Tech innovation has done phenomenal things for computing. The typical home computer is a workhorse running refined software that gives it limitless capabilities. So if technology is bordering on futuristic sophistication, why does it feel like printers are still stuck in the stone age?
Despite all their fancy bells and whistles, printers remain infamous for jamming, freezing, and outputting results that leave plenty to be desired on the quality scale. Don’t even get me started on all those mysterious errors. “MIO NOT READY”. “MEM OVERFLOW”. “PC LOAD LETTER”. The sharpest of IT people are often left baffled when tasked with troubleshooting printer problems that seem to have no end. As soon as you clear one error code, up pops another.
I passionately believe that printers are the most unreliable machines on earth. This is an argument I’ll spew to anyone willing to listen. You guys with me? Cool. But let’s be fair about it by taking a look at some of the known factors commonly attributed to printers and their tendency to suck.
Cheap Products and Parts
The old saying “you get what you pay for” is a bit misleading when applied to printers. Now you obviously shouldn’t expect the world from the printer that came free with your desktop, nor the cheap inkjet unit you caught on sale for fifty bucks. Still, what you expect is a device that does one thing right. What you may get is a continuous headache no matter what you paid. I can tell you from personal experience that throwing more money at a more popular brand doesn’t automatically guarantee a reliable product.
Third Party Shortcomings
In order to perform efficiently, a device and all its components must be in sync. That goes for internal parts as well as accessories. With saving money in mind, we often purchase the cheapest toner, ink cartridges, and paper we can find. But while the cheap stuff may work with your printer, it may not necessarily deliver the performance you’d get with components made and recommended by the original manufacturer. In fact, HP suggests that quality and reliability are the reasons ink is marked up so high, claiming that its own products outlast refillable rivals by two to three times. You get what you pay for, right?
Let’s say you ponied up the cash for a high-end device that handles printing and a host of other office functions. To boot, you committed to only buying the paper products and accessories recommended by the manufacturer. Even when all the stars look to be aligned, there are seemingly unseen forces that can hinder printer operations. Maybe it’s dust that accumulates and settles in the machine over a period of time. Or maybe it’s Daniel in accounting who always forgets to remove the staples before running documents through the feeder. Then again, the machine just may be faulty to begin with.
Playing the Hand You’re Dealt
Technically, there could be dozens or hundreds of variables behind why a printer takes forever to warm up, constantly spits out error messages, and produces inconsistent results when it does decide to work. While printers have come a long way since the days of the daisy wheel, there is not a lot that can be done to fundamentally change how they operate. So does that mean we’re forever doomed to a lifetime of disappointment and frustration? Not necessarily. Not when you strive to optimize the printing process.
Choose the right printer: Does your printer really suck, or did you just pick the wrong one? Laser printers are fast and wired for high-volume jobs, but generally only support a few media types. Inkjet printers are versatile and support a wide range of media, but you lose speed and possibly quality. Choose the best device for your specific needs.
Use the right hardware: Printer performance is also influenced by a variety of factors, including the hardware it’s connected to. Simply making sure your desktops and servers have adequate processing power can make a big difference in how fast the device zips or drags through print jobs.
Take caution with third-party parts: Generic ink tanks and cartridges from third-party vendors can be a great value when you’re in a bind. They can also be problematic due to compatibility issues with chips, cartridge designs, and print heads. Additionally, you have to consider whether saving a few bucks is worth voiding your manufacturer warranty should you install unapproved components.
Fine-tune print jobs: The default settings are convenient, but not ideal for every print job. Reduce the number of daily do-overs by taking the time to adjust settings for things like paper type, size, and orientation according to each job.
Treat her right: You may call it names. You’ve probably envisioned a scenario where you escort it to a remote field and go all Office Space on the thing. Still, you should nurture your printer by keeping it cool, free of dust, and properly maintained in an environment where it sustains as few bumps as possible.
Give her some genuine TLC and maybe, just maybe, your printer will keep your tech support calls to a minimum and your sanity intact.