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May 12, 2008

Printing Digital Images

Inkjet Printers Must Die

I despise photographic printers for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it's practically impossible to keep an inkjet printer operating successfully in your home. I mean, sure, in theory, you think it's no big deal. I'll just walk into a Best Buy or a Circuit City and I'll buy one and put it on my credit card and take it home and set it up and voila!

Well, that's true. You can do that. I've done that, more than once. I'm no smarter than the next guy. I fell for that trap also. But then, you have to take care of it. Inkjet printers are more like pets than home electronics

You have to print a page out of that printer every single day you're alive or your jets will get clogged and then you're screwed, screwed, screwed.

Ink Jet Pets

You have to feed the printer wildly expensive glossy paper and priceless ink and if the printer is worth more than a plugged nickel, then it has six different color ink cartridges like mine and it's always running out of ink. That's how you know it's alive is that it's screaming for ink day and night and eating expensive paper and you have to buy the ink from the printer manufacturer or the color on your photos won't look right and each ink cartridge costs $20 and holds about a thimble full of ink - just enough ink to allow you time to replace it and go on to replace all of the cartridges before it runs out again. And so it goes.

The printers deliberately waste ink all the time. The theory is that the printer has to waste ink to keep the jets from getting clogged and so every day, you're printing out pages that don't need to be printed to keep the nozzles from getting clogged. And every time the printer receives any commands at all from the computer, he starts wasting ink, blowing ink through the nozzles in anticipation that you might actually tell him to print something.

And then, before too long, the printer tells the computer to tell you that it's out of ink. My printer is a bi-directional printer, which means that not only does the computer tell the printer what to print, but the printer talks back to the computer and whines when one of the 47 ink tanks runs low.

Once the printer says he's out of ink, the computer commands you to replace the ink and refuses to print until you do so. Everything stops. So you go to replace the ink.

Printer ink is not cheap. This guy calculates that, in some cases, the ink costs $90/fl oz. That would put the price of inkjet printer ink at $483,840 a barrel.*

And you know good-and-damned-well that the cartridge isn't out of $90/fl oz ink because, at least on my printer, the cartridges are clear. You can see that they're still half full of ink. But it makes no difference. You can't argue with HAL. The computer commands you to replace it so you do it. And no sooner do you replace the Cyan cartridge then the computer tells you the Magenta cartridge is empty. And so it goes.

Of course, you always figured that the computer and the printer were lying to you, but Epson finally commissioned a study to prove it. They measured the amount of ink left in the cartridge when the printer indicated it had to be replaced and found that over half of inkjet printer ink is thrown away.

So the printer was lying all along. The printer told the computer to tell you that the ink cartridge was empty, when it wasn't. Together, the printer and the computer convinced you to throw away your ink old cartridge and put in a new one when the old one was still half-full of ink.

The printer conspires with the computer to trick you into wasting ink. God as my witness, I am not making this up. Think about that. Two machines conspiring to deceive the human "master" makes for a impressive start on the road to passing the Turing test.

After this goes on for some time, eventually the waste ink reservoir fills up and the printer shuts down and refuses to proceed. Or you take a vacation and don't print a page out of that printer for a few days, the jets get clogged and your "nozzle check" looks like h3ll and once the jets get clogged and you're royally screwed and disassembling the printer and soaking the jets in Isopropyl alcohol and blowing them out with 100 psi of compressed air won't change that. Trust me. I know. I've played this game. I've had lots of printers. Right now, I have a Canon S9000 and I'm already on my 2nd print head and when I try to print anything it looks like Jennifer drew it with crayons with her eyes closed. That printer is absolutely worthless and just knowing that it's sitting there makes me so mad I want to start killing strangers.

Maybe I'm Not Ready for an Inkjet Pet

Well, there are all sorts of options for outsourcing the printing out your images. Everyone from Walmart to CostCo to Snapfish will print them for you. No problem. But which one? Which service should I use?

I've seen images come out of Walmart that looked like...well...that they were printed at Walmart.

This website recommends using Snapfish. I have no clue. No clue.

Choosing a Print Size

As if this weren't enough, now you have to decide what size you will print. And, don't forget, the standard size prints and the standard size frames are all different aspect ratios. I mean, seriously. What idiot came up with this?

My camera shoots a 3:2 aspect ratio. The only reason for this is that a 35mm camera has a 3:2 aspect ratio and this was because the film camera was originally designed to shoot a single frame of 35mm movie film, but I digress.

In theory, a 3:2 aspect ratio file would print nicely on a 4x6 print. Now, I don't believe for a second that a 4x6 print is 4" by 6" any more than a 2x4 piece of lumber is 2" by 4". Those are just convenient round numbers that help identify a particular standard size of print (or lumber). But I seriously doubt that the measurements are exact in either case. But we'll leave that for now.

Unfortunately, when you go to a 5x7 or 8x10, your image gets cropped. Why, well it's all explained here in tedious detail with nice little graphics. Their recommended solution is to leave plenty of space around your subject., so presumably, your RAW digital image in Adobe Photoshop CS3 will be like a bad "where's waldo" game trying to find the subject. Brilliant. Excellent solution.

So, what? I join Snapfish and send them some files and see what I get? I guess that's the plan, is it? OK. Fair enough. Then that's what I'll do.

To Be Continued...

* A barrel of oil is 42 US gallons. 1 US gallon is 128 US fluid ounces. Therefore, if the printer ink costs $90/fl oz, then 90 * 128 * 42 = $483,840 a barrel. I say we send troops to Silicon Valley.

Update: Mitch suggested I consider a Continuous Ink System.

Posted by Rob Kiser on May 12, 2008 at 8:50 PM


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