This is the printer I examined - I've tried to obscure the brand name to protect the not-so-innocent (actually, I don't want to focus on brand too much, as what we're going to see here applies to inkjet printers generally)
Here's the same printer, stripped of its outer casing - there's a little, innocent-looking hole underneath the print head path, indicated by the red arrow
Here's the printer with the platen removed - and suddenly that hole (indicated again by the red arrow) doesn't look quite so innocent.
The other thing to note is that the entire base of the printer - the area outlined in green - is occupied by a layer of absorbent wadding - approximately 5cm (2 inches) thick.
A Huge Block Of Absorbent Stuff!
Why does a printer need a huge block of absorbent stuff in the base?
Well, look a bit closer at that hole...
... and here comes the really juicy part of the story...
There's something in there... something... nasty! ... it's...
... ink - lots and lots of ink!
Dishing The Dirt
Still photographs just can't do justice to the full horror and shame of it (I tried) - but it's all captured in the video at the top of the page...
I've seen doubts expressed as to whether it's really true that all inkjets do this - and that's a fair question...
I've dismantled quite a few dead inkjet printers (for the motors and other useful components) - and they've all been like this to some degree.
The printer depicted here is - I will freely admit - a particularly bad example of the phenomenon - but perhaps only because in this case, the specific cause of failure was a full waste ink reservoir.
What is undeniably true:
- All inkjet printers perform self-cleaning
- They do this without being prompted, and probably more than most people realise
- The only way they can do it is to squirt ink through the print heads
- That ink has to go somewhere...
So... what's the solution?
Well... I can't really declare that there is one. All human activity seems to involve waste in some way or other - maybe that's just something we have to grit our teeth and bear.
Laser printers are one alternative - and it's true that they are usually much cheaper to run - calculated per-page across the whole life of the machine. But laser printers don't tend to be all that good at printing photos.
No solution is perfect, but here's one that's maybe not so bad:
- Use a mono laser printer for text documents
- Get your photos printed at the photo store - they'll probably do a better job of it anyway - the photos will be more durable and I think even this is competitively priced with the many hidden costs of printing your own
- Distribute your photos electronically - upload them to a photo hosting site, or make a DVD slideshow
- Think twice before printing anything - there are some things you probably don't need hard copies of at all - if you want to keep a copy for your files, why not print it to PDF with one of the many free utilities - such as PrimoPDF - available for this? (some applications and operating systems support PDF output natively - so you might not even need to install anything)
- If you do need a low-cost colour printer for home use, an inkjet might still be a reasonable choice - just try to pick one for which refillable ink cartridges are easily available - this can cut the cost of printing by a factor of ten or more.