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.
- A personal story and a word to the wise: On June 15, 2023, I helped someone install a new HP 9015E, an all-in-one inkjet printer. All this person needed was printing and scanning from Windows 10. It took me over 3 hours and I never did get the main HP software installed. The printer was Ethernet connected to the router. I took three different approaches to installing the HP software on Windows 10 and they all failed. In my opinion, this instance makes a compelling case for Windows users to not buy an HP printer.
So, I tried other stuff.
- My first attempt used the offline Easy Start file, a 310MB download, from here. It ran for a bit but ended up stalled
as this at this blank screen. Note that to even get this far, requires creating an account with HP. Despite the install hanging, at this point, Windows 10 could print. But, we needed scanning too.
- The second attempt used the online Easy Start printer setup from the same web page, the 16 MB download. It failed too, something about not having pre-req software.
- The third attempt started at 123.hp.com and ended up trying to install software from the Windows Store. That failed too.
The story ended for the day when I did a Google search for HP scanning software. Turns out that HP has Universal Scan Software that you can download that is separate and distinct from the regular printer software. It worked fine. But, only for one day.
- I tried to use the web interface of the printer to setup scanning to a shared folder on the PC but could never get it working, it always failed with an error about using the wrong userid/password to access the shared folder. I even disabled the Windows firewall, to no avail.
- I tried to setup scanning to email. I did get it to accept the techie details of my email address, however it would not accept the Gmail account of the printer owner. You would think if there was a problem with Gmail addresses that HP would have some help, somewhere. Nope (I read the User Guide). And, even with my email address, you can only set this up using the web interface of the printer, you can not actually run it from there. I assume you can run it by touching the printer, but I was remote.
- You can run a scan from the web interface of the printer, but it only does one page, it can not access the sheet feeder, which we needed.
- Windows 10 includes Fax and Scanning software and Windows 10 recognized that the printer was also a scanner and was very happy to scan from it. But, again, this software only scans one page at a time.
The next day, the scanner software could not find the printer/scanner. See the error message. Perhaps it was the upgrade of Windows. With the scanner working, I upgraded Windows 10 a few service packs, a big upgrade. It was only the scanner software that broke. The router sees the printer as it should. Windows could print just fine. From Windows, I could get to the printer with a browser via its IP address and the web interface of the printer worked fine and showed no errors at all. Even the webscan function, which scans a single page, worked fine. Included with the scanner software is an HP Scan Assistant program. It too could not find the
The next day, the printer owner called HP and they got their Smart software installed. Probably they know more about this than I do. Or, it might be because Windows 10 is now up to date on patches, it had been a couple years behind. When asked to scan, the new software sometimes recognizes the scanner, and sometimes does not.
I was hoping to avoid installing all the software HP wants to force on their customers. The printer owner only wants to print and scan. As this screen shot of the Windows Control Panel shows, HP installed lots of other software: an HP Dropbox plugin, an HP emailSMTP plugin, an HP FTP Plugin, an HP Google Drive Plugin, an HP SFTP Plugin, an HP SharePoint Plugin, basic HP device software and an HP Product Improvement Study for the HP OfficeJet Pro
9010 series. And this does not include any Windows Store apps it may have also installed. And, the Product Improvement Study (which I read as spying)
had three different entries in the Windows Scheduler to make sure it really really ran. The program is hpcustpartic.exe and you can see the three entries in this screen shot of the Microsoft Autoruns program.
- May 20, 2023: This incident makes a compelling case for not buying an HP printer.
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...".
May 31, 2023: Still no fix. Still no official statement from HP. It has now been 22 days.
June 6, 2023: Still no fix. HP is clearly not a company you want to be doing business with.
- HP Plus printers: The Defensive Computing thing to do is to avoid the HP Plus Models. See
a screen shot of the requirements to use one. This is from the User Guide for the HP 9015E, an all-in-one model. It seems like the real requirement is letting HP spy on you. One requirement is that you must have an account with HP. The biggest issue for me is that the printer must be online to use it. Quoting: "HP+ printers ... must remain connected to the Internet in order to function ... During setup you must connect the printer to the Internet ... After setup, you can print using a USB cable connection, if desired, but the printer must also still be connected to the Internet.". HP does not even bother claiming that the data the printer collects about you will be anonymized. For more see:
Frequently Asked Questions About HP Plus Printers from HP. It says that HP+ eligible printers are identified by the letter "e" at the end of the product code.
- 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.
In July 2023, the Washington Post ran a series of printer articles that they referred to as Printer Week.
- Printer ink is a scam. Here’s how to spend less. by Geoffrey A. Fowler July 12, 2023. They tested three low-cost options. Note that the article is focused on ink jet printers and, in my opinion, most people are better off with a laser printer.
- Remanufactured cartridges were a good option, ink injections were a mixed bag and making your own ink was a failure.
- Quote: "I did learn one hard lesson that is important to highlight ... turn off your printer's automatic software updates ... For almost everything else, software patches are important - but printer makers are abusing them to make printers less compatible with cheaper ink."
- Quote: "Beware of ink subscriptions"
- Quote: "Some printers, including so-called HP+ models with an E at the end of their name, contain software locks that won't ever let them take anything other than
ink from the original manufacturer."
- A review of three very different printers, all under $250: Two home printers to consider if you can't give them up by Chris Velazco (July 13, 2023). To me, the most important point about this article was that it serves as an additional confirmation of a widely held opinion - black/white laser printers from Brother are a great option. The author discusses the Brother HL-L2370DW which he has used for years. The other printers reviewed are a Canon MegaTank (the PIXMA G3270) and the HP ENVY Inspire 7955e, a standard ink jet model. The article has a number of warnings about the HP printer, all of which, I think, are already on this page.
- Avoiding printing: You don’t need to own a printer. Do this instead. by Heather Kelly
July 13, 2023. Some suggestions: a public library, a professional print shop (i.e. FedEx, UPS, Office Depot or Staples) and some cafes have printers. Just be aware that when using a public printing facility, they may keep a copy of what you print. Also, instead of scanning with an all-in-one device consider taking a picture with a smartphone.
- 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.
- Maybe don't have the Geek Squad over to install a new printer. In June 2023, someone I know did have the Geek Squad to their home to install a new HP all-in-one printer. Then, they called me because nothing worked. The printer supported three types of connections: USB, Wi-Fi and Ethernet. The Geek Squad connected none of them. And, they lied, saying that the Windows 10 desktop computer was too old for the printer. And, they did not leave any of the cables, so we had to order an Ethernet cable for the printer. What the Geek Squad did do, was install HP software on an iPhone. This for someone who only wants to use the printer from their Windows 10 computer. This is malpractice.
- 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."
- According to Geoffrey A. Fowler,
writing in the Washington Post (July 12, 2023): Ounce for ounce printer ink costs more than Dom Pérignon champagne.