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Don’t sell yourself short

When it comes to ink-jet printing, you get what you pay for.

What is it about ink cartridges for printers that make people crazy? When Epson started putting chips in their cartridges so computers could display ink supply status, many computer users began acting as if it were an “X Files”-level conspiracy.

Here’s the deal: Some ink-jet users are convinced that printer companies are gouging them with high-priced cartridges and believe it’s their God-given right to use the cheapest ink they can. It’s the old “I’ll sell you the razor but the blades are gonna cost you” philosophy, and I’m sure there is some truth to it. Vyomesh Joshi, Hewlett-Packard’s president of Imaging and Printing Systems, was asked during the Photo Marketing Association’s 2002 trade show what percentage of the printer division’s revenue’s came from ink and media, and you ain’t seen such tap dancing since Fred and Ginger were in their prime.

You wanna use cheap ink? Go ahead; it’s your printer. There are all kinds of generic inks out there theoretically designed to replicate OEM inks, and if you don’t mind getting messy, you can get yourself a hypodermic needle and refill them yourself. But here’s what I know: A few of my friends and several of my readers have purchased so-called replacement inks and used them in both consumer and professional Epson ink-jet printers. Within a short time, all of them all had to send their printers back to the manufacture for repair and those costs far exceeded any savings they might have realized.

The question you should ask yourself is: Do I really care what the output looks like? If you are more concerned about output quality than saving a few bucks, read on. Otherwise you’ve already have made up your mind. Your output, whether printing a client presentation or making a 4-by-6 print of your kids to send to their grandparents, is important. You want ink and media that will produce the kind of quality the printer was designed for and you want it to last. Your best bet for achieving that goal is OEM inks.

What ever happened to being a smart shopper and looking for bargains in brand-name inks? Like the truth, they’re out there. Recently, Microcenter’s local store had a two-for-one sale on Epson ink cartridges. I e-mailed all of my friends, urging them to get down there and stock up. Thrifty shoppers tell me Costco usually has low prices on ink and media. Online, Web sites such as inkjetart have some of the best prices anywhere on ink and paper.

I advise digital imagers who want to work with special archival and gray ink sets to do it with another printer not the bread-and-butter model used for everyday work. If you just can’t resist tinkering, go on eBay or look at the sales shelves of computer superstores to find discontinued models. Or if you want, experiment to your heart’s content with cheap, recycled, or homebrew ink you want. If it works, you can tell me I was wrong. If it doesn’t, at last you can still get to the real work and fun of ink-jet printing.

Joe Farace is a writer/photographer and contributing editor to ComputerUser and is the author of RotoVision’s “Printing the Image.”

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