The Subtle Art of Printers

Choosing a printer for your fine art needs…

The Subtle Art of Printers Title Image
Understanding Printers...

Printers are an essential part of any home or office, but with so many different models on the market, it can be tough to know which one is right for you. This time in my blog, we'll discuss the multitude of things that you need to consider when choosing a printer, as well as provide some practical tips for printing, selecting a printer, setting it up and maintaining it. Oh, and we also come to the conclusion that mostly, all printers suck.

Printers Revisited…

It’s time we revisited printers, firstly, because we haven’t looked at them in a while, and secondly, because printers really do suck. Whether you are a binge printer or recreational printer, these bottomless money pits should come with a warning label that they do nothing to assist your positive mental wellbeing. Yesterday, a 3 minute print job took almost 3-hours out of my already chaotic day.

From ink stains on the carpet to random settings, sticky touch screens and endless reams of paper strewn across the floor, those are just a few of the problems that printers bring into a household and none of this is because your kids decided to print something, it’s generally what happens after the self-update process has done its thing. Printers cannot be trusted, they constantly need adult supervision.  

Family use aside, if you are a professional artist who regularly uses a printer to produce commercial quality prints, there are things you really need to know before committing to any particular model or brand, but more than that, you need to be able to resolve any issues that will pop up frequently, because from experience I can categorically say that printers are designed to make your life as difficult as possible and I genuinely think that’s the bar that printer manufacturers aspire to meet.

Forget the implementation of artificial intelligence, it would be fantastic to find a printer with any level of intelligence. Over the years I’ve not had a great experience with more than a few of them as you can probably tell.

Will work for ink artwork featuring a printer
Will Work for Ink by Mark Taylor

There are no ‘good’ printers these days…

I’ve been using a printer at home since the early 1980s, my first printer used a roll of thermal paper and when they discontinued the printer that I had been so impressed with on my shiny new-fangled 8-bit home computer, I bought up the entire local stock of thermal rolls. I still have two unopened in a shrink-wrapped box in the attic but the printer has sadly long gone. I did see one pop up on eBay last week and had to show restraint because I know I have a problem with collecting old stuff.

For less than fifty bucks and with no need to ever buy ink, that little thermal printer was the best computer-y thing I ever owned. The print quality was awful, it was really slow, it made about the same level of noise that a jet engine would make on take off, and it only printed across the four inches of the thermal roll and yet, it was still the greatest printer I have ever had the joy of using because mostly, it just worked and I have never to this day found another one that worked quite so well.

It only had two settings, either on or off and they operated by taking out the mains plug or inserting it. There were no complicated buttons, just one about the size of a finger nail used to feed the new roll of paper and it all plugged directly into a port at the back of the computer via a ribbon cable.

The connection was precarious, it would disconnect if you wobbled the table but nothing more than a blob of Blue Tack was required to stabilise it. Sure it had it’s nuances, but if you gave me a printer today and told me that all I would need to do to make it work how I want it to work, would be to add a blob of the sticky blue office supply, well I think I would bite your hand off.

I own a printer farm…

Today, I use multiple printers, dye-sublimation, laser, I even own a dot matrix because it’s the cheapest way of printing out that casual everyday stuff that doesn’t need a high DPI count or even colour, and I couldn’t even begin to tell you how much I spend on consumables each year, but let’s say it’s roughly about the GDP of a country according to my bank balance.

I still use a thermal printer today, it’s nowhere near as as good as the one I owned back in the 1980s, even if I do look back through rose tinted glasses but it is fantastic at printing address labels and receipts. I can print out exactly 200 receipts from one cheap roll of thermal paper after working out the math that gave me the optimum font size to page yield. It’s 11 point if you’re wondering. The downside, they haven’t figured out networking for that either, it uses Bluetooth so that’s just fun, please read fun, with the sarcasm it deserves.

Each of the printers I use today has to meet the standard of having the ability to produce commercial quality archival prints or serve another purpose that means that I’m not over paying for anything I print out. The printers range from shelf friendly, entry level,  all the way up to it didn’t look quite as big in the pictures. But here’s the thing, they all suck, and some more than others.

I probably need to explain why that is, it’s certainly not the quality of the prints they produce, even the dot matrix produces pin sharp high contrast text that looks like it could have come off a laser printer. The cheap inkjet I use to print off those e-tickets or to send a good old fashioned complaint letter to the council, who never read emails, even that is a quantum leap forward from a high-end printer I owned about a decade ago. I’m regularly impressed at the range of materials I can throw at them, except the dot matrix which is a bit fussy, but they all suck for one reason alone, they’re junky money pits that only work when they feel like it and you can find them.

Connect them to Wi-Fi and it’s a game of where’s Waldo when attempting to find them on the network but the print quality, I have no complaints in that department. The issue is that to get them to print anything from anything that’s not physically and directly connected, is quite frankly, painful at times. No printer found, no printer found, oh, there it is.

There’s something else too, they insist on telling me that they’re out of ink when there’s still half a tank remaining, so I pretend to change the ink cartridges by taking them out and putting them back in, and the faded lines are once again complete and the tanks continue to work for about the same number of prints that the first half of the tank yielded.

I only knew for certain to do this when I had to install a clear plastic third party ink tank when global supplies of original ink cartridges were delayed during the pandemic. The original tanks are never clear so you have no way of knowing how much ink is left because you rely on an on screen infographic that always lets you know that you are about to run out of Cyan.

Just to be clear, using the third party ink was eye opening in that it told me something that I had been convinced was happening for many years yet could never prove, which was that the ink remaining indicator on that tiny screen, lies. In fact it lies so much I wouldn’t be surprised if it was hiding classified documents in the print queue and demanding a mistrial when I complain.

I was surprised, as I often am when things look like a bargain and work, at just how good the yield was from the third-party ink cartridges and the text was nice and crisp. These were certainly better than the alternative brand ones I had used before, they were recognised by the printer and the colours were actually brighter than the originals, although I hadn’t opted for the cheapest they were still 60% less expensive than original tanks.

My choice to use an alternative was a one off in a supply crisis. I have to guarantee the print quality of my work so I tend to stick to original inks, and this really makes sense when you are using high-end premium papers, but the results from the replacements were really good and would be more than good enough if I were just printing text or using the printer for regular things.

I wouldn’t necessarily trust third-party inks inside my wide format printers when longevity of the print along with vibrancy and resolution is imperative, and especially when the cost of a wide format printer means that it’s not easy to just replace. There’s also little point in using a wide format printer for general documents, that would be throwing away money needlessly and they’re much slower at printing in any case.

Japanese landscape art, mountains, lake, pagoda,
Sakura Serenity by Mark Taylor

For day to day stuff like printing out any emails that you need to keep a paper copy of, I just use a budget printer that costs about the same as the inks that go inside it. It makes more sense to go with third-party ink for this kind of thing because if the printer does fail, it’s still cheaper overall even when it fails.

Fail it will eventually. Sadly, there is no such thing as a cheap printer that will last and arguably, there’s no such thing as an expensive printer that lasts either, but this really does drill home the message that cheap printers are disposable, and that together with the cost of inks, I think this is their greatest problem.

Now I’m sure someone will point out the pitfalls of using a third-party ink and I think I’m well aware of the arguments.  They can potentially damage the printer, reduce its overall life, put extra strain on the print head, consume more ink, produce washed out prints, you could print out an entire list of negatives with 3rd party ink depending on who you speak to.

In my experience sticking to original ink is something to consider if you use an expensive printer especially if it’s still under warranty, but a sub-hundred buck printer used for printing letters, labels, and emails, it’s never made any difference even when I compare the results with my more expensive printers. Some of these alternatives do promise similar levels of longevity of prints to those offered by the original manufacturer, but can you trust them with commercial work, I’m still on the fence about that.

You can buy premium third-party inks that are genuinely better than the original versions, usually these are for specialist use and in some cases these can cost more than the originals. These might be better than the original inks for certain jobs but it’s always best to carry out some research, I do use some of these for some of my special edition works, and I have a printer that is solely used for printing with food grade edible ink, and everything used for producing food grade prints is kept separate to my other kit.

The Real Reason Printers Suck…

I did say that there was one reason that printers were junky money pits but that’s unfair. There are plenty of reasons that contribute to their reputation for being generally bad. Printer manufacturers spend a lot of money on research and development, but clearly nowhere near enough when it comes to making sure their printers connect to a Wi-Fi network.

Printers almost always have a limited life, and support for the drivers needed for the computer to operate the printer generally goes away when new printer models arrive, and when the drivers are produced they’re rarely updated.

Most modern printers include a touch screen but it’s not clear from the picture on the box how small your fingers need to be to actually touch it, let alone how great your eyes need to be to view the user interface that won an interface of the year award in 1986. But hey, it’s smart enough to also allow me to print out colouring pages but for some reason it still needs a cyan tank installed even though it’s only printing in black. What is it with cyan ink.

For those who really know the ultimate test for any electrical device is whether or not it runs Doom. I can confirm that in some cases you can run Doom on a printer screen but it’s not as good as Doom running on say, a banana because a banana has better controls.

When it comes to customer support, well, they all mostly fail in this area too. In all my years of printing I have come across one manufacturer who has excelled in providing a really bad customer experience, but I have found plenty of others who have come really close. I used to spend a lot of money with this manufacturer, buying consumables, even some of the other technologies they sold, you could say I was even a fan, but the phrase, ‘ I used to’ might give you an idea where I’m heading with this.

When I had the misfortune to think that customer service meant that there was at least some level of support on the end of the phone, I was corrected by a really cheerful support desk operator who explained very abruptly and rather dismissively that the £1000 (UK) printer I purchased 12-months and one day ago was no longer in warranty and my best course of action would be to buy a new one. No serviceable parts, or certainly none we’re telling you about, but here’s a link to our new product range. At least the operator was a human and not a bot telling me the bad news I guess. You would expect service desk support to get better as you level up and pay more, but that’s not my experience.

On balance, my experience with some other manufacturers has been like chalk and cheese, a 3-year old out of warranty printer from another manufacturer was replaced with a refurbished model for the cost of postage which was so much better than simply throwing the old one away, and they even provided me with a new set of test inks.

Of course your individual milage with any printer manufacturer will vary, some people might have better luck than I did with the company who epically wronged me, but I won’t be going back to them anytime soon which is a shame because the print quality was really good. Apparently, Cannon say they can, experience tells me they can’t.

There’s a lot we take for granted…

At the lower end of the printer market, we can forgive some of these issues with modern-day printers. Mostly, the manufacturers are selling the devices as loss leaders making any profit in the future from the continuous sale of original inks.

If you think about the complexity of something that is asked to faithfully print out a photograph by firing lots of dots of ink at the paper in the right place and with the right colour, and to make sure that device works across a range of devices that might all be configured differently, it shouldn’t be possible for any device to be able to do this at under fifty bucks, yet visit any number of box stores and there will be rows upon rows of sub fifty and sub one hundred buck printers, all capable of creating photographs and printing out school projects or even fulfilling the printing needs of a small business and they all mostly work across almost every computer or mobile format.

At the higher end of the printer eco-system, we begin to see the real bells and whistles that originated through all of that R&D the manufacturers tell us is so expensive for them to do. Better screens, more features, more responsive to accepting different paper types, more expensive ink tanks is usually a commonly shared downside, but no matter how much you pay, printer manufacturers still need to figure out networking if you have anything more than a laptop connected to your router.

The higher end printers do cost more but generally they will produce much better results. Most will almost always yield more pages per refill, and most of them will handle most of the jobs and paper types that we throw at them without too many major complaints, they will all of course complain about anything to do with wireless networks. That said, the price you pay is no guarantee that the printer will consistently do what it says on the box, these are printers after all and well, printers suck however much you pay.

At the budget friendly end of the market, we should probably start thinking of them not as printers, but as live services, a bit like the cable box or streaming device. We shouldn’t be overly concerned by the device so long as it produces what you need, it’s the overlaid service that we pay for.

Live Services, the two dreaded words that have become synonymous with voluntarily signing up to hand our money over to the cyber-highwayman of the modern day. No matter how often we say we dislike live services and subscriptions, we always seem to be at the ready when it comes to signing up to them.

The manufacturers offer a subscription for ink that usually includes the printer communicating with the manufacturer and reporting back on the number of print jobs carried out, along with a bunch of other metrics that might or might not be identified in the end user licence agreement that none of us read. I find it funny how the printers internet connection works just fine when it comes to reporting back and taking money off us.

The device itself is almost irrelevant at the lower end of the market, it’s a subsidised machine that is little more than a gateway to handing over a regular supply of cash. The benefit we get from this is that it will print out most of the things an average family might send its way together with the promise of new inks being delivered just in time for the last page of the current tank to be printed out. It’s almost always exactly the 50th page on an average 50 page per month plan.

You pay for these dreadful ‘live services’ depending on the number of pages you need to print over the course of a month, yet my suspicion is that regardless of the money you pay, you will get the same volume of ink as someone paying slightly more, you just won’t be able to use it.

I recently took an allegedly empty subscription ink tank apart and there was still plenty of ink inside, so my theory is that the remaining ink which will usually be thrown away is locked behind a paywall and the cartridge stops working once you have used up your pre-paid metered dose of ink or reached the monthly page count. If that is the norm, from both a cost of living perspective and from an environmental perspective, I can’t say that I would be happy about that if I was a subscriber. To be fair, it’s not just printers, car manufacturers have been known to lock the built in heated seat behind a pay wall.

I think what we can take away from this is that the printer industry is rapidly moving towards becoming a live service industry as users transition away from printing in general. Whichever way they go, I would expect customers to be more attuned to environmental issues, and cost is always a consideration. Mostly, I think people just want economy and for the devices not to suck quite so much as they do.

I think we can forget ever finding the unicorn that is the perfect printer, it doesn’t exist today and I’m not convinced it will exist tomorrow. For me, I would rather pay more upfront for a quality printer that delivers quality results that still gives me the choice between using original inks and third party tanks. Oh, and I would love it to connect to my Wi-Fi network without it delivering a message of impending doom, telling me to install yet another cyan tank in order to proceed or that the printer couldn’t be found on the network.

The current model of printer monetisation seems to be working for the manufacturers for now so I’m guessing there’s no urgency for the industry to really shake things up, but it does need shaking up. Some manufacturers such as Epson are putting their weight behind refillable eco-tanks, and I have to say that this is possibly the best thing we have seen from the print industry for years.

We need to see more innovation like this, and less innovation around the bells and whistles that can be alternatively provided through an app on our smartphone. I’m not interested in a printer that can print colouring pages directly from the smart screen, I need it to connect and print whatever I send to it, and if it could do it a little more quietly, that would be a welcome bonus.

Those are the features that really matter. I would love to see the real numbers behind the add-on services that connect you online just to give you access to quick templates. I have never had a cause to use any of these extra services that come packaged within the printers settings, if there is a way to turn them off, that’s something I always do and I think most people are the same, we just don’t need the extra bloat within an already difficult to use user interface.

oh crop icon artwork print
Oh Crop by Mark Taylor

If all printers suck, how do we choose one?

It’s easier than ever to buy a printer today, assuming you can find the one you want in stock. I remember a time when a printer was specific to the device you were using it on back in the days of 8-bit home computers, but the development of standards such as USB and Wi-Fi mean that we no longer have to rely on additional interfaces or being reliant on having a specific port available on the computer and if we can’t find the exact printer we would like, we can choose another in the knowledge that at least on some level, it will work.

The challenge we have today is that we have no way of knowing what the printers are really capable of or how they will perform until we take them home and plug them in. At that point you might already be committed to paying an ongoing subscription for ink with no possibility of returning the unit unless it develops a fault in the warranty period.

If you visit a physical brick and mortar store the printers will usually be stacked in boxes on shelves with at best, a demo unit on display that’s not connected to anything. It might not even have any components inside, the display units are often only a visual queue that shows you what you are buying but they rarely demonstrate what they’re  capable of.

In the past year or so I have only ever stumbled across one retailer who had working units on display, and one more that had sample prints in a folder next to each printer. That should at least be a thing that becomes the minimum standard we should expect when making the kind of commitment that buying a printer needs. I’m sure that would drive more people back to physical stores rather than buying online, although pricing would need to be comparable which I guess could be an issue.

Other than reading online reviews which in this day and age aren’t something you should really be hanging your coattails from, there are very few reliable sources of truth that beat a path through the hype from the manufacturers. If you are served by a sales person working for commission, there’s really no single source of independent and completely unbiased truth that you can rely on and the industry is awash with affiliate marketers who get paid if you click on the links from reviews or YouTube videos.

There are thankfully, some good sources of information to be found online, some of the industry websites that focus on graphic design carry reviews that are often much more honest than the sites with some level of manufacturer sponsorship or link. A search through Twitter will usually highlight people who are reaching out to the manufacturers for support but what you are likely to find when you find these messages is that the manufacturers hide any responses. Probably another good indication that you should avoid that particular manufacturer.

There are specialist printer retailers although many of them have migrated to online only businesses over the past few years but these tend to be much better at signposting you someway towards the right device but often, these retailers are tied to specific brands and the costs tend to be much closer to retail than some of the discounted models you will find elsewhere online.

If you buy a printer online, you need to be careful that you are not buying last years model, or a model that was manufactured even longer ago than that. While I was looking through Amazon this week I found nine out of ten models on sale had now been superseded with newer models, and the discounts didn’t really take this into account, two cost more than the manufacturers recommended retail price. I had better luck finding the latest models directly from the manufacturers websites, but finding somewhere with stock is another challenge and some were only available on a waiting list.

Out of all of the printers I looked at my choices dwindled down to a couple of older models for the same price as the latest versions, or heavily discounted printers that had long since become unsupported by the manufacturers and looking through online forums and discussions, it seemed as if all of them had some kind of hot topic discussion point which would make you nervous about making a commitment.

There were a couple of new models that were in stock but they were at the higher end of what I would think would be most regular people’s budget, although there were a few services offering rentals, inevitably the overall cost of those devices was higher than buying outright.

Rentals might be more cost effective once you factor in depreciation, service and future replacement costs but the ongoing cost might be prohibitive if you just need an occasional print or you’re not using it in a commercial environment.  I rented a huge dye-sublimation printer for 6-months several years ago when I placed some of my work with a retail chain, and that worked out much cheaper than outsourcing the work.

Today, I tend to outsource most of my print jobs other than special editions and local sales because printing does take up a lot of time which could be spent doing higher value things like creating work or completing commissions. Generally when you print your own creations, buyers will expect a framing and matting service which makes for a nice upsell opportunity but again, the time needed to do this has to be taken into account.  

During the same, not very scientific research, I also checked the stock at a local supermarket who had been advertising a deal for an everyday, all in one inkjet printer, but once again, the printer is now old stock and a newer model is available, if you can find it in stock. I had a dye-sublimation printer on back order for over 12 months during the pandemic, in the end the company reached out to cancel the order because they couldn’t guarantee the supply chain.

Don’t be fooled by low initial costs…

The supermarket were offering a steep discount over the original recommended retail price but I was able to find the same printer from other retailers for a similar price, albeit some retailers also added on the cost of shipping, there were others who were offering an extra set of inks.

It's also worth bearing in mind that at these very low price points, there will be nothing available that could do anything more than light duties, and you would need something at a much higher price point to consider using it to produce commercial quality art prints. Ideally it would need to also be a wide format printer too, preferably one that uses dye-sublimation, two features which you are unlikely to find in the middle aisle of Aldi next to the discounted arc welder.

Buying a printer is very much a case of buyer beware. That sub fifty buck printer is almost certainly not going to provide you with the commercial grade prints that you might want the printer for, and it will devour ink by the barrel if you use it for anything other than light duties compared to some of the more premium offerings.

Remember, at really low price levels it’s a reasonable assumption to make that the manufacturer is only charging you for the components and the logistics of shipping it. Ink and live services are where it’s at, that’s how printer manufacturers make their money.

Two Way Pager art print retro email device
Two Way Pager by Mark Taylor

The new vehicle emissions standard – Printer Edition…

There are some manufacturers who promise greater page yields while focussing on low running costs but you do have to compare these running costs against what you might actually use the printer for. Mostly, their yields per set of inks are based on a relatively small percentage of the paper being covered when compared to real life use, in tests the coverage is around 5% of the paper. The yields are calculated in a lab in ideal conditions, and the images will have been curated specifically for the test using special test patterns but it appears in some cases that something might be slightly off with the final reports.

There have been some alleged cases of manufacturers cheating the ISO requirements when manufacturing and testing printers. In one study, researchers found that some manufacturers were using different test pages and settings than had been specified in the ISO standard (International Organization for Standardization). This resulted in the printers appearing to meet the requirements when they were actually nowhere close.

The ISO has taken steps to address the problem of cheating. In 2017, they updated the ISO 12646 standard to make it more difficult for manufacturers to cheat. However, there is still some research based evidence that cheating continues to occur.

While there are standards that printer manufacturers should meet, the results might not be anywhere near indicative of real world use. This could potentially be another situation that’s more familiar to diesel car drivers where vehicle manufacturers had been found and admitted to using cheat devices to bypass the emissions test.

So, whilst research has demonstrated that printer manufacturers have been allegedly doing something similar, we haven’t seen much, if anything around legal actions against an industry that signs up to what is essentially a voluntary set of standards.

This makes it really hard to make a balanced decision because some tests might show lower yields yet still be more economical. I can just imagine the class action adverts that might spring up in the future, did you or anyone you know own a printer between 1989 and 2023, you might be owed millions for overpaying on ink.

There’s just no profit in tin…

Selling hardware in the IT industry isn’t the sole source of income resellers will be relying on, their overhead is often high as is the cost of storing unsold kit, and the profit margins for hardware are often very low. The IT industry tends to make any profit they do make from offering warranties and service wraps, and live services offered directly by the printer manufacturers will be diminishing the IT retailers profits even further making it less profitable for them to keep a stock of the most up to date printers or carry a full range of inks.

So the answer is to figure out exactly what you want to do with the printer before you begin to start shopping. It could very well be a false economy to pay so little for the printer if you then need to feed it with ink constantly, but it may be overkill to pay premium prices if all you need the printer for is the occasional print where you might be happy to pay only a few pounds/dollars each month.

Maybe, and more importantly in the first instance is working out your budget, both now and by taking into account how much you will be paying for consumables. The pay to print model which we know is little more than a subscription to a live service, can sometimes feel like a shakedown that would make the mafia proud despite the offers presented at first glance.

Most manufacturers will have a range of subscription options from light use to heavy duty printing but you need to consider the options carefully, especially when page yields advertised are often only representative of covering a small surface area of the paper.

This can make a subscription seem like great value, but in real terms use, you could run out of ink very quickly and end up reordering your next supply early if your plan is geared to general home or light office printing and you are using it instead to create prints of your work.

If you stop buying the ink or subscribing to the service, in some cases the printer will refuse to work, just as we used to see with mobile phones which had been locked to a single cell carrier. In the UK and EU, the practice of locking down phones to a single operator was outlawed some time ago and any contract phone today has to be supplied unlocked. The same is not true for printer manufacturers, they can hold you to ransom if you pick the wrong scheme. Remember, you’re really buying a service rather than a printer in this instance.

Printer Security…

You also need to consider how much you care for your time. As I said earlier, some manufacturers are better at updating firmware and drivers, Brother are excellent and my six year old Brother which I use for everyday stuff is still being updated, almost too often.  Others that I have owned even for a short time have stopped receiving updates to either the drivers, printer software or firmware, rendering them pretty much redundant and certainly not secure enough to sit on my network.

If new drivers are released and firmware is updated, the theory is that it is supposed to be a hassle free experience, but it’s usually not. Brother is the exception here, but others often require me to go and search for updates and manually install them.

There are a few manufacturers who do keep everything updated for extended periods but you are only likely to find out if they do when you start using the printer over an extended period or you do some research and take a look online at any complaints people have. I usually find Reddit a great source of information, if there’s a sub-reddit for the printer, it’s usually because people have an opinion. That said, Reddit are slightly going off track at the moment in what I am calling their Elon moment of monetising the source of a lot of their traffic. That’s maybe another blog for another time.

If you do find yourself scouring the internet for new firmware and drivers, there’s a risk that printer manufacturers websites could be spoofed and the firmware could contain malware and viruses, so you have to be particularly vigilant when checking websites to validate the authenticity of both the site and the files you are asked to download.

In my experience, printer security isn’t generally at the top of everyone’s mind when updating a printer, but if you imagine all of the information that you are likely to send through to the printer, it’s fair to say that there could be a lot of very personal information such as bank accounts, scans of passports, even lists of accounts and passwords, so the last thing you need is a malicious driver update capturing any of that information and sending it across the internet unencrypted or someone using the wireless functionality of your printer to jump on to your wireless network.

laser disc player art print
Laser Disc by Mark Taylor

In my professional experience, printer drivers and printer Wi-Fi encryption are almost never a dominant thought that will sway a buyer away from one printer to another. I think for the most part, the public don’t really pay that much attention to the issue and if they are aware of it, the reality of someone hijacking your print queue is usually met with something along the lines of, who else would want to see my kids homework print outs. It’s not the prints that are the target, it’s the network that the printer has joined.

Although rare, it is also possible for wireless printers to become a stepping stone for bad player to gain unauthorised access to the rest of your wireless network and the devices on it. Here’s a quick run through of what you should be mindful of when setting up wireless printing.

1.    Change the default settings that come shipped with the printer, most of them will share a default username and password, it’s imperative that both of these are changed from the outset and if you can change the username, change it to something that doesn’t indicate the model of the printer, even better, change it to something that doesn't identify as a particular device. You should do this with everything that sits on your network.

2.    Never leave any electronic equipment, especially wireless routers in a position where they can be seen from the outside. I walk past one particular house everyday and can see the home owners wireless router on the windowsill, complete with all of the details that I would need to access the network if I were a bad player and because it’s in such a prominent position, that wireless signal is delivering a much better signal across the street than it’s delivering in the lounge!

3.    If there is a firmware update, don’t put off installing it. These are generally issued to address the most recent security vulnerabilities and they often make the printing experience better and in some cases more efficient.

4.    Make sure your Wi-Fi network is using appropriate security, use a strong unique password and good encryption such as WPA2 or WPA3.

5.    Use a firewall, this can either be a software firewall such as those that usually come with your anti-virus package, or it can be a hardware firewall although those will be more likely on corporate enterprise grade networks.

6.    You might have purchased the printer for its bells and whistles, consider turning off any of the bundled services that you don’t use as each one widens the attack surface for bad players to target and third-party services available on your printer could be harvesting data.

7.    If your printer offers encryption or other security features, use them.

8.    Consider placing your printer on a different network. This might make it more problematic to print from mobile devices but you could look into the possibility of adding in a second router in Bridge mode and setting up a separate wireless network that has no sensitive devices on it. Setting a separate network up in the first place will require some networking knowledge but there are plenty of online tutorials if you think that this is something that you want to do.

As I said earlier, bad players attacking a network via the wireless printer is rare, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t or won’t happen. It’s more likely in a corporate setting and it’s worth being pragmatic about these things. You need to be aware of the risks but equally, a hacker isn’t going to see your network pop up on some screen the second its powered on.

Hackers will usually be reliant on the hooky copy of Photoshop you downloaded from a dodgy website or the hooky copy of Office that contains malware, or you clicking on a link in an phishing email. If your computer hygiene is generally good and you avoid such things your risk is exponentially lowered although it never goes away. The internet is still the wild west in the way it was when it first came out, today it’s a lot more violent. Be careful out there.

Bare bones printing usually comes with a high overall cost…

Cost is going to be one of the biggest considerations regardless of what purpose you use the printer for. As I said earlier, the payback for manufacturers is from selling ink, hopefully via a subscription which you are less likely to avoid paying for FOMO (Fear of missing out).

If you just need a printer for text, you don’t have to spend big, and you don’t necessarily need to buy original replacement inks if there are compatibles available. Of course in some cases the compatibles are going to be of a poorer quality than the originals, but from experience that’s not always the case. There are some compatible cartridges that cost more than the originals purporting to be a much better quality product with a higher page yield, but again, we are usually at the mercy of online reviews in the absence of a print lab where we can carry out independent testing.

My experience with non-originals has varied over the years, but I have found a few that have genuinely worked better than the originals but you do need to do your research and you need to consider what you are printing. A third-party ink might not have the pigment that the original inks contain and might fade much faster, or they might even bring a range of issues and clog up the print heads which sometimes means a replacement printer is going to be more economical than replacing the print head. There are also inks that will definitely be far superior to anything the original manufacturer provides and some of these also come with a guarantee that your printer won’t break down through using them.

What do you want to print?

If you are in the market for something that will produce quality prints, this usually means looking at devices at the other end of the price scale, but there are intermediate level devices that can produce exceptional prints, although most will produce them at a higher base price than a more expensive printer can manage, there are some economies of scale with printing and larger devices with larger ink tanks can be more economical.

You also need to consider whether or not you need an all in one device that has the ability to scan, print and copy, but bear in mind that these devices with few exceptions tend to not be exceptionally good in any single area, they’re built for general use and printer output is usually on a par with a lower priced stand-alone printers.

Making the right choice is hard…

Already, breaking this down to exactly what you need the device to do should provide you with a much clearer steer about which way you need to go. But there are so many factors to consider and so many different use cases that you might have, so I think there is often some merit in considering whether it is just a single device that you really need.

If you are an artist, relying on an all in one device for the scanner might be a false economy, the scanners tend to be slow and the resolutions and quality of the scans can be poor if you are planning to use them to scan artworks professionally. You might need a drum scanner to get the best results but the cost of these is usually prohibitive for most people, in which case it might be that you outsource professional scanning rather than taking it on yourself.

I mentioned earlier that I have a number of printers, that’s because each have their own strengths for the wide range of jobs that come through the studio doors, but it also makes it more cost effective overall. There’s no real benefit printing text on an expensive dye-sublimation printer when the dot matrix can handle drafts for a fraction of the cost. Equally, I might need something that looks a little better than the dot matrix output or I will need to include graphics, so a low cost ink jet will be more suited to a particular task even if the cost per print is a little more expensive.

It's not unusual to work with a range of printers when you are creating prints that will be sold commercially, but to get the best value it comes down to using the devices strategically and thinking about any wear and tear. Having printers that suit specific needs means that you’re not putting any of the devices under a heap of stress, but good housekeeping is something that will pay dividends.

So many types of printer…

The types of printers you are likely to find in most retailers generally fall into three main types, but this might limit you or lead you to the wrong decision. There are printers that can be used for specific tasks which will make it more cost effective than assuming that a laser jet or ink jet are the only viable options. Those are the two technologies that most retailers will stock because they tend to be the most popular technologies, but for some jobs, even a low cost ink jet might be akin to using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.


Inkjet is a technology that covers a broad range of uses and an even broader range of printers. Inkjet printers are popular for home and small office use because they’re often inexpensive and easy to set up. They work by propelling tiny droplets of ink onto the paper and they can be found at all price points from a simple office inkjet right the way up to a commercial inkjet capable of producing top quality prints on multiple surfaces.

Laser Printers…

Laser printers are more likely to be found in offices but if you plan on printing mono text based documents at home, it’s worth considering them for home use too. They’re much less expensive than they once were and despite the toner cartridges costing more than a set of inkjet inks, the page yields are often considerably higher, making them much more cost effective. Toner is generally available through third-parties and there is less risk around using third-party toners, they all tend to work in exactly the same way and produce the same kind of results.

Colour laser printers are a more complex proposition and they will have higher initial and ongoing running costs, but the overall page yields almost always make them more economical than regular inkjets. Print quality is usually great with these printers but there may be better alternatives depending on what you want to print and the medium you want to print on.

Whichever way you go with lasers, they’re mostly built for large volume printing and this is where they really begin to make sense financially. The downside is in the range of print mediums that the smaller laser jets can handle but most will be able to handle paper and card stock, many will print on transparent film but heavy duty papers are often more of a problem.

All In One Printers…

Sometimes referred to as MFDs, or Multi-Function-Devices, they usually come with a heap of added benefits that make them a great choice for the home or office user. They also come in different sizes, some can take up the footprint of a laptop, others are floor standing and capable of printing thousands of pages each day. The downside is that they’re not particularly strong in any area, print, scan or copy, when compared to the output from individual devices.

The upside is cost, it’s much cheaper to buy an all in one and they take up so much less space than individual components, but if quality printing is important and you need it for commercial art prints, they’re unlikely to fulfil that need entirely. That said, there are some that come close to perfect printing, but they will more than likely use regular ink tanks which means that the prints will fade in time, they can be fussy about paper type and they’re generally more suited to everyday printing. Point to note, some still come with a fax capability as a throwback from decades past, you need to consider how often you think about sending a fax today.

Faxes are still sent today but phone lines have evolved over the past few years, and that’s if you still have a landline that can be used with them. Most Fax components of MFDs will also be incompatible with technologies such as digital voice. It’s so much easier to send an email!

Dot Matrix Printers…

It’s an old almost antiquated technology that is still in use and there are printer manufacturers who still make them. Dot Matrix printers are great if you only ever need to print text, not so much if you need to print graphics.

The print head uses pins to strike an inked ribbon which can usually be re-inked a number of times. Despite their antique nature, most of them are pure bred work horses that also despite their mechanical nature are relatively easy to repair. I still use one for printing drafts and code listings, and it is the same one I have been using for the past decade.

Modern Dot Matrix printers are usually connected via USB but the range of devices that they work with is limited. If you just need something for invoices or things that only you need to read, and you want a printer that won’t break the bank when replacing ink, they’re certainly an option. Newer ones tend to be more expensive than lower cost inkjets initially, and their output is limited.

Photo and Dye Sublimation Printers…

 Some retailers might tell you that there’s little difference between inkjet and dye sublimation printers, if they’re trying to sell you an inkjet, most likely because there are inkjet printers that have rich feature sets and almost perfect printing. If you ask a retailer who specialises in dye-sublimation, they will point out the limitations of regular inkjets and also point out that it’s worth paying a premium for the better technology.

If you ask me, it depends on what you want to print. If it’s photographs that can be reprinted in the future or you are using it for anything other than commercial work, dye-sublimation printers might be an expense that you can avoid. If you care about the longevity of your print output or the range of mediums you can print on, then going all in on a dye sublimation printer is the way to go and if you need to make prints of your artwork, then a wide format dye sublimation printer is a must have.

Dye-sublimation printers use a heat transfer process to create prints. They utilise a special type of ink called dye sublimation ink, which is typically in the form of solid dye panels or cartridges. The ink is heated, turning it into a gas without passing through a liquid state. The gas then permeates the surface of the specially coated paper, where it solidifies and becomes fused with the paper fibres. This results in continuous-tone prints with smooth gradients and vibrant colours.

Inkjet printers, on the other hand, use liquid ink that is sprayed onto the paper in the form of tiny droplets. The ink is delivered through microscopic nozzles in the print head, propelled by thermal or piezoelectric mechanisms. Inkjet printers can produce prints by either depositing ink directly onto the paper (known as the "drop-on-demand" method) or by utilising an intermediate mechanism such as a print head that transfers the ink onto the paper (known as the "continuous ink system" method).

Aside from the longevity of the prints that can be produced on a dye sublimation printer, you might also want to consider the other benefits. You will get better colour accuracy, (as long as you apply the correct colour profiles), you will almost certainly find that the finish of the print is indistinguishable from commercially produced photo and art prints.

Wide Format Printers…

These are available through a range of the above technologies and are also known as large-format printers. These are capable of printing on larger paper sizes than standard printers and are commonly used for producing banners, posters, architectural plans, and other oversized documents. Wide-format printers can utilise various printing technologies such as inkjet, laser, or even UV-curable inks.

If you are a professional artist, graphic designer or photographer, a wide format dye sublimation printer is almost a complete business in a box and there are some that also provide a cutting ability similar to the ability that Cricut machines have so that stickers and shaped works can printed out. The downside to these is the expense with most commercial dye-sub or laser printer/cutters costing upwards of five figures.

Thermal Printers…

My first printer in the 1980s was a thermal printer and despite its small size, it was a useful addition to my shiny new home computer, especially when I was typing out BASIC programs. One of my first commercial digital artworks was sold as a thermal print, a black image on metallic silver paper that was around four inches wide.

Today, thermal printers are still manufactured and can be purchased for less than a hundred bucks. They’re extremely useful for printing shipping labels, most will come with software or an app that has templates which can be used with online sellers such as eBay and Amazon, generating the relevant product bar codes, assuming you have a barcode that has been assigned under a standard such as GS1.

There are two types of thermal printer, direct thermal with uses a heat-sensitive paper and thermal transfer which uses a ribbon to transfer ink to the paper. The downside is that colour thermal printers are still in their infancy and not widely regarded as being useful for anything other than limited colour printing.


Plotters are capable of producing extremely high resolution prints and are useful for technical drawings and architecture. They use markers to provide the print layer and are generally much more expensive to purchase than other types of printer. For most people, a plotter will be mostly redundant in that they are suited for a very specific task and their footprint would make it impractical for anything other than specialist use.

Impact Printers…

Slightly different to the dot matrix printer which is also an impact printing technology, impact printers are mostly used in certain manufacturing industries for specialist processes.

Portable Printers…

Portable printers can be useful, although not entirely practical for all of your print needs. Most of them will have a built in rechargeable battery and they can be a fun way to share photographs if you’re meeting up with friends and family.

They can be extremely useful for printing out receipts, especially if you are exhibiting at shows and events, and they typically connect over wireless to your device. There’s no absolute reliance to have a Wi-Fi connection, although they connect via Wi-Fi to your device, this is typically through the printers own hot spot. Many of the portable thermal printers work this way too.

You can find pocket sized printers which are more suited to printing out snapshots and receipts, but if you are commuting and need access to a printer that will print out business documents, there are larger format sizes available, although don’t expect sizing above the standard letter size or A4.

Almost from the same stable, portable document scanners work in a similar way but my advice is to steer clear of these as the results won’t always be any better than the scanning feature that is integrated into modern cell phone operating systems which utilise the phone camera with a much higher resolution than a portable document scanner will offer.

mp3 player art print
I Want My MP3 by Mark Taylor

What other things do I need to consider?

I’m often blown away by the ever increasing resolutions offered by various printer manufacturers. Printers just keep getting better and they always seem to have ever burgeoning numbers printed on the boxes lined up in retail stores.

High numbers are usually a good sign that a printer will perform, but they’re not the best and only indicator that you should consider before parting with your cash. A printer capable of extremely high resolution prints might not perform as well as the printer with a slightly lower resolution.

The high resolutions offered from new printers means on paper (excuse the pun), the biggest numbers should produce the sharpest detail because the number of dots per inch is higher. This should also mean that there is far more detail in the print image but that’s not the only  consideration. A high resolution print that is overly saturated will look less sharp than a lower resolution print that is perfectly balanced. You will likely be printing at 300 dots per inch (dpi) for commercial work, so ideally anything above 600 dpi is going to be useful, the overall resolution will then determine the detail but bear in mind that unless you are using a wide format printer, larger resolutions aren’t necessarily the be all and end all.

Resolution is a measure of pixel density, not the overall size of the print. If you place a business card next to a bill board, it’s likely that the bill board was printed at a much lower resolution, although both look pin sharp. That’s because a billboard is viewed at a distance so you won’t necessarily see that it is made up of lots of dots, a business card is seen much closer and if you applied 72 dots rather than 300 the image would be lacking any level of detail, this is because the human eye resolves the larger lower resolution print when viewed from a distance.

However, much of the detail won’t come as a result of the quality of the resolution, it will come from the medium being used, the settings that you choose, the application that you are using to print the image from, and more importantly, whether or not you are using the correct colour profile. I have managed to get some great results from the cheapest inkjets by changing the settings, the paper and setting a colour profile.

That’s something else that you need to consider when buying a printer, will it support the colour profiles used by your application, your monitor, or the colour profile of the paper as provided by the paper manufacturer. Profiles for specific media need to be applied to every device in your creative process so that the colour you print is the same as the colour you see on screen.

The ink that you use will also have a bearing on the final results, if you are using third-party inks, the printer might not be optimised for the pigment or dye that the cartridges contain and this can often lead to over or under saturated prints that appear to be blurry, but bear in mind that some third-party tanks will be infinitely better than the originals, so it’s not an easy space to navigate.

The medium that you print on is another huge consideration, if you use low quality paper stock, it will impact the overall quality of the print and again, this could be another culprit for over and under saturation but loose fibres in cheaper paper stock can clog up the print head. Good quality paper stock is usually more expensive, but the paper tends to be slightly heavier and the manufacturer might have a specific colour profile that can be used with that specific paper. The brightness of the paper tends to make a difference to the colour of the print, brighter papers will usually provide more vibrant colour.

Canson papers are generally excellent and come with profile support, but I have found with many of the premium papers that cheaper printers can sometimes struggle with their weight or texture. Some glossy or lightweight papers can slip on the print rollers meaning the printer will either jam or the print will be at an angle leaving an inky mess inside the printer.

Getting the correct paper weight is usually trial and error. Some printer manufacturers will state that their printers are compatible with mediums up to a specific weight, but that doesn’t always mean that particular weight will work, it depends on the quality of the paper or other print medium. Papers and print mediums that are too thin, too slippy, too thick, are all going to present an issue at some level, and even the coating on some papers can make some printers struggle or can mean that the ink doesn’t adhere properly to the paper.

I look at supported paper specifications touted by manufacturers with some scepticism, from experience not all papers are equal even if they’re the same weight. One thing you really need to know before deciding on a printer is what kind of material you will be using, so to give you a better idea, here’s a rough guide to figuring that part of the equation out.

300 GSM+ Good quality business card or heavy card media

180-250 GSM Mid-Market quality magazine cover

130-170 GSM Promotional Posters and Flyers

80 GSM Regular everyday matte white office paper

35 GSM – 55GSM A regular newspaper

The Paper Chase…

I tend not to make any compromises on paper, I only ever use acid-free mediums and wherever I can, I always buy paper that’s made as close to home as possible. The environmental impact of buying incredibly cheap paper through online marketplaces should be something that needs to be better controlled and monitored.

The wood pulp could originate from trees that might have been illegally felled or logged from regions where environmental controls are not enforced, and the impact of shipping it from somewhere like China isn’t something I can get behind. I do purchase some papers from Italy, but those are usually very specialist and I will only use those papers when I need an absolute guarantee of quality. I only buy recycled paper if it carries a trustworthy certification

 The Colour Profile…

An ICC profile is a file that describes the colour gamut and colour rendering intent of a device. There is a difference between the intent and the gamut, a colour gamut is the range of colours that a device can reproduce whereas a colour rendering intent is a set of rules that describe how colours should be translated from one device to another.

ICC profiles are used to ensure that colours are reproduced accurately when they are transferred from one device to another. For example, an ICC profile for a printer can be used to ensure that the colours on a monitor are reproduced accurately when they are printed so that you print exactly what you see.

ICC profiles are typically created by device manufacturers and in some cases, paper manufacturers. They can also be created by third-party companies that specialise in colour management. An ICC profile is a complex algorithm that can take many years to refine and develop.

ICC profiles are used by a variety of software applications, to use one, you need to install it in the software application that you are using. Once the ICC profile is installed, the software application will use it to ensure that colours are reproduced accurately.

ICC profiles can help to ensure that colours are reproduced accurately when they are transferred from one device to another. This can be helpful for businesses that need to ensure that their marketing materials look the same across different devices, such as printers, monitors, and mobile devices and they are essential for professional printing of artworks and photographs.

ICC profiles can also help to improve your overall workflow by reducing the need to manually adjust colour settings. This is one of the things that can save you a heap of time and frustration and it means that what you print will be consistent. Never underestimate the power of an ICC profile to contribute to having either a positive effect on your bottom line, and when used frequently, they also have a massive time saving benefit too.

Checking Printer Settings…

Most failed prints usually come about as a result of the wrong settings being applied or the wrong type of paper, or print sizing being set incorrectly. It’s frustrating when this happens even when printing everyday print jobs, when you print commercially, every print has a defined monetary value and it becomes critical to your bottom line. If you are using a $30 sheet of paper the last thing you want to see is a misaligned or mis-sized print.

Checking the printer driver is also something that can affect your print output, it’s not just about the security an up to date driver offers, things like page yield can be affected too. Using generic drivers can be a particular problem when you use plug and play through Windows. Plug and play is designed to automate the installation of a driver but if Windows cannot find the original driver it will often revert to a generic one.

If you are missing useful features on your printer and they’re showing as not available in your application, it could be because a generic driver has been installed. The problem with generic drivers is that they’re just that, generic and need to work with many products. This means that the features of your printer might not be accessible or the print quality might not be optimal. Generic drivers should only be a temporary replacement for the authentic driver specific to your printer, mostly because generic drivers are updated less frequently.

They can also be responsible for introducing compatibility issues with other applications, and especially when working with colour profiles, that’s another good reason to take some time researching printers and consider the manufacturers history of providing updates. It’s another subject that often appears in so many online conversations and looking through a few posts on Reddit recently, printer owners are generally an unhappy bunch of users regardless of their allegiance to any particular manufacturer, once again reaffirming the notion that mostly, all printers suck!

Setting the print quality incorrectly is another cause of failed prints, many printers will allow you to set a default printing profile and then we forget and print out a letter in the best resolution and we will print out art prints using the draft mode on really expensive paper stock. Setting up paper sizes and margins can cause similar issues, and leaving paper margins at the default offered by programs such as Microsoft Word can mean you spend even more on consumables.

Decreasing the page margins especially on drafts and print outs that very few other people will read can make a huge difference to your consumables bill. If you are a regular user of applications such as Microsoft Word, Google Docs or Pages, make sure you set up your own templates with reduced margins so that you can fit more on to each page, and I would go so far as to say that creating templates will always bring better results than relying on the printer manufacturers software applications.

If you could judge a printer based solely on the functionality of its software and print features, that would certainly simplify the selection. Some of the print manufacturers have brilliant companion applications that allow you to layout your page so that what you see in the print preview is exactly what will be printed out, really useful for printing multiple labels on a single sheet or when you want a selection of images on the same page, but not all printer software is equal and some of it that gets bundled with a printer is supplied by a third-party outside of the printer manufacturer usually in the form of a lite version.

In the past when comparing two printers side by side, I have been known to download the software before making a commitment to the printer to give it the once over and a general kick of the tyres. The software can often tell you more about what you are about to buy than you can read on the box. Sometimes the manufacturer provides a mobile app as well, and these are usually worth a download so you can at least compare the user interfaces which are mostly more reminiscent of the Windows XP era. It is worth checking out how often these support applications are updated too.

landscape art two deckchairs on a beach
A Perfect Day by Mark Taylor

Printer Tips and Tricks…

There are some things that we never realise will make a difference to the printer output beyond the usual suspects of brand, paper stock quality and making sure the settings are correct. Making sure that your print rollers are cleaned with isopropyl alcohol means that there is less chance of paper fibres and inks building up and leaving behind a residue that makes the paper slip, jam, or stick.

Purging your print queue can speed up the printing process, sometimes print jobs fail to spool properly while the printer is still attempting to resolve previous print jobs. A clogged up queue means that your printer either fails to print or takes a lot longer than it should. Cancelling previous print jobs that haven’t cleared should resolve this issue.

If you are connecting via USB, make sure that you are using a high speed USB cable, ideally USB 3.0. Not all printers will support USB 3, neither will all computers, but using a high quality cable does make a difference to the speed of the print job when printing over a cabled connection. Remember that Wi-Fi printing will always be slower than printing via a cable, that’s due to other network traffic using the same bandwidth, you might also see more issues with unfinished print jobs sitting in the print queue on a wireless network.

If you can, give your printer a static IP address on your Wi-Fi network, there are plenty of online guides that will take you through doing this step by step, but you may have to also consult the documentation from the manufacturer or supplier of your Wi-Fi router. Some routers will even allow you to plug the printer into a USB port on them so that any device accessing your Wi-Fi can then print without any issues with your device showing an error that says it can’t find a printer on your network. If you set this up on a PC, make sure that you also set the printer so that it can be shared and found across other devices on your network.

Whenever possible, I would always suggest connecting the printer to either the router via USB or even better, through a network cable, although not all printers have network capability and not all routers will support a printer, or at least very well.

If you are able to do this, it will exponentially increase the speed of printing, but one thing I would also point out is that when you are printing, ignore the promised page per minute speeds from the manufacturers, the results are usually collected in ideal conditions and the printer and network will have been optimised for the test by people who really do have a better grip on this kind of stuff than most regular folk will have.

I wouldn’t be overly concerned about slightly slower speeds between printers, the fastest printer on a poorly configured network will only work at the speed that the network allows. Mostly, it is what it is and the fastest speeds published by manufacturers will likely be predicated on printing at the very lowest quality setting.

Some applications have their own support for some printers and it is often better than the software provided by the printer manufacturer, although it is usually dependant on you having an official printer driver installed so that the application can talk to the printer and is able to understand what the printer is capable of.

When it comes to borderless printing you might think that this is the best output which will provide the best results, but that very much depends on the paper or other medium that you are using. Not all papers are suitable for borderless printing.

Regular inkjet papers are too thin for photo prints and generally won’t work with borderless printing, the ink will completely saturate the paper and the paper is unlikely to remain flat. If you select a borderless setting and set the paper to regular inkjet, most printer software will prevent you from doing this because you might have to clean up an incredible inky mess but some printers will allow you to press print and it rarely ends well.

Quality photo paper, especially if it’s glossy doesn’t always play nicely with borderless printing either. You need to make sure you are using a paper that specifically identifies it as being suitable for borderless printing otherwise the ink could struggle to adhere to the border and begin to separate from the paper.

You also need to be mindful of colour bleed around the edges with borderless printing, if any of your other settings are not consistent with the paper type that you are using a borderless print can lose detail around the edges and detract from the quality of the overall print. 

Printer Calibration…

Printer calibration is important because it ensures that the colours you see on your monitor are accurately reproduced on your printer. I mentioned using ICC profiles earlier but calibration can be done in a number of different ways.

Calibration will greatly improve the quality of your prints. When a printer is calibrated, it can produce more accurate and vibrant colours. This can make your prints look better, but maybe as importantly, it will save a heap of reprints and a lot of time and frustration. Good quality paper, the correct settings, an ICC profile, and a calibrated printer are considered the magical ingredients to produce a great print, even from budget friendly printers.

Calibration is the best way to save money. If you are not happy with the quality of your prints, you might reprint them after tweaking the settings, and it might take two or three prints before you’re closer to happy. Calibrating your printer can help you avoid this by ensuring that your prints are accurate the first time, and it means you won’t be using excessive ink by overcompensating on some of the settings.

There are a number of ways to calibrate your printer. You can use a software-based calibration tool, or you can use a hardware-based calibration device. Software-based calibration tools are less expensive, but they may not be as accurate as hardware-based calibration devices.

No matter what method you choose, it is important to calibrate your printer regularly. This is because printers can drift over time, which can cause the colours to become inaccurate. Calibrating your printer once a month or every two months can help you maintain the printers colour accuracy.

Most printers will have some form of calibration function, the problem tends to be that it’s rarely repeated by the user after the initial set up, unless lines start appearing in your prints. Calibration will use ink and I suspect this is what puts people off doing it, but it also saves ink in the long run, it really is swings and roundabouts with this stuff but calibrating the printer regularly will give you consistent output and it will contribute to extending your printers life.

Printer Cleaning…

Print heads and nozzles shouldn’t need to be manually cleaned all that often if you use the printer frequently, but they will need cleaning regularly if you don’t use the printer for a period of time. Many printers have a self-cleaning routine, you’re more likely to see this on printers that have a built in screen or are able to be set up via a software application initially and it’s not a setting that you should turn off.

The best advice I can give you is to schedule any self-cleaning routines to a suitable time. The last thing you need is the printer to start churning away and doing its thing during a Teams meeting, and if you have more than one printer, set the cleaning activity at different times. I learnt this the hard way when four of my printers all fired up at the same time, not only did I nearly fall off my chair, the noise of four printers doing their own thing is like being subjected to noise levels that would usually mean wearing ear defenders.

You also need to make sure you have at least some paper in the printer so that the cleaning routine can take place, although it may not be needed with your specific printer, it’s better to be prepared. I regularly find the odd page on the floor from some random activity taking place.

When it comes to how often you should use the printer, each printer technology will be different but any kind of inkjet system or dye-sublimation technology needs to be regularly fed with a print job. As a minimum, I try to make sure that inkjets print out at least two or three times a week because this is one of the best ways to keep the nozzles clean and longer term it reduces the amount of ink used and wasted through drying out.

You also need to clean any moving parts and rollers, I tend to use a cotton bud or Q-Tip with isopropyl alcohol, or a long handled paintbrush to keep the rollers clean, it’s surprising just how much paper dust settles on those rollers and an excess build up will make any paper eventually slip and jam and if there’s enough of it there could be a chance that you begin ingesting it and that’s probably not so good.

Your Mission, make printers suck less…

If you keep on top of general printer housekeeping they can mostly continue to do a good job for a while. I’m yet to find the perfect modern day printer that provides me with everything I need in a single device, but from experience, having a couple of printers and sending specific print jobs to the right printer is a lot like having tools in the toolbox. Just as we wouldn’t rely on a hammer to do the work of a screwdriver, printers are really no different.

They’re all designed and manufactured with a specific function or range of functions in mind, the real issues show up when we creep outside of the printers technical scope and ask it to do what it wasn’t designed to do, or as we know from our experiences, we try to find the printer on a wireless network.

We really have only scraped the surface of what we need to consider when thinking about purchasing a printer, although I think to some extent, any modern printer will generally give you exceptional print quality, especially if you think back and make a comparison to printers of a decade ago. In terms of output, I’ve yet to find a modern day printer that produces results poorer than they could produce a decade ago.

If there were a handful of important takeaways to think about, I would certainly think about what you need the printer for, the budget you have, and whether that budget can stretch to either a better model or having access to a second cheap and cheerful printer for the more regular light duty things you ask of it and keep the best printer for the highest paying jobs.

I would be less inclined to worry about resolutions if the print output size is the size you need, and I think I would put as much of the budget as I can into a printer only model rather than a multi-functional device. If you already have an MFD and the scanner works, sure you will have an extra few steps to take when photocopying, but that non-MFD is going to give you way better results and you can buy a mint pre-used scanner from eBay these days for very little, even professional scanners can be affordable if they’re pre-used.

From my own experience, rental can work but I did find some distinctive triggers that separate when you should buy, when you should rent and when you should buy again. You need enough work to make rentals economical, and then you need to recognise when you reach a critical point that might make an outright purchase a better longer term fit for the purse strings.

Bear in mind that there’s often some level of equipment cost versus use calculation that needs to be considered, and take into account any depreciation and replacement costs as any combination of these things could affect the amount of tax that you pay or even claim back because these things can be tax deductible in some regions.

The overall cost of the printer should be thought about, there’s little value in renting a domestic level printer that’s maybe a bit more robust than others, it’s still a domestic printer. If you are in the market for a wide format printer that’s likely to cost in the region of a five figure sum, rental and a service wrap might be much more practical.

When you hit printer costs at five figures, it’s unlikely you will be using them to only print out the occasional piece of work, they’re more likely to be heavily used and abused and having them professionally serviced and calibrated makes a lot of sense.

When my work is rotated into one of my retailers, usually during the summer months, I might need to supply anywhere between 300 and 400 prints, all of them are signed so it makes much more sense for me to either outsource the work or to take a week off from everything else to focus on printing. It is really horses for courses, there will be a for and an against for anything you do but in the end it comes down to how much difference the decision will make to your bottom line.

circuit board art print by Mark Taylor
Circuit by Mark Taylor

Think about the other services you can provide if you have the right printer…

I use a Cricut cutting machine which is superb, especially when working with intricate cuts and vinyl. Matched with a dye-sublimation printer, there’s not too many jobs that come through the studio doors that I need to fully outsource.

I don’t routinely offer any printing services but plenty of artists do, it’s an ideal second gate to your business that can be a useful service to other artists in your area. If you only have a limited number of print jobs from your own work, offering to rent out the printer or provide a service to other artists can make it more affordable to go for a better printer.

I also use a dye-sublimation heat press for mugs. Most of the time a client will order a mug through one of my print on demand stores but depending on the customers location, it’s not always economical for them to then have to pay import duties or excessive postage. With a stock of sublimation ready mugs I can still offer the same product, but I can also offer bespoke designs for clients. Right now I’m processing an order for 100 mugs with retro-inspired designs, so it also benefits my bottom line by being able to offer both design and printing without the need for a third party. The downside is finding the time to commit to production so you do have to consider whether this is something you can afford.

The point is that even if you don’t have quite enough throughput to justify the printer that will make your art prints pop, you can get creative by offering additional services. I view high end printers as an extension to the business rather than looking at them solely as devices that I can only use for printing my own work.

If you need the highest quality printing but don’t have the volume to get the most value from a printer, outsourcing your print jobs with a specialist local printer or using print on demand is probably going to be the direction that you will initially travel in, but an over-reliance on print on demand will mean that you lose that all-important connection to your client base. You essentially do all of the work to bring the clients to someone else’s website, where they then take the relationship over and provide the print and you receive a fee. It’s a good model but it should never replace that direct client relationship.

Print on demand takes the transaction headache away but there are solutions to overcome that by using a service such as Shopify. That said, you are then responsible for every order so there’s the friction, either lose the relationship or retain it and work a little harder.

If you are looking to own your own printer, the question is around how much volume you intend to put through it and if there’s not enough volume, the happy compromise would be to outsource to a local printer. There are pitfalls here though.

Bear in mind that not all local printers will be familiar with the standards needed when delivering fine art prints. With this in mind, some of your printer purchase decisions will come down to knowing your audience. If they are happy to pay a premium, they absolutely need to receive the best possible premium quality. If they’re more budget conscious, you have to find the middle ground, there’s always going to be compromise involved in doing this.

The only other thing to add today is not to underestimate the added burden and responsibility that home or studio printing will add to your art practice. I outsource quite a bit of work, operate via print on demand and then print special editions in the studio or through a specialist print service that deals with fine art prints and has access to the mediums I need from them.

Despite this, the time I spend printing in the studio still equates to anywhere between six and eight hours each week which is just like adding another day’s work to a nine to five job so you do have to make some additional commitments. Creating the work with a brush or whatever your medium of choice is, is only ever 20% of the job.

New England Fall art print two trees on hillside
New England Fall by Mark Taylor

Stay Creative!

Hopefully, my musings today will help you reach the right decision when it comes to selecting a printer. I’m brutally aware that you may have even more questions now than you had when you thought you just wanted a printer, but think of it this way. The print that the printer creates is, for artists, a constant shop window. You need something that will print with enough vibrancy, clarity, and crispness so that it shows your work in the best light possible, The end result is what people will develop a feeling for.

Whether you outsource the work, do it yourself, set up a collective group of artists who share the equipment and the costs is less relevant, the ultimate test is whether the output is good enough to hand over or sell to those who care enough about your work to want to own a print of it. Clients mostly don’t care that you have the greatest printer with all of the functionality of the Starship Enterprise, they care about how the end result looks and what it costs, and occasionally that focus might lean more on one side than the other. 

Owning a farm of printers is more akin to collecting pets, they all need feeding and looking after, each printer will also have its own set of complicated emotions that you will need to work with, and that has to be reflected in some way through what you charge.

Buying big and expensive might ultimately be more cost-effective than buying cheap and cheerful, but either way, there will be a learning curve to understand what the device is capable of so that you produce consistency at every step. For me, answering the questions where the answers didn’t appear on the box the printer arrived in was way more useful when selecting the printer.

Good luck with your search and if I ever do find the unicorn that is the perfect printer, I’ll revisit this topic and let you know what it is. In the meantime, as always, stay creative, look after each other and try not to spill ink on the carpet!

About Mark…

Mark is an artist who specialises in vintage inspired works featuring technology and is also known for his landscape works and the occasional abstract! He lives in Staffordshire, England. He has been creating professional digital work since the 1980s.

You can purchase Mark’s work through Fine Art America or his Pixels site here:   You can also purchase prints and originals directly. You can also view Mark’s portfolio website at

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