The bane of disposable printers

It has been one year, so those of you who own home computer printers know what that means: it is time to replace the computer printer. By this time, I should know the symptoms. First, the warranty has just expired. Second, I have just spent over $50 to replace all the ink cartridges. Then of course, the print head goes bad. For the cost of a new printer or a bit more I can possibly fix the problem. However, why bother? Out on the curb it goes. Let it join its many cousins in what must be a vast landfill full of trashy printers.

It was not always this way. We have had PCs in our house since the late 1980s. Until the last five years or so, our printers have been reasonably reliable. Perhaps this was because our needs were modest or the technology was relatively uncomplicated. In the old days, our printers printed in one color only: black. Laserjet printing was too pricey for us. We were content with dot matrix printers, the only kind the average homeowner could afford. Generally, they we purchased Epson printers and we could count on three to five years of life for them.

Those days are gone. I did a search in Quicken and was appalled to find out we just bought our fourth printer in less than five years. This must be the economic model preferred by printer manufacturers. It is already clear that with inkjet printers selling well below a hundred dollars that there is not much money to be made actually manufacturing the printers. No, the money comes in selling overpriced ink cartridges.

All I know is that I do not like shopping for printers every year. Aside from the money, there is also the hassle. I have got way more important things to do with my time. I want to go many years between even thinking about replacing my printer. My printer should be like my Honda Civic. It should just keep running. Unfortunately, printer manufacturers are selling Yugos.

I thought maybe that printer manufacturers were concerned about their brand name. Experience has borne out they clearly care more about low prices than they do about quality. In the old days, our dot matrix Epson printers seemed indestructible. They were cheap to maintain too. They worked with ordinary typewriter ribbons. When you noticed the type was looking a tad more grey and black, you spent $10 or so at a Staples for another ribbon. Then you could go forget about your printer for another six months or so. Perhaps the quality of the printed work on a dot matrix printer left a bit to be desired. If you were not too fussy and bought a printer with enough pixels per inch your printer could deliver something that edged on being professional looking. After all, we were not submitting manuscripts.

Then dot matrix printers suddenly disappeared. The option for cost conscious homeowners became bubble jet printers. I never quite figured out what the difference was between the bubble jet printers and the ink jet printers. Overall, the bubble jet printers I used gave better print quality and were reliable. Then one day bubble jet printers disappeared too. The lowest common denominator for home printers became inkjet printers. So when our time came we queued up and purchased one.

The first one was an “all in one” printer, scanner and copier from Hewlett Packard. Back in 2001, it cost us about $250. It did a decent job of scanning and printing, albeit very slowly. As for printing for about six months it delivered acceptable prints then quickly degraded. Then the scanner stopped working. A new set of print cartridges did not solve the printer problem. By early 2003, it was no longer usable. A mere eighteen months after purchase it was sitting on the curb.

By now, we were leery of the HP brand. Therefore, we decided to play safe and go back to old “reliable” Epson printers. We purchased a C-84 printer. Surely, a company that made such excellent dot matrix printers could do equally as well with inkjet printers. It sure seemed that way. We plugged it in and for a year, it was a stellar printer. It rendered stunning pictures of our Hawaii vacation. Its only drawback was the obscene cost of replacing its ink cartridges. Nevertheless, with such wonderful print quality, all for about $120, we could not complain too much.

Then, of course, as soon as we had replaced the ink cartridges it went out of warranty. It never worked the same. I took it to a local place that services Epson printers. Diagnosis: print head was worn out and the inkjet tubes were clogged. It would cost $99 to replace the print head plus labor. In other words, it was cheaper to throw it away than to fix it. To learn this I had to pay the technician $20 for his trouble.

Perhaps I thought this was just a fluke. Despite my better judgment, I purchased another Epson printer, the C-86, which looked like a next generation C-84 (but, of course, with incompatible print cartridges). Again it seemed to be a wonderful printer. We had a year of terrific looking prints. Then the warranty expired. Of course, while we were replacing its print cartridges (using only Epson cartridges) the same fate befell it as the C-84. This time I did not bother to take it in. It goes out on the curb tonight. So yesterday, I made yet another yearly pilgrimage to the computer store. However, this time, I sure was not going to buy an Epson. With HP and Epson out of consideration, I needed a different brand.

We toyed with the idea of Canon, but could not find many on the local market. So yesterday, I purchased a Lexmark P915 printer. I hope that our luck will change with this printer. However, the initial signs are ominous. We are getting “alignment errors”. One of the printer cartridges is reputedly almost out of ink although we are hardly using it. In addition, our paper does not feed squarely into it. I am currently trading emails with customer support, but I have a feeling they will want me to exchange it.

For $79.99, perhaps I expect too much. At this point, I would be glad to pay $300 for a good, reliable printer. Unfortunately, I have no way of knowing whether I will actually be able to buy reliability by paying $300. Even if it lasts, will I be able to get cartridges for it a couple years from now? Could I get someone service it at a reasonable price? Is it even possible to find a printer that does not require about $150 in print cartridges a year for only modest home use?

It is a waste of my time and money to have to deal with these yearly printer annoyances. I bet you have experienced similar travails. If you have a solid and reliable inkjet home printer that you have used for a number of years, please let me know.