Tech Talk: Ink monitor

This Brother laser printer can be had for around �50

This Brother laser printer can be had for around �50

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ONE of the questions I’m most often asked (if you don’t count, “What do you think you’re playing at?”) is which colour printers are the best choices for value and quality. I’ve always recommended Canon for good results, but when it comes to bang for your buck I’m fast coming to the conclusion that none of them are worth the money.

It’s the not printers themselves that are the problem; the makers practically give those away. It’s the cost of filling them with ink – £30 is now typical for a pair of colour and black cartridges, and they’re sometimes gone in weeks.

At the bottom end of the market, some of the cartridges now cost more than the printers they fit into. That’s because the manufacturers have reduced their margins on the hardware in order to hook you in to the refills – often adding security chips to stop you using cheaper ink made by third-parties. As a consequence, it just doesn’t make economic sense to run even the most basic colour printer.

Which begs the question: Do you really need one anyway?

Desktop printers are a hangover from an earlier age of computing, when we printed all our stuff because we didn’t know what else to do with it. Today, you can send photos to everyone you know instantly and at no cost via email and online services like Facebook, Flickr and Picasa. You can copy them on to a memory stick and display them in a digital photo frame, or on your phone. You can even email them off to be printed and bound in a beautiful book .

As for letters and other documents, email has done away with the need for printing, nine times out of 10.

But if that – and the happy prospect of helping preserve the environment – doesn’t convince you, here’s an alternative to colour inkjets and their extortionate refills. If you can do without colour, a basic laser printer can be had for around £50 and comes with a toner cartridge that will last for months. When it finally runs out, you can tip a bottle of toner powder into it for an outlay of just a few pounds.

Laser printers are not only cheaper to run; they print better and faster than inkjets, with the sort of clean, crisp text you’re used to from the office printer. Keep a look out for bargains, too, as they’re often sold for half price.

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