/ 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 still write letters, print photographs, print and file certain documents and collate them for use where I don’t take an electronic device, I keep committee agendas and minutes and annotate them in pencil, I print drawings for use in the workshop, I make birthday and Christmas cards, and for documents that have some importance I don’t rely on electronic storage …… So how can I do this sensibly without a printer? The convenience far outweighs the cost, let alone travelling to a library to do any printing or waiting for ordinary photos to come from an online source.

Of course someone can manage without a printer, but at what cost? I’d suggest it is not one or the other but both. And none of my Canon printers have ever failed to revive when out of use for a while. And if you have spent hundreds of pounds on a laptop why not greatly extend its usefulness by spending £49.99 on a printer?

I have a printer, which also scans and copies, and I use it to print out stuff that’s important to me like receipts and invoices, and sometimes service sheets and diagrams etc. for old electronic goods as I would rather have documents printed out, especially if they contain anything sensitive and private, rather than save them on my PC where there’s far too much security risk, as well as a risk of losing the documents for good if something goes seriously wrong. And it also provides a hard copy of a necessary document if I do a “click and collect” order at somewhere like screwfix or decathlon etc. And I also need it for printing out letters as not everyone has an email address, and even when they do it’s not always working so I need some kind of backup system.

Printing is still important for me and I have two multifunction wireless printers, one well over ten years old. I print agendas and minutes and annotate them to remind me of what to ask and say when the meeting comes round. I print route maps and add notes if necessary rather than just rely on the sat nav. I print posters and information for a couple of societies and since one of the printers is A3, I am sent files to print larger posters. Last week I was printing labels for sending parcels by post. It’s handy being able to do so much with a smartphone but having a printed backup can also be handy.

The newer printer has a much better scanner and will scan multiple pages to a single pdf, which is extremely useful. The sheet feeder makes it very useful as a photocopier.

I print much less than I used to but I would not be without my printers. I buy compatible ink and over the years have saved a fortune.

I have just been sent two documents by email. I am expected to print and sign two copies of each and return the signed copies. That’s 24 pages. I’m not sure how I would cope without a printer.

steve says:
23 December 2021

I recently did this for the solicitors, only printed the last page though, (the one that needed signing).

Thanks Steve. I have done the same with my own solicitor but here I’m dealing with a company that has sent the files by email and asked me to send the signed and witnessed documents to a different name and address. Sometimes it’s easier to do what is asked than to try and improve other people’s efficiency.

Me too. A printer is used at least once a week for something I’ve written or composed. Photographs and documents are physically filed for when I need them for quick reference without booting up the lap-top. Like Malcolm, I can also scribble on things and flip through them quickly. Zoom conferences and those with Teams make it useful to have minutes and agendas in hand, which I have previously read and annotated ready for the meeting.
I’ve had my ink tank for about a year now and half the black ink is used and about a quarter of the colours are gone. I am encouraged to print something out, whereas before, I would think of the cost and desist. This is both good and bad. Over the same period I have used about two and a quarter reams of paper and half a pack of glossy sheets.

If you have a document you want to keep long term then printing it out and filing it is a surer way of making sure you have something readable in 10-20 years than any digital copy. Same applies to images.

How to store information that is printed or stored as computer files is a huge challenge for archivists.

I still have old documents saved as pdf and images as tiff and jpg files. They are still usable after more than 20 years. Back in these days I had to pay for software to produce pdf files but now the computer produces pdf from anything that can be printed.

I’m getting fed-up with printed receipts that fade within a year or two. I might need these for insurance purposes. The problem is those printed on thermal paper rather than an inkjet or laser printer.

That’s an important point. A huge amount of documentary history will not be available to future historians and research will be hampered if evidence cannot be traced and accessed. Careful referencing will be necessary to identify and locate the authoritative version. Sometimes evidence of work in progress is useful but this is frustrated by continuous overwriting rather than creating a new version with a unique sequential number or date.

A friend visited the National Archives at Kew to photograph historic documents. It was not cheap but it was for a project funded by the National Lottery. Although paper documents stored under the correct conditions can survive for a very long time there is more of a problem with photographs, slides and film and the best solution is digitisation.

I deposit magazines with our central library, but if I wanted to see them I would have to pay a fee.

I do the same to be honest, once a month I’ll back up everything to my main hard drive and also keep a spare just in case if anything happens.

Though I am very guilty of keep lots of pictures on my phone for a very long time

Film will last for at least 100 years if correctly stored. There’s no guarantee any digital images will last that long or be readable if they do (see the BBC’s Doomsday project of the last century cleverly stored on laser discs!). A degraded hard copy can still be useable but a degraded digital file just won’t open.

Sometimes it is the hardware that is the problem. Was that what happened with the laser discs?

Our society had several reels of Standard 8 cine film. One of our members digitised them but the film went missing along with the DVDs that had been produced. Thankfully I had been given copies. There’s many ways that archives can be lost. As you say, correct storage is important!

The BBC Domesday project was a very worthy endeavour but the technology was just not up to it. The Philips laservision discs became obsolete and players rarer than hen’s teeth. Coupled with using very proprietary software and also being far too expensive for schools to buy it all ended up as a bit of a mess. There’s an excellent wikipedia article on the project and the attempts to resuscitate it. Acts as a warning about just how short lived some technical solutions can be.

Thanks Colin. I have some knowledge of the challenges of maintaining readable computer files but had not followed what happened with the Domesday project. As you say, it was a bit of a mess. I used to make daily use of DVD-RAM disks and Zip disks in their day and hopefully I recovered anything worth keeping.

I still have a USB Zip drive and about half a dozen disks for it (a whopping 100MB each, felt like I had more storage than I knew what to do with back in Amiga days).

Sorry this is drifting way off topic.

Are you game to visit The Lobby, our place for off-topic discussion? I have made a start: https://conversation.which.co.uk/discussion/off-topic-lobby-4/#comment-1642683

Me too, plus floppy disks, SCSI hard drives, all now obsolete. Don’t think we’ve reached the paperless society point yet.

This is relevant and all part of the overall question.

We do quite a lot of printing at home and would find it very inconvenient to have to go to the library and queue up behind everyone else. We have two wireless double-sided A4 printers having handed the A3 machine over to a local charity as we found we had less use for it nowadays.

I do less printing than when I was secretary of a local community organisation and frequently had to have spare copies of agendas, reports and minutes, etc, available for meetings and copies of official documents. I still get involved in consultations on local authority highway schemes and planning applications and earlier this year prepared a leaflet for a door-to-door consultation pack which went through several iterations before it was ready for production at a print shop.

I find it useful to print off many of the documents referenced in Which? Conversation, reports produced by the city or county council and by our local civic society, and publications emanating from national organisations. A large number of these run to many pages and it is much easier to read and understand them on paper than on a screen. I also generate quite a lot of documents for use at home in paper form, especially lists of one sort or another which can be easier to look at quickly than opening them up in the PC.

When we were looking to move home we were printing estate agents’ particulars to consider and take with us if we had a viewing. Property documents are also things I want to keep in physical form in case they get lost in the ether or the computer collapses at a critical point.

I print a copy of every purchase order I place on-line, first as a ready reference to what is still in the delivery pipeline and second as definitive evidence of the order details. When buying appliances there is usually a guarantee sent by e-mail which I print to keep with the purchase documents and the operating manual.

We have never printed greeting cards or photos but I notice this Christmas that more of our friends are doing so. Printing address labels, postage stamps and returns documents also seems to be a growing requirement.

Basic photocopying and scanning are also important uses. A quick look around my office shows that I must have about forty reams of printing paper in stock in various grades and shades so it must be an important activity.

Really, I can’t imagine life without easy access to a printer; it gets much more use than the toaster. Should we be ashamed of all this paper use? Interesting question!

I ran out of standard copier paper during the pandemic, so now I am using pastel blue for general printing. That has been sitting around for years since I stopped home-producing leaflets and started sending files to a commercial printer. Next it will be the turn of a ream of pastel yellow. I do have some better quality white paper for more formal purposes like the contracts I have received today to print, sign, have witnessed and return.

One day I might have a paperless office but I don’t know if I will live long enough to see it.

Duplex printers that automatically print on both sides of the paper can be rather temperamental. Maybe we should be looking at Mobius printers. These are clever devices that print on one side but make use of both sides of the paper.

Ours must be Mobius printers. Each sheet of paper passes through twice when in double-sided mode and the image is turned to ensure correct pagination. They will flip either on the long edge or the short edge. There is a pause after the first image on each sheet to allow the ink to dry before it repasses and the pause appears to be longer if multi-coloured images are reproduced. It allows for double-sided photocopying as well but, of course, the user has to manually position the next image on the glass. This type of printer certainly is a clever device and relies on accurate registration of the paper as a mechanical process as well as on the electronic organisation of the images.

On my old Canon mp600 printers, just as an experiment I could put a printed sheet through a second time to repeat the same print and it would be in as perfect a registration as you could wish. My current cheap MG5750 is almost as good.

My printers have been excellent too. The secret is to set the paper guides carefully.

A Mobius printer could work but paper storage would be a problem.

Adrian says:
20 December 2021

I used InkJet printers for many years but when my last one gave up I purchased a Laser printer which produces better quality text than my expensive Inkjet used to and does not suffer from blockages or ink running out. I mainly use it to print recipes for my wife who loves to cook. Sometimes the recipes are from the internet and sometimes scanned from a cook book, but either way an A4 printout is far better on the kitchen worktop than a book or iPad. A couple of neighbours also sometimes ask for a print which I am happy to do as the cost per page is tiny.

Is that b/w or colour, Adrian?

b/w printers tend to have very good reliability and low running costs, and the only drawback is that they are, well, black & white. I had a colour laser printer at work but a set of large capacity toner cartridges cost £450 and stopped working after a fixed number of pages, not when they ran out. In fact the set cost more than the printer, which had come with smaller toner cartridges. Maybe colour laser printers are better value nowadays.

I gave up with inkjets about 15 years ago because of constant blockages. Switched to a mono Samsung laser and was very happy with it till eventually the paper feed started playing up. Then got a Samsung colour laser which is good for B&W text but not particularly good for colour and quite poor for photos. As Wavechange says the cost of replacement toner is quite high – a set of compatible colour toners is around £140 and official Samsung ones would be probably twice that. I’ve stuck with the compatibles even though they are probably not as good as the Samsung ones but I don’t think I can justify the cost. And there’s always the worry that if the printer itself fails there’s a lot of investment sitting inside it that can’t be used. Luckily I don’t need them too often – most of my printing is B&W text for admin in a couple of local groups where we have a number of members who don’t have email and so have to have all their correspondence in printed form.
One thing I miss with the lasers is the ability to print decent photos so might think about one of the ink-tank inkjets next time. In the past my artist daughter had fun with our old inkjet printing onto whatever she could think of, eg. brown parcel paper, cellophane, home made paper etc. – got some quite good effects. Don’t think I’d risk it in the laser though.

I have memories of Epson and HP printer cartridges blocking, Colin. Fortunately that was at work and I did not have to pay for the expensive ink wasted in cleaning the heads. I had a b/w laser printer at home for years until I discovered that blockage was not a problem with the more recent inkjet printers. I’m not sure if either of my current HPs has blocked and I only use third party ink. The ink tank printers do look interesting.

Maybe a b/w laser printer is ideal if you do b/w photography.

Whenever we travel I always print all the documentation. So many times I’ve been stuck behind someone desperately trying to find their documents on their phone. Pleased to see that in Spain they usually send these persons to the back of the queue.

I presume that many of those who don’t have a printer have access to one at work. I had my own printer but used a copier at work.

That’s a broad presumption, Wavechange: only the minority of the working population that work in an office or in the the non-manual grades of the public services would have ready access to a printer or photocopier for personal use.

Perhaps ‘many’ is an overstatement, John, but secretaries can be very helpful.

I think you are still only referring to employees in the professional, executive and administrative occupations who have the privilege of being able to have prints and copies made at work. A high percentage of such personnel would probably have home facilities so would not need to use the office stationery and resources. I might be mistaken after a long period of retirement but I would have thought most employers would disapprove of such use unless it was for a work-related purpose.

I believe that many businesses have a relaxed approach and I’ve known ones that have been more than happy to do free copying for a charity that I’m involved with. Incidentally I had a personal copier card at work and paid for my copying.

Only the privileged would have personal secretaries, and they should be able to afford a printer, surely? I think using them (the secretary) to do personal tasks might be frowned upon these days. It might be remembered that copying and printing on a commercial machine might well leave a record, so be careful what documents you reproduce.
Given the low cost of home printers I see them as a sensible accessory to any home computer. Once you have one you will find jobs for it that you had not imagined.

If you work in a garage or a shop, there is likely to be a copier and printer that could be used for the odd page. You might have to ask the secretary or manager for permission.

I bought my first printer around 1983 – a dot matrix printer for my BBC Micro. It would not copy but it would print multiple copies.

John – This article supports my presumption: “Business Computing World revealed that due to a fall in consumers owning home printers, 77 percent of Britons now “regularly” print personal documents at their workplace – averaging at thirteen pages per person, per month.” https://www.therecycler.com/posts/bringing-home-to-the-workplace/

77% of Britons???? That would be 51 million people. In fact, they estimated the figure from a survey and extrapolated the figures to just the 12 million plus people who work in offices. What about those in education, manufacturing, health services for example?

Many may well both own home printers and also copy at work.

It’s interesting what turns up in a search, Malcolm. 🙂 I don’t see any problem with employees printing the odd page but there is the opportunity for employers to make formal arrangements for charging if they wish.

I suppose every bus and dustcart has an on-board printer and gardeners have one in their bothy! I know the boiler service technician has one on the van because I was asked to supply some paper for my last print-out, but the chap who fitted some venetian blinds and the carpet fitters didn’t have such a device in their toolkit. I think Business Computing World needs to widen its horizons for a survey like that and understand that only a minority of employees work in offices. The media [and Which? at times] overlook this fact.

I expect that the bus and dustcart operators will take their vehicles back to the depot, where they might be able to print the odd sheet if they don’t have a printer at home. Service technicians may have to go back to base if they are not self-employed. Maybe the gardener has a partner who works in an office. Perhaps it is a topic worthy of research during the next visit to a pub. 🍻

The original topic was whether we print documents or store them electronically. I have seen little support for abandoning printed stuff and, like cash, expect home printing to be around for a long time.

Do we prefer electronic documents to the real thing? The death of real books was predicted years ago when e-books and readers sprang onto the scene. However, despite their (generally) lower cost they still only seem to occupy around 20% of the market.

I thought it would be interesting to mention that not everyone needs a home printer if they can print elsewhere and have modest requirements. Printers suitable for home use were very expensive when they were first available but you can buy a compact one for less than £50 these days. It would be interesting to know why people do not have printers when many of us find them so useful.

Excuse me while I find out how to buy and and print postage. eBay sellers do this daily but it’s a new experience for me.

Yes, once we realised that this topic had limited scope to develop and was running out of steam it was an interesting diversion to explore people’s personal printing arrangements. Unbelievable though it might seem to some of us, most people probably have no home printing requirements whatsoever as they don’t live their lives amid a plethora of documents. They are free of these burdens that cause so much peripheral anxiety about ink, connectivity, paper stocks, firmware upgrades, back-up facilities, speed and capacity. They are able to enjoy life to the full untroubled by such consumerist concerns. So this exchange has been mildly therapeutic.

Printer possession also brings people together, however. We have friends who occasionally want something photocopied or they have drafted a letter they wish to send to some official body and want a hard copy; they can e-mail it to me and I format it for them and print it for dispatch. I either take the results round to their home or they come to collect them. It keeps people in touch.

3d printers were once hailed by some for home use. That all seems to have gone quiet. Has anyone experience of using them?

Forgive me for interrupting, but secretaries are now known as PA’s. You are more likely to find Secretaries in Westminster.

I don’t print a great deal, but receipts for my business expenses is something I like to have and keep in a folder. I try to save most documents onto my phone and put into the wallet, labels for return parcels, gift vouchers, and general printing for my daughter’s work – school teacher. Not having a printer is a non starter.

I have a Canon G4511 inkjet printer. It’s fast and very cheap to run. printing 100 pages is not a problem whereas it certainly is with most home inkjet printers. The ink is very very cheap. Snags are that it will only print on one side and you can only do small photo prints. size is larger than most home printers. Not expensive. You can get one for £199.99 at Curry’s. For some reason Which doesn’t review it. I can’t understand why.

Nick Metcalfe

Which? does review ten other Canon multifunction ink-tank printers. How they choose which models of products to review is a bit of a mystery.

It’s interesting that HP offers few ink tank printers (judging by the Which? reviews), preferring that we subscribe to its Instant Ink service.

Mostly I use mine for printing postage labels. I sell a lot of stuff online and the ability to pay postage online and print the label myself, then drop it straight in the postbox is fantastic.
I also print photos and things for around the house or hobbies, including decals.

Some of us need a printer/copier because we can’t use the ones in the libraries any more because of the absolutely insane total liberation of excruciating and absolutely insane NOISE in such places which has absolutely RUINED them and made them all totally INaccessible. Some of them like the new one in rochdale for instance even have a cafe in the same room as the books without ANY segregation, what utter INSANITY! It’s just like the stupid new trains, all these things are being designed by total easy-lifers who are all so totally born free and so totally unaffected and they just casually and flippantly, and WRONGLY assume that everyone else is the same, so it’s about time they all got back in touch with reality!

john russ says:
23 December 2021

I find your questioning of whether home printers are still needed as a bit of click bate, of course they are still needed they are an excellent tool to have

Rose King says:
23 December 2021

Have 2 printers, an Epson A3 for photographic prints and an Epson Ecotank for everyday printing, photocopying and scanning. The Ecotank prints double sided, is high quality, cheap to run and wouldn’t be without it. We had certificates of negative Covid tests to print, received at 10:00pm the night before taking off – USA stipulates a test done within one calendar day of flying, pleased we had our own equipment. Also print stamps.

I hope epson have managed to fix their age old problem of ink cartridges leaking like a sieve all over the mechanism and seriously gumming it up, that’s what happened to an epson printer that I once had, and it was ruined. And apparently it was so bad with epsons that when there was a local printer shop near where I live they wouldn’t sell anything to do with that brand because of the leakage problems.

Mum died late last year and it was amazing how many people needed copies of documents. On top of that I do lots of printing for the rest of my family and they contribute towards the consumables 👍

David Williams says:
23 December 2021

As 70% of my work is reproducing greeting cards for clients I require a top notch crushed toner (CMYK) SRA3 printer. The model I use is economical, the toners, image drums etc last me about 9 months. The print quality is excellent and I am able to print on 350 gsm stock. I work from home.

Mr Richard Timothy Beilby says:
24 December 2021

I use a printer to print text from e-mails. They’re easier to read. I also use a printer to print high quality photographs. I have two printers. I also use the inkjet printer as a backup for the lazer printer and to print small text pages.