/ Technology

Are home printers still worth having?

Printer sales surged in 2020, probably owing to an increase in working from home. But could the days of the home printer be numbered?

Not that long ago, a home printer was a handy tool to have around. But in an era where bank statements, boarding passes and even signatures are increasingly digital, the value of having a printer isn’t always as obvious as it once was.

Ink wastage and blockages

It’s reassuring to have physical backups of travel tickets and passports, even if I’ve never actually needed them. But most entry-level inkjet printers aren’t designed for such occasional use – they’re prone to nozzle blockages when not used regularly. At worst, this can put a printer out of commission. At best, it wastes precious ink, which is used during cleaning cycles.

Ink waste and blockage issues aren’t as pronounced in laser and ink-tank printers, but you pay a pretty penny for that privilege, with prices starting at over £100. That’s hard to justify when I can pop down to my local library and print for 15p a page (or 50p if I want to treat myself to colour). Of course, not everyone is lucky enough to have a convenient library around the corner.

Home offices

Even for those with a home office or children at school, a lot of work is now completed and submitted online. I’ve not printed a single piece of paper in more than a year at Which?, and kids can often upload work and answer homework on online portals. Marks, merits and reports are often recorded online too, so parents can see more clearly how their kids are doing.

Do you have a printer at home?
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Are you still using a home printer? What do you mainly use it for? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Comments

I have a desktop Mac, and I used to have an Epson scanner/printer connected to it that would print on A3 thick paper, The reason I required this was to be able to print out music orchestra parts for my private use (only) as an amateur violist (using thick paper so it would not fall off the music stand).
Very often the image is too small on the original to see it , especially when you are in your late 70’s and eyesight is failing.
Apple and Epson both let me down badly. the Apple system (now on Big Sur 11.6.2 ) and try as I may, I could not get an updated driver nor any other help from the on-line provisions of Epson. I cannot see a replacement on the market and about 2 or 3 (?) years ago I reluctantly took my Epson printer to the local dump! Of course covid may have solved the problem for good, we shall have to see!

I am currently using macOS Monterey 12.1, the current version at the time of writing, and my five year old HP A3 printer has been working fine.

It’s a pity you have disposed of the printer, Andrew, because printer manufacturers may release updates. Many years ago I had an Epson scanner that would not work after an OS update but a couple of months later it was up and running again.

I have a Brother laser printer which I used to print out band parts, unfortunately I bought it last century and things have now changed so much that I can’t use it with any other computer than my Acorn RISC machine, and I can’t use that because my monitor finally gave up the ghost and there are no monitors available that are compatible with it.

Sometimes progress sucks.

Welcome back, jjmmwgdupree. It’s a long time since we’ve seen you here so I hope everything is alright with you . . . apart from your printer and monitor problems.

I expect you have had good service from your legacy kit and hope you will be able to upgrade your set-up satisfactorily. Good modern equipment is faster and very reliable but the proprietary ink trap is the thing to look out for if you move away from laser printing. People expect their printer to be a peripheral of their PC but in practice it turns out to be tied indefinitely by a virtual umbilical cord to its manufacturer.

One of our members for over ten years. Welcome from me too and I share your frustration about computer peripherals that have become obsolete.

John is referring to the blocking of use of third party ink cartridges by printer manufacturers, which can occur as a result of a firmware update. Most people have no problem which may be the reason why Which? has rarely mentioned this issue and reviews alternative brands of ink at sensible prices.

I have been looking for a new printer for my father for a maximum £150.

My spec is:
Colour
Cheap to run
Print / scan / copy
Wi-fi
Internal paper tray

Speed is unimportant and high print quality is not needed. Anything else is a bonus.

I was hoping for an ink-tank printer, but those that are within my budget tend to be on offer and are lacking something or other, but why so many printers include a fax is beyond me as few people use them these days and must be an unnecessary added cost to the machine.

One feature that is really important is the internal paper tray. Paper curls and falls all over the place if left in rear feeders like the one in the introduction image above.

I think printer manufacturers are being quite deceitful hiding how paper is fed into a printer. Images including Which? reviews do not show the rear feeds and descriptions leave you guessing.

I have yet to find out if any manufacturers allow the use of compatible inks?

This recent news article warns that buying a cheap printer can be poor value for money because of the cost of ink, presumably because the cartridges tend to be smaller: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2022/01/are-cheap-printers-worth-it/

It is a pity that this article does not mention using third party inks which can be much cheaper than originals, but next to it on the Which? homepage is currently an article about third party ink: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/printers-and-ink/article/best-cheap-printer-ink/best-cheap-ink-cartridges-aaOXG7F0Tgol I’ve used Internet Ink for years on the recommendation of a friend.

Internal paper trays leave the paper flat until it is needed. A rear feed can be useful for heavier card or photographic paper but that can be put in as required, but a printer with just an internal tray might suit your father.

Although some people have reported printers being blocked from using third party cartridges the risk seems to be associated with firmware updates. I have not had any problems with my printers and what I have saved by using third party of ink would have more than paid for replacements.

I would buy an ink tank printer if I was buying for myself but I sometimes do a lot of printing.

I don’t know how well ink tank printers are at dealing with just occasional low volume printing.

My printing needs now are relatively light so ink cost is not much of an issue. I use Canon ink in an MG 5750 that cost less than £50, copies and does double sided. The original cartridges lasted a decent time and while replacement ink is not cheap it is rarely bought. Most important to me is the durability of photos and my experience of Canon ink over 20 years has been good, so I don’t intend to risk that with cheaper inks.

Were I doing a lot of printing I would certainly invest in a good ink tank printer.

I have learned to live with my £699 Epson EcoTank-7750, but I still dislike it. I have learned the margin settings that stop it printing in the wrong place, I have found card that works well with the cr@p colour it produces, I have learned it is better to create greeting cards that don’t have borders, I have learned to wipe the print bar frequently to stop it smudging and ruining my cards. If I was wasteful and it didn’t cost an arm and a leg, I would get rid of it.

In It has printed 2 years Xmas cards, many greetings cards, many self-isolating delivery notes for the front door plus whatever else needs printing and has only used one third of the original inks. That is the only good thing I can say about it but if it used a bit more perhaps the print quality would be greatly improved.

It stopped working completely until I did a power clean that used quite a lot of ink. I was surprised it needed it when it is in regular use.

I remember you reporting your hassles with margins when printing cards, Alfa. My advice is to experiment with different paper and card because that can make a huge difference in print quality. I don’t know why neither of my HP printers produces good results using expensive HP photo paper (it was the same when they were new and still using manufacturer’s ink) yet some other brands of paper work well. Sometimes it helps to use the ‘wrong’ paper setting.

The printer performs better on photo paper but black never dries so I have to make it off-black. Well it probably would eventually but who wants to wait that long?

I have hundreds of 6″ x 4″ photo blanks thanks to HP giving me another ‘free’ pack every time I bought their ink pack.

They eventually have a use – printing chutney labels that come out quite well.

I have quite an assortment of non-shiny paper and have tried them but they all look washed out.

One problem is not being able to select draft, normal and best print for every type of paper as the printer seems to sense what has been put into it and only gives you a few options. I have tried setting up my own pre-sets but they didn’t save for future use. I will take a few screenshots later so you can see the problem.

If I was buying a printer for an elderly person, not having to clean blocked print heads would be a high priority. It should not be a problem nowadays even when a printer is used infrequently but it’s worth checking the one star reviews.

My Epson Ink Tank 4750 has been very good. Admittedly I don’t have such demanding printing as Alfa does but documents, pictures and sheet music all come out perfectly and scans are very good too. I have probably printed a thousand and a bit sheets in the year I’ve had the machine and the black ink is half full and the colours three quarters full. I have used photo paper and good copy paper. Like Alfa I have thousands of 6 x4 sheets courtesy of HP which I will probably never use up. The printer asks to be updated occasionally and, since it is working perfectly, I don’t bother. It is directly connected to the computer and does not go near Wifi. I have a spare set of ink bottles ready to use. These came with the printer. Unlike Alfa, I do like my printer because it does what I ask of it. I can understand that pushing these parameters could cause problems and wonder if this is a computer software problem rather than a defect in the printer itself, which, after all, just does as it is told.

I’m glad you like your printer Vynor but it’s too pricey for my father.

I chose mine specifically for printing greetings cards with thick paper and the darned thing fights me every step of the way. What paper do you use?

I have tried printing cards from MS word, MS Paint, Corel PaintshopPro 2020, Epson Easy Photo Print and probably a few others but it makes no difference to the output.

I have just done a test. In MS Word a blank page with a border near the edge of the page – all margins the same, all the same distance from the edge of the page.

Cassette 2 (the main tray🙄) printed the page unevenly and pushed the border up slightly and right slightly more. I even printed it a second time with writing to be sure.
The rear paper tray that gives me so much hassle printed a very even border. Unbelievable !!!!

So then printed them again only borderless this time increasing from the edge of the page in case it printed off the page.

This time both pages were almost identical with even right and left borders but wider bottom borders.

These were all on HP Home & Office Paper A4 80g/m².

Uneven margins is not a problem when just printing text, but do you see what I’m up against? aaarrrrgggghhhh the mind boggles !!!

I did update the printer software a while ago and that made no difference either.

I recently noticed reviews on Amazon and it seems I am not alone. When I bought it I found mostly glowing reviews but look at the 1* reviews now:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/product-reviews/B075NN6WTN/ref=cm_cr_unknown?ie=UTF8&filterByStar=one_star&reviewerType=all_reviews&pageNumber=1#revie
The 7700 was the A4 version.

@malcolm-r I noticed somewhere you also print greetings cards but couldn’t find your post again to reply. I was wondering how you make them as I have had a fair amount of trial and error to come up with very acceptable cards.

When I first started making them, the card wasn’t thick enough to stand upright so I found a few companies on the internet and requested a few samples that was well worth doing. I could have recommended thepaperbox pearlescent 300gsm card blanks with matching envelopes that worked out at less than 60p each, but they seem to have stopped selling the whites. ☹️ They still do
230gsm but I don’t know if they would stay standing up for very long.

Any thoughts?

@alfa, I do it very occasionally for family cards, usually printing a relevant photograph and editing in Word to insert text and other graphics. But very amateurish! I have 180 gsm photo paper which is only just self supporting when folded to A5 for example. I can choose to print to the edge but generally leave a border or stick the print onto thicker card. So not in your league, alfa!

There is a difference between using plain card and photo paper. The latter is coated and it can bend as a result in natural changes in humidity. It must be 20 years since I printed cards but nowadays I would go to a specialist supplier, as Alfa has done. The cost is less than a stamp.

It just takes a bit of practice malcolm. I am not much of an artist from scratch, but I have learned to manipulate graphics I find on the internet.

I used Jasc PaintShop Pro 7 that came as a free full version with a magazine for a very long time (files are dated 2001) but thought it was time I paid for it when I went to Win10 so bought Corel Paintshop Pro 2020. I still get confused with layers, so I find good old MS Paint invaluable. Gimp and Inkscape are a couple of free graphics software that although I have on my PC, I haven’t really got into mainly because I am more used to Paintshop Pro. All these graphics programs have quite steep learning curves that are soon forgotten if not used regularly, but I can usually find a YouTube video to help me out.

I don’t know if you have found these sites, but to add interesting text to cards this site is good.
https://www.flamingtext.in/

And interesting effects to photos and other images:
https://photomania.net/
https://www6.lunapic.com/editor/

I tend to use the Snipping Tool rather than downloading results as that removes the risk of viruses.

To overlay text on a photo it needs to be transparent (pure white background) that is easier to do in Paintshop Pro but can be done in MS Paint. You have to paste the text onto a blank page, set Colour 1 to white then use the ‘Fill With Colour’ tool. Then zoom in and use the Pencil to tidy up any loose pixels, picking in-between colours to feather edges with the Colour Picker tool. Filling with a dark colour can test how well it will work or has worked then undo. You can then select Transparent Selection and paste the text over an image.

I always keep versions of work-in-progress especially all the elements I am about to overlay as you don’t get many ‘undos’ in Paint, and saving graphics as a bitmap (.bmp) saves unwanted pixels being added to the image.

I have a networked, monochrome, Brother laser printer. It was not expensive to buy and the running cost is around 5p a page. It gets used two or three times a week. It has a duplex mode that may be slow, but works well and saves on paper. Being a laser device, there is no issue with inks drying out or printheads becoming clogged, so my low usage is not an issue.

I brought my printer when I was a school governor for printing out meeting papers as I found it easier to work with physical papers rather than having to page through PDFs in a meeting. I still find it is needed when dealing with many bodies that still want to get pieces of paper rather than electronic forms. Many seem not to recognise the principle of ‘making your mark’ as an acceptable way of signing a form.

Usually, I could get away without a printer as my local library, a five minute walk away, would enable me to print out at 10p a page impression. However, not everyone is so fortunate as to have such a convenient facility. Further, at present there are restrictions on what can be done in my local library and printing is not allowed.

Yes I have a printer and use it for printing letters and for my craft work and also photos, would not like to be without this useful addition to my computer

I have two laser printers. An HP 1018 B/W laser bought in 2006 and an Epson C1100 colour laser bought in 2005. Both are connected via USB to a Desktop PC bought in 2014, running Windows 8.1. I switch them on only when I want to print.

My main B/W printing is letters and lists, such as my Book, DVD and Music collections as well as tickets and vouchers, which I find more reliable on paper than fumbling on a smartphone. Maybe just a few hundred pages a year, but with a laser there is no ink to dry up and they are always ready for use.

The main use for the Colour laser is occasional newsletters I send to friends with photos and descriptions. In 2005/6 Which? magazine described the C1100 as one of the only colour lasers they had seen which did a good job of printing Photographs. Photos look good printed on Mondi coated colour laser paper.

Given their age the driver support in Windows has declined and no longer has special features such as n-UP, but what is provided is still sufficient and that feature in particular is provided by the application I use.
The HP B/W toner is readily available, the Epson colour toner is beginning to have a scarcity value and there are no more cheap offers of Epson toner.

It’s good to be able to keep old products working, Gerard. I found that when an old HP laser printer was no longer supported it worked fine using a generic driver. It might not have supported all the features but it was better than scrapping a printer with a new toner cartridge.

I’ve used the same Canon multifunction printer for around 10 years with no issues apart from the obscure setup menu configuration in combination with my phat-phingers. It is by far the best printer I’ve used. I’ve had poor experiences with Epson and HP printers.

I use a number of computers and devices with my printer, iMac, Chromebook, Windows 10, mobile phones and tablets. All of them work fine through WiFi. The only issue is if a program or app uses a proprietary printer driver instead of the Canon one.

I now use compatible ink cartridges from http://www.cartridgepeople.com. They register with the printer as branded so I can see ink levels etc from the Canon driver app. I was reluctant to use compatibles because of bad experiences in the past with blocked heads, unregistered cartridges and poor fidelity. but the cost of the branded ones persuaded me to use compatibles for the past few years. I’m pleased with the results so far. There might be an issue in the future with colours fading in printed photos and graphics but there’s no evidence of that so far.

I prefer printers that use a combined cartridge and print head. The Epson printers that I used previously used an inbuilt print head and had to be retired (with a full cartridge) when it became blocked. I also prefer printers that use a separate cartridge for each colour. The HP I used had only one cartridge for all of the colours. This was very wasteful.

P M Smith says:
9 February 2022

I have an HP All-In-One printer which is about 8 years old. I have been loyal to HP, but have always resented the high price of HP inks and have bought my ink cartridges elsewhere. After fitting them, my printer ALWAYS tells me that a non-HP ink has been fitted, and I simply dismiss the warning. However, I am aware that HP can communicate with my printer and, amongst other things, update its software as and when it sees fit. I am now suspicious that HP is doing more than keeping my printer software up to date! Are they, in fact, degrading or interfering with the operation of my non-HP inks? It seems, of late, every change of ink cartridge heralds a host of problems with getting them to work, or with getting a decent print finish. At present, after fitting new cartridges I have blooming of the red and poor output from the magenta, in spite of trying a number of different cartridges. Is anyone else having similar problems with HP?

I have two HP printers and have used compatible ink for years. I get the message that non-HP ink cartridges have been fitted but they both work fine. Which has advice and recommended brands here: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/printers-and-ink/article/best-cheap-printer-ink/best-cheap-ink-cartridges-aaOXG7F0Tgol#printer-ink-brands-rated I have been using Internet Ink for years after a friend recommended the company and I have not had to send any cartridges back. Friends are happy with other brands.

Although there is good evidence of firmware updates rendering third party cartridges useless and more recently this has been reported for certain laser printers I have not seen any claims that remote communication or updates being used to reduce the performance of printers.

Can you say which HP printer you have, please?

P M Smith says:
9 February 2022

Hello “wavechange”. Mine is an HP Photosmart 5520 Series All-In-One.

Thanks. It looks as if your printer uses 364XL cartridges, like my older HP all-in-one printer – black and three colours. It would be worth getting the printer to print a self-test page to make sure that this looks OK. This will test the individual colours and can show up some printer faults. Using the copy function will allow you to test the performance independently of the computer.

If you are seeing a problem with printing photos but coloured text is fine, I suggest trying different paper. I wonder if anyone else has suggestions.

I had an ancient HP 360 desktop that had come to me free over ten years ago, had a quick clean up and off it went and never missed a beat with compatible inks till early 2021, started to throw up that message and became very erratic, as i do repair work, did all the fixes and it would go ok till next time use when erratic behaviour returns, I agree with P M Smith that HP did more than keep things up to date…so ditched it bought a Brother Laser all in one on offer for 120 quid and now wonder why I didn’t go laser years ago, runs fine on comparable cartridges, no messing with inks, no wasteful cleaning cycles, takes a ream of paper, prints both sides, even has a draft setting thats barely worse quality but 70% more economical. I am not blowing a trumpet for any manufacturer but for all in one lasers, delivers plug in and play expectations. And thinking back over 20 years of repairing printers it was mostly ink jets blocked up or misaligned through operator frustration changing inks, paper etc. Lasers had bigger capacity of all consumables been for office use initially, so simply did not get “messed” with so often and when manufactures started producing affordable domestic models the large capacities were incorporated

If black & white printing is all you need, a laser printer is the best choice and always has been. There is a lot to be said for a home/office printer if you use it regularly. These should have large capacity paper tray(s) and a toner cartridge capable of printing a large number of copies.

Anthony Williams says:
3 June 2022

On the subject of manufacturers’ support in solving computer and printer compatibility problems: I have an iMac and a Canon Pixma which initially worked fine, but after an iMac upgrade to Monterey I could no longer print. Everything seemed OK, green lights etc, but once the printer had finished its revving-up routine, it stopped.

So I got in touch with the Canon “live chat” customer support service, and after a few minutes was connected to Stefanie K. Over a period of an hour or so, she patiently guided me through all of the options to identify a sequence of problems and solutions, resulting in a functional printer/scanner again. I was most impressed by this level of service, and am now a loyal Canon customer for life!

Major operating system upgrades often cause problems for users but these are often resolved following a minor software update. Monterey (the current version of macOS) was released about seven months ago and it’s a pity that you still had a problem, Anthony.

Both my printers (not Canon) continued to work fine when I updated to Monterey. Many years ago I had an Epson scanner that stopped working following a major OS upgrade but a new driver became available before I scrapped the scanner.