I hate printers. So too, does Leo Laporte, who is known as the Tech Guy on the radio. He will not take phone calls about printers.
Background: There are two popular types of printers - those that squirt liquid ink and laser printers that, like a xerox machine, burn a toner (think colored dust) onto the paper. Liquid ink printers are called inkjets, those from HP are called deskjets. All inkjet printers print in color. Laser printers come in black/white or color versions. A laser printer should, in the long run, be more reliable, easier to maintain and cheaper to own and use. An inkjet printer is cheaper to buy. Most inkjets use very small ink cartridges that can not be refilled. A small number of inkjets use a large refillable ink tank. For more see How to Save Money on Your Next Printer: Weighing the Cost of Tank vs. Cartridge Ink by M. David Stone (Nov 2021).
- If you need a printer, you need two.
- A black/white laser printer is an excellent backup printer. Expect to pay about $100 US dollars.
- As a rule the more you pay for a printer the cheaper it will be to operate over the years.
- April 2023: Most and Least Reliable Printer Brands by Melanie Pinola for Consumer Reports.
Quoting: "... inkjet printers are less reliable, which is why we now advise people to consider laser printers." No inkjet brands had a high reliability.
- Regular Inkjets: Canon has acceptable reliability.
- Tank Printers: Epson has acceptable reliability
- Regular Color Lasers: HP has very favorable reliability. Brother was rated favorable. Canon was acceptable.
- Regular Black-and-White Lasers: Brother and Canon were very favorable. HP and Lexmark were favorable.
- All-in-One Inkjets: HP, Brother and Canon are acceptable.
- All-in-One Color Lasers:: Brother and HP have favorable reliability
- All-in-One Black-and-White Lasers:; Brother was very favorable. Canon and HP were favorable.
- January 26, 2023: Warning to owners of Lexmark printers: Lexmark warns of RCE bug affecting 100 printer models, PoC released by Bill Toulas for Bleeping Computer. Updated printer firmware is available. There is also a temporary work-around available.
- If you are considering buying an inket printer, maybe don't buy one from Epson. I say that based on these articles: Epson boobytrapped its printers by Cory Doctorow (Aug. 2022) and Citing Danger of 'Ink Spills' Epson Programs End of Life for Some Printers by
Paul Roberts (July 2022).
- If you are considering buying an inket printer, this article Oct 2021 article, Canon sued for disabling scanner when printers run out of ink, from Bleeping Computer shows that without ink, a Canon printer can not even scan, which uses no ink at all. It also would not send a fax, which again, uses no ink. And, without color ink, it will not print in greyscale. These gripes go back to at least 2016.
- Best printer 2023: just buy this Brother laser printer everyone has, it's fine
by Nilay Patel for The Verge. March 15, 2023. The article recommends the Brother HL-L2305W. I have to agree with the article, as I know someone with a black/white Brother laser printer and it has never caused a problem.
- If you are considering buying a label printer, beware of Dymo printers which force you to use their branded paper which costs much more than competing paper. Label printers from Zebra and MFLabel let you print on any brand of labels. From The Worst Timeline: A Printer Company Is Putting DRM in Paper Now by Cory Doctorow for the EFF (Feb. 2022).
- Forced by shortages to sell chipless ink cartridges, Canon tells customers how to bypass DRM warnings by Rob Beschizza for Boing Boing (January 2022). Quoting: "The instructions appear to be straightforward - for the models I checked all you have to do is ignore onerous error messages..." The instructions from Canon are in German, but browsers can translate to English.
- Printing on Chrome OS has always been flaky. The page here on Chromebooks has a section on printers that work well on Chrome OS.
- Very old printers may have trouble feeding paper because the rubber rollers have dried out. Some suggestions:
- Use an emory board or sandpaper or a nail file to roughen the rollers. Stroke side to side to make grooves in the rollers.
- Use a product that claims to rejuvenate rubber. One such product is CaiKleen RBR rubber cleaner and rejuvenator. It claims to: "Re-condition rubber surfaces and bring back its original surface texture, flexibility and usability."
- Clean the rollers with Windex.
NETWORK ISSUES WITH PRINTERS
Printers are computers and, as such, they need bug fixes and they can get hacked. A bad firmware update can break the printer and those that check for new firmware automatically are at the greatest risk. As noted below, HP broke some of their printers in May 2023 with a bad firmware update. A firmware update may also introduce a feature you don't want, such as restricting the cartridges that can be used. Or, a hacked printer may appear to function correctly, but be spying on you, in that it may send copies of what it prints to bad guys. For these reasons, it may be prudent to prevent a printer from communicating with the Internet. I know of two approaches.
- If you have a router that offers outbound firewall rules, then you can create a firewall rule that prevents the printer from making any outbound connections on its own. This requires that the printer have a static IP address. The down side to this, is that the firewall rule needs to be disabled every now and then so the printer can check if there is new firmware. Typically only a business class router offers outbound firewall rules.
- A network capable printer needs some network configuration. This is usually done via DHCP and is mostly automatic. But, it can be done manually. If you manually configure it with an invalid gateway IP address, the printer should not be able to communicate with the Internet. For example, if your LAN is using 192.168.3.x and the router is 192.168.3.1, then lie to the printer and tell it the gateway/router IP address is 192.168.3.252. Or, you could lie about the available DNS servers and specify something like 10.11.12.13 as the DNS server.
A hacked printer may also try to attack other devices on the LAN. One protection from this is to put the printer in its own VLAN. This, however, requires a somewhat high level of technical skill. First, you need to block outbound communication from the printer-only VLAN. Then you need allow only the necessary traffic into the printer-only VLAN. This is complicated by the fact that printers support a wide range of protocols, so you first need to determine which protocols your devices are using to communicate with your printer. And this assumes you even have a router/switch that supports VLANs. Most do not.
Wi-Fi is yet another issue. Sure, Wi-Fi can be used to connect a printer to your LAN, fine. But there is another flavor of Wi-Fi called Wi-Fi Direct which does not involve your LAN or your router. Wi-Fi Direct lets two devices directly communicate with each other. While it may have its place, many people are not aware of Wi-Fi Direct and thus leave it on with all the default settings. This is bad for security, so if you do not use this feature, turn it off in the printer. At the very least, change the default Wi-Fi network password to something at least 15 characters long. This to prevent the Wi-Fi network created by the printer being used to hack into your LAN.
- May 20, 2023: FYI: A bad firmware update crippled some HP printers. HP rushes to fix bricked printers after faulty firmware update by Sergiu Gatlan of Bleeping Computer. Ars Technica covered this too: HP breaks its own printers (again) with firmware update by Scharon Harding (May 22, 2023). The problem has been ongoing since May 8, 2023, so 2 weeks and no fix. This is a disgraceful response from HP that makes it impossible to recommend any HP printer from now on. Many comments to the Ars article suggest using Brother printers. Exactly why HP released the updated firmware is not yet known. No matter, their quality control is obviously miserable. In his Security Now podcast (episode 924 from May 23, 2023) Steve Gibson discussed this and said "The reason for my annoyance is not just HP's sloppy software, although their printer software, at least for Windows, is a true atrocity...".
- HP has a long history of blocking the use of third party ink cartridges. They call this feature "Dynamic security". See HP Printers - Dynamic Security Enabled Printers for more. In late 2022 and early 2023, they expanded this to more printers via firmware updates. Yet another reason to block a printer from updating its firmware (see the section above).
- HP is blocking third-party printer ink again by Emma Roth for The Verge (March 11, 2023). Numerous reports suggest that a recent printer firmware update is blocking the use of non-HP ink. The article discusses some history of HP doing this previously. It seems that firmware updates released in December 2022 and January 2023 are to blame.
- HP outrages printer users with firmware update suddenly bricking third-party ink by Scharon Harding for Ars Technica (March 9, 2023). HP introduced dynamic security to some printers in 2016, and since 2018, it has paid millions in class-action lawsuits.
- If you own an HP inkjet printer, or are considering buying one, it is probably best to avoid the HP Instant Ink program as per this article: This Is Why So Many People Hate HP Printers by Julian van der Merwe for SlashGear (Oct. 2022). The ink subscription provides users with ink on an on-demand basis, based on the amount of printing done every month. The printer tracks how many pages are printed and HP automatically sends you ink when the levels are low. HP claims that ink purchased this way is cheaper. It also makes it easy to recycle old ink cartridges. Printers that support the Instant Ink program are often heavily discounted. But ... If you cancel the service HP disables the Instant Ink cartridges you received during the subscription. If you read the fine print, HP does warn about this. Another issue: if the printer can not connect to the Internet, it won't print. Same if there is a problem with the HP Instant Ink account. Some have reported that HP printers fail to recognize a non-Instant Ink cartridge after getting out of the Instant Ink program.
- Laser printers warn about the toner being almost empty well before it actually runs out. When a toner cartridge is low, you may be able to extend its life by shaking it.
- Most color laser printers and color copiers are designed to print invisible tracking codes on every page. These codes reveal which specific machine produced a document and, in some cases, when the document was printed or copied. From the EFF in 2017: it appears likely that all recent commercial color laser printers print some kind of forensic tracking codes, not necessarily using yellow dots. This is true whether or not those codes are visible to the eye. To be safe, use a black-and-white printer, black-and-white scanner, or convert a color image to black-and-white with an image editor. More from the BBC (June 2020), from Robert Graham (June 2017), from the EFF (undated) and from Snopes (June 2017).
- Ever wonder how expensive the ink for an inkjet printer is per gallon? According to Cory Doctorow, the ink costs $170/gallon to manufacture and it is sold for $12,000/gallon (as of Feb. 2022). Quoting: "No one would voluntarily pay $12,000/gal for ink that costs about $170/gal to manufacture, so the printer companies roll out an endlessly inventive bag of dirty tricks to force you to buy their $12,000/gal product, and keep you buying it, forever." This is just one reason to buy a laser printer.