A Defensive Computing Checklist
by Michael Horowitz
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Some printers support Wi-Fi Direct which is a type of Wi-Fi that allows two devices to directly connect to each other, without needing to be on the same Wi-Fi network. You could unplug your router and this would still work. I mention it here because unless you use this feature, it should be turned 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 the LAN.
- 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.
- Printers are computers and, as such, they need bug fixes and they can get hacked. In the worst case, a hacked printer may sent copies of what it prints to the bad guys that hacked the printer. If you have a network capable printer and a business class router, you should be able to set 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 for itself.
- FYI: 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.
- FYI: 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).
- FYI: 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.
- 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.
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