Ink-Jet Nirvana

Six months ago I thought I had found it: Ink-Jet Nirvana. A land of never-ending rainbows of inexpensive colour.

Ink-Jet printers have revolutionized colour printing. It didn’t take long for printer manufactures to develop a winning business model: they nearly give away the printer, but the ink cartridges cost you an arm, a leg, and three of your offspring (and I mean the good offspring – not the ones that are going to wind up in prison).

Now, I am ok with this subsidized model except for the fact that they give you an infinitesimally small amount of ink. I guess the ink must be made of rare-earth minerals, which is why it is rationed with an eye-dropper. Not to mention that can anywhere between two and seven cartridges will all seem to need replacing at the most inconvenient time. And as soon as you replace one, there is another flashing light.

Hoarding didn’t work…
And don’t try to buy cartridges “on special!” and store them. I had an unused HP ink cartridge that when inserted told me it had expired: “The old ink might damage the print head, please insert a NEW cartridge”. Bloody hell, guys, it’s one thing to charge me a small fortune for the cartridge, but limiting the life of the cartridge using the lame-o excuse that it might damage the print head is highway robbery. If you’ll remember – the printer cost me next to nothing; why I am worried about damaging the print heads? I’ll just get another one – after all, they’re almost given away!

Clone cartridges didn’t work…
Next, I tried using clone cartridges from China. These typically include a box-cutter blade so you can cut the IC chip off the genuine ink cartridge and stick it on the clone with the enclosed double sided tape. This never seemed to work reliably. My HP wide-format printer always seemed to know when I was trying to fool it.

Bulk Tanks didn’t work…
I have also tried several aftermarket, bolt-on ink tank solutions – all with disastrous consequences. Not only have I destroyed two printers in attempting to install these tank systems (that’s ok they didn’t cost me much) but if you get a leak…it’s a tech problem that just “keeps on giving.” The bottom of the printer fills up with ink, the print head moves and sloshes the ink everywhere, and in your haste, you try to move the printer and ink overflows everywhere. I still have ink stains on my desk, walls, floors, and rubbish bins. Unmitigated Disaster.

Hello, Epson L100!
The folks over at Epson have created a printer that includes bulk ink containers on the side. There are trying to tap the price sensitivities of the local market. “Hassle Free and Ultra Low Running Cost with Super High Ink Capacity” is what the box says.

The printer itself costs about US$180. It is a narrow format A4, and its print speed is 27 pages/minute. There are four ink tanks: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (black is a double sized tank).

Now this is a pretty simple printer: no LED, no display, no fancy micro chip readers to make sure we’re using genuine Epson ink. But before you go and get all excited (like I did)…there is a catch.

The Catch
The printer driver (the software on the PC) requires you to enter the 13 digit serial number on the bottle of ink. So they still want you to buy ink. I can live with that, but it’s a pain in the arse to enter them all, and we had to find some workarounds for our ubuntu workstations. To Refill we just swap the printer out (see below)

So what is the bottom line?

The ink is about $6 bottle for 70ml. I can live with that. It works out to be a cent for grayscale printing and two cents per colour page.

We have about 10 of these now through out the office.

There is no ethernet port on the L100, just USB, so we use ethernet to USB servers, which work well. If there is a hint of a problem with a printer, a serious paper jam or the ink needs recharging, we just swap the printer with a spare and the techs fix it or recharge the ink later. The advantage with the ethernet/USB is that you are not changing the IP address of the device when you swap out printers.

There is even a tap on the printer which is used to turn the ink off so you can move it without the risk of ink leakage.

As foolproof as the Epson L100 is, I still managed to brand myself. (Maybe this is a sign that I should go colour laser.)

In a business like ours that is growing fast and doubling our staff numbers every 3 to 6 months, we obviously encourage our staff to work paperless. Sometimes, though, it just isn’t an option. When printing is a must, we need to do it as cost effectively as possible, making the Epson L100 is pretty good option.

So there you have it, this is not an article about how to rip off your Ink Jet company but more about they ways some organisation configure their product to sell into emerging markets.

1 thought on “Ink-Jet Nirvana”

  1. That’s what’s missing in the US that the Aussies still have in spades – getting their hands inky and finding a workaround the old-fashioned way, with trial and error! not some clueless tech support or eHow article.

    Before you go the Chinese route again, please remember our motto over here – “Good enough’ll do.”

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