?