Paper. Some people think it’s on the way out, now that touchscreens and ebooks are around. I’m not so sure (after all, there’s nothing like screwing a sheet of paper up and throwing it in the bin when something doesn’t work out right).
But anyway, for now, people like to use paper – whether it’s for printing a poster to put up, a document you need to read, directions to a hotel or simply printing out some photos to put up around the house.
And if you’re printing something from a computer, that means using a printer. Of course, for photos you could get them printed elsewhere (and that can be a good move for top quality), but for most things, it means printing it yourself – which you can only do if you have a printer.
So I thought I’d give a few tips on printers – using one, choosing what type and so on.
So first off, a few tips about choosing one.
You sometimes see really cheap colour printers – in some cases cheaper than a set of ink cartridges for them, even though they come with cartridges. What’s going on?
Well, the printer companies usually make the profit on the cartridges, not on the printer. So they’re happy to sell you a cheap printer in order to get you using their cartridges.
But could you just buy a new one each time, since they include ink with them? Well, you could, but the cartridges that come with them are usually “starter” versions that don’t actually have much ink in them. So they won’t last as long as normal cartridges.
What about buying “compatible” cartridges instead of the expensive ones made by the manufacturer? Well, it can work. But all too often I’ve found that compatible ones aren’t compatible… or they’ll start off working and then stop soon after.
It’s not that they’re badly made – it’s that the printer maker deliberately design printers to not work with any but their own cartridges, so if the printer realises it’s not got an official cartridge, it might stop working. Generally, to save the hassle and doubt, I stick to official cartridges.
Another thing on the cheap printers: you’ll often find that the cheaper printers cost more in ink. That’s fine if you won’t be printing much, but if you’ll print a lot, it can be cheaper to get a more expensive printer that costs less in ink. It’s not as simple as how much an ink cartridge for it costs as they don’t all print the same amount – you have to look at how many pages each cartridge will last for.
You’ll also find the more expensive printers are often better quality – the simplest way to get an idea of the quality is to see how many dots it uses to make up each inch of the photo or whatever you’re printing – or the “PPI” (points per inch). The higher the better!
If you want good quality photos, using proper photo paper makes a big difference, especially if you tell the printer you’re using photo paper when you select to print.
One thing you might find if you don’t use your printer for a while is that it won’t print properly, even though there should be plenty of ink. What tends to happen is that the ink dries up and blocks the nozzle, so it won’t squirt out. Sometimes just trying a few times is enough to unblock it – but sometimes you’ll need to replace the cartridge, which is frustrating if you’ve not used it much.
One solution is to buy a laser printer instead of an inkjet printer, if you aren’t going to be printing very often. They don’t dry out because the “ink” is a powder rather than a liquid. The cheaper ones tend to be black and white only, which is fine for documents but not great if you want to print photos. You can get colour laser printers but they’re not so good for photos anyway and they are more expensive.
So it depends on what you want to use your printer for. If it’s text, I’d recommend a laser printer, if it’s photos, you might want an inkjet and just make sure you don’t leave it for ages without using it.
I should also talk about how you connect to the printer. Nowadays a lot of people use wifi printers where you don’t have to plug the computer, tablet or whatever into it – it connects via your home wifi. (This only works if you have wifi at home!)
It’s convenient, but in my experience most of the problems people have with printers are from using wifi. If you’re using a PC or laptop, I’d always recommend plugging the printer into the computer. You can do this even with most wifi printers, using a USB cable. Of course, you don’t have to leave it plugged in – only when you want to use it.
If you’ve already got a wifi printer and are using it happily, then that’s fine, no need to change. But if you’re getting one, my advice is to make sure you can just plug it in – and it’ll probably be easier to do it that way.
What about if you want to print from a tablet or mobile phone? Then you’ll probably need to use a wifi printer as there’s usually nowhere to plug the printer into the tablet. But I have to admit my usual advice if people say “How should I print from my tablet?” is “Don’t!”
It’s possible of course, but tends to be far more fiddly. So if you have a PC or laptop, I’d always print from that.
If you only have a tablet, you can’t do that – in which case make sure your printer is a wifi one – and I’d search the web for your particular tablet model and the type of printer you’re thinking of getting to make sure they work together.
Oh, and if the printer says it has a particular app to make it print but it’s not essential, there’s a good chance it is essential and without it, it won’t print from a tablet. So if you’re having trouble, check the printer box or instructions (if you were lucky enough to get any) and see if it mentions an app – in which cases, try downloading it and you may find you can suddenly print OK!
Phew – that was a bit of a whirlwind tour of printers. If you need to read it again, that’s fine, of course, and if you might buy a printer in the future you might want to put this to one side to come back to!
An alternative to Semaphore or Carrier Pigeons…
I’ve mentioned my new books: “Smartphone Help is at Hand” a few times recently. And soon I’ll stop talking about them (so if you’ve been sitting on the fence, don’t leave it for later).
But I wanted to mention that they’re in stock – we have a pile of them just next to the kitchen, so if you order them now we’ll put them straight in the post to you. And you don’t need to pay now or give us credit card details – we’ll send them out to you to have a look at first to check you’re happy with them.
Might be worth having a look – from what I’ve heard, they’re already proving a boon to the people who’ve ordered them so far!