Small Printer Thoughts

I’ve been thinking about printers. Over the years, I’ve had various printers. I had an old obsolete laser printer from work, which had trouble printing graphics, I’ve had inherited Lexmark pieces of shit, I’ve had Epson boxes which jammed and got clogged with dust.

I currently have an HP Photosmart 8050, which is pretty cool, all told. I recently retrieved it from the cupboard where it has lived for over a year, and after replacing the dried-up cartridges, it works fine. But there’s the problem. It gets used so rarely that when it is required, the ink is dried up. Add to that the fact that it usually gets used in an urgent important-form-printing situation, and it all gets a bit annoying. It’s not the fault of HP – in fact this printer seems to cope with storage better than others I’ve owned. This may be due partly to its compact size, flaps and doors which transform it into a nice box shape. But if you only use a printer rarely, why keep one about?

Before I got around to unpacking the HP, Cassie and I had a scheme for printing letters and official documents, when she didn’t work in an office. We both had the online file-sharing tool Dropbox installed, and we shared a folder called “Things for Matt to Print”. Then whenever we need to print something, we dropped a PDF (or whatever) in there, and I printed it the next day at the office, where I also have Dropbox installed. Or Cassie dropped something there during the day, and I got a little message that pops up. This worked fine for the most part.

But what would a home printer be used for?

Letters

These are usually to organizations, rather than friends or family. For these, we use the Dropbox scheme described above. That said, now that this printer is back up and running, I’ll be dashing off a load of overdue change-of-address letters. We keep in touch with friends and family via phone, Skype, email and social network, and hand-written letters or cards when necessary. A home printer is not really necessary for letters.

Photos

We rarely print photos, and when we do we send them to an online photo-printing site, so a fancy photo-printer is unnecessary. This is especially true when you consider the cost of home photo printing ink and paper. The HP did come with a separate photo ink cartridge and a sample of special photo paper, so I think I’ll print a few shots, but I doubt I would replace them when they run out.

Directions, Recipes and other small documents

Things like this really don’t need a letter-sized page to be printed. A recipe could be printed on an index card. When planning a route when going out, I scribble the directions on a Post-it, rather than print a whole sheet. A small sheet printer would work here as well. The HP has a special photo/envelope/card rack thing to let you print on these smaller pages – I haven’t really tried it. Directions can often be texted to a cellphone, so it’s probably worth investigating that. Smartphones have directions built-in, of course.

I guess the point is that it would be nice to have one tool that did everything when you needed it, but wasn’t in the way when you didn’t. It’s like cars – why keep a big truck when you don’t use it regularly? But if you do, do you keep the truck, and get rid of the smaller runabout?

I think a printer which could print letters, recipe cards, and receipt-like scraps of quick information would be the ideal. Like a little receipt printer. Perhaps one that uses dry solid ink, or thermal paper like the old fax machines and the Sinclair ZX Printer (on second thoughts…). In the meantime, I have the HP, and I’ll use it more now it’s out, and make the best use of the ink I have that I can. But when it runs out, it may be time to leave home printers behind.

Of course now I read that BERG have announced the BERG Little Printer, which is a little thermal device that prints content that you have subscribed to via the BERG Cloud service. It’s more of an ecosystem, with content specially generated and piped through via  a special hub, but the printer itself looks a lot like what I had in mind.