A TALE OF TWO PRINTERS

Canon Pixma ip3500

Canon Pixma ip3500

Bob has switched to an inkjet printer instead of using the laser printer he shared with Joy. The reasons are worth talking about, because the two kinds of printers have very different features.

We switched to using an inkjet printer for a couple days when our laser printer started sending low toner messages. We had this old inkjet sitting around anyway. It’s a fairly cheap model: the Canon ip3500. Going back to using it after not using it for almost a year, was kind of a revelation. For one thing, unless it is actually printing a page, it is totally silent; it just sits there. The Laser printer, on the other hand, an Okidata C5100, is quite noisy when starting up and again when printing; it’s still fairly noisy even when it’s doing nothing. That’s because laser printers use a heated roller to fuse powdered ink onto the page and they need a cooling fan.

Oddly enough, laser ink is called “toner” even though it’s a powder; the name is a hang-over from early Xerox copier days. In the same manner we still “dial” a phone number, even though hardly anybody has a dial phone.

Since we’ve mentioned ink fairly early here, and it’s a subject dear to the heart of every printer user, let’s get to it:

Okidata C5100

Okidata C5100

We regularly get press releases from inkjet printer companies telling us that it’s just as cheap to print with inkjets as it is with lasers. They have studies that seem to prove this. Being skeptics, we researched comparison printing costs from several sources on the web and they matched our own subjective experience that inkjet printing costs about twice as lasers. The cost comparison typically runs around three cents a page with laser printers and six cents a page with inkjets.

Lasers are also faster and more convenient when you’re printing lots of pages. In an office situation with fairly heavy use, you must have a laser. In home situations where printing is infrequent, the cost comparison become very slight. While it’s true that the cost per page for inkjet printing is still twice as much, Bob estimates he prints no more than two to three pages a day with the inkjet, about 500 pages a year. Even at double the cost per page, the real money difference only comes to about $15 over the whole year. So while the percentage difference is great, the cost is small.

A few words about ink and then we’ll move on to other differences – and they’re not trivial:

Several weeks ago we wrote about a trick to erase the memory in many inkjet cartridges so they think they’re full again. You can see a demonstration of this if you go to YouTube.com and type “Printer ink secret” in the search field. When that method didn’t work for a woman with a Hewlett Packard inkjet printer, she wrote to tell us she just took the cartridge out and whacked it on the desk a couple of times. That worked.

Bob’s solution to the out-of-ink warning from the Canon iP3500 was to ignore it. The printer continued to print more than a hundred pages until it finally threw a fit and called it quits. So we caved in and bought one of their ridiculously expensive black ink cartridges. Interestingly enough, the printer had previously also warned us that our red ink cartridge was out of ink. But after putting in the new black cartridge, the red one was miraculously cured and now showed plenty of ink. Very suspicious.

Some other differences:

Laser printers should not be used with high-gloss photo paper. This is where inkjets are a must. The reason is that high-gloss papers have an emulsion that can be melted by the hot roller in laser printers that fuses the toner to the page. In fact, we have tried this and sure enough, we melted the paper’s coating. When this happens, you usually have to replace the printer drum. It’s expensive. If you can find nice, glossy photo printing paper that doesn’t melt, pass it on. If you only have a laser and want to print glossy photos, you’re best off to have it done outside; lots of drugstore handle it.

On the plus side, our Okidata C5100 laser produces such high quality printing that the photos we print on good quality paper look great. Another plus with this printer is their tech support. They have always answered the phone or called us back in a few minutes. And they are very good. When they couldn’t solve a problems a couple years ago, they air-expressed us a new printer the next day. No charge.

Laser printed pages are susceptible to heat. Since the toner is made up of a mixture of powdered pigment and glue melted onto the page, it can be of course be melted again. You should avoid running pages with heavy toner coverage, like 8×10 photo prints, through the printer again. The ink on the photo side can smear from the heat. In the worst case scenario it can remelt onto the print drum, which will then have to be replaced. Inkjet pages, on the other hand, are susceptible to being erased by water. Keep them dry.

Example of gold lettering

Example of gold lettering

The melting ink in laser printers has one strange advantage, by the way: you can apply overlays, like gold and silver leaf or moire patterns. Thin sheets can be place over the page and using a moderately heated iron the color can be made to stick to the letters. The heat remelts the ink and lets the thin foils stick. This requires careful handling, but the results can be striking.

Finally, previously mentioned health risks:

Last January we wrote about a study from Queensland University in Australia that found some laser printers produced emissions of fine particles that polluted the air. Most of these printers were made by Hewlett Packard, which dismissed the findings as insignificant, balderdash, etc. A follow-up printerpollutionstudy was done again at Queensland University, and again found that some Hewlett Packard printers still emitted clouds of ultra-fine particles that could be a risk to health, especially in a close office environment. It should be mentioned here that Hewlett Packard produces so many models, that they also have printers that produce no emissions. A discussion of all this can be found at treehugger.com. A fully detailed account from Queensland U. can be downloaded from tinyurl.com/laserpollution.

2 Responses to “A TALE OF TWO PRINTERS”

  1. Hi,
    Tried the video.. and got the msg….

    My Epson C86, (Jan 2005 version) is pretty tired. Haven’t put more than 1000 sheets thru the monster, but it has problems.
    Ink is in individual cartridges. Blue has been plugged up. Have tried windex on ink wiper (repair person recommended – radio call in show in Madison, wi.) to no avail. Getting a repair to look under the cover would cost more than another Epson. It’s strange to see all three colors keep disappearing (ink levels picture) when I select print in “black only”. Maybe I should give the 3 color carts. a whack on the side like yu did?

    Anyway I am going to look at something in the Canon Pixma ip3500, if nothing else, just a change. (3 Epsons is enough).

    I’m hoping they have separate cartridge type ink supply. 90% of my print requirement is black only.

    thanks,
    jer merrill

  2. Yes, the Canon Pixma series has separate ink cartridges. We’re quite happy with ours.