Dear Lifehacker, I've gone through at least 20 inkjet printers in my lifetime and they've all sucked. The ink is too expensive, the printers are built like they're made to break, the ink nozzles get clogged every few months, and I spend a fortune on paper. Is there anything I can do to make my inkjet printer suck less? Sincerely, Printed Out
Buy a laser printer and order prints of your photos online through a photo-printing service. You can get a cheap colour laser printer for little more than the price of a good inkjet and the toner it comes with will last you a year. A black-and-white laser will be cheaper and last even longer. Photo-printing services cost next to nothing, and you can even pick up prints at local retailers the same day if you're willing to pay extra. But presuming you're not ready to ditch the inkjet out of some kind of misplaced love, sure, we've got some suggestions.
Avoid Clogged Ink Nozzles
Inkjet nozzles clog because they have ink in them and that ink dries, blocking the passage of more ink. Isn't that great? So keep it moist. The easiest way to do that is print regularly. Set an alarm on your calendar to just print something once a week. Print a photo of a rainbow or something that will use the colours. Sure, this is somewhat wasteful, but it's less wasteful than running the nozzle clearing tasks that will be required if dried ink clogs them up. Plus, if you're printing anyway, you can generally avoid the problem.
Because the ink is of a higher quality, it also helps to...
Buy Ink from the Manufacturer
I'd love to suggest that third-party ink retailers can provide the same quality as the people who make your printer, only for less, but that's not the case. If you don't believe me, check out these tests from PC World. In some cases the knock-off brands are passable, but clearly not as good. In other cases the quality is downright terrible. It gets even worse over time, too. This is an unfortunate reality because ink is so expensive. It may cost a bit more, but at least your prints won't look like crap.
If you do decide to go the cheap ink route, however, you should at least get this continuous ink system.
Get Your Colour Right
When you install your printer drivers, you're most likely installing ICC profiles as well. ICC stands for International Colour Consortium and these profiles help your computer display the colours on your screen as closely as possible to the way they'll look when you print a photo. If you have a crappy monitor there's only so much you can do, so a high-end colour-calibrated monitor is necessary if you want to get as close to an exact colour representation as possible. But if you have a better-than-cheap display and a photo editor that supports ICC profiles (e.g. Photoshop), you can come pretty close. Just make sure you're actually using the profile for your printer. How to set an ICC colour profile will vary from editor to editor, but in Photoshop you just go to the Edit menu, choose colour Settings, and select the profile you want. Even simple applications like Apple's Preview can do it by going to the Tools menu and choosing Assign Profile. It's a pretty common feature, even if you're not aware it's there, so just check your manual and you might be surprised to find your editor can handle the job.
This is just scratching the surface of colour management for your printer. If you want to take a deep dive, check out this article in PC Magazine.
Pick the Best Paper
It may seem like a gimmick, but good paper will make your prints more vibrant and last longer. The problem is, that paper can get pretty costly and the quality can degrade pretty quickly if it isn't meant to last. You can spend a lot of money on fancy archival paper that promises vibrant colours in your prints for longer than your laundry detergent promises the same for your clothing, but you don't have to. The problem is figuring out what paper to buy, and that answer is rarely consistent.
Most manufacturers will tell you their paper will work best with their printers and often times they're right. They've created the ink. They know how it bonds with the surface of certain paper coatings better than anyone. They'll also create a range of paper and some will be phenomenal while others will be pretty mediocre. Nonetheless, you can generally expect a higher level of paper quality and compatibility from the manufacturer of your printer.
To complicate matters further, many manufacturers have different types of ink for different types of printers, so it's important to match your ink type with the paper type. Most inkjet printers will work with the standard range of papers, but if you have a specific kind of ink you'll want to check and see if there's also a special brand of paper just for you.
But then there's the expense. Buying paper from your printer's manufacturer is almost always a costly endeavour, so you can either look for sales or try to figure out what else works. To do that, you'll have to experiment, as one brand of third-party paper also varies in results depending on the printer. Even the print setting can make a difference. I used to buy Kodak Satin paper because I loved how it looked, but I had to use the slow print settings and let it dry or the ink would run. It looked great in the end and it was pretty cheap to buy, but it was a pain in the butt to use. You'll find lots of papers like this online, so the best thing you can do is buy small packages of each and try them all out. It may turn out that the manufacturer's paper really is the best, but the best paper at the best price is ultimately going to be what you prefer. Just make sure you read the instructions for each kind of paper so you don't print on it incorrectly and miss out on discovering something great.
Make the Best of a Bad Situation
While you'll still probably have a better experience with a good laser printer, and save some money in the process, these tips should help you avoid at least a few potential problems with your printer. The unfortunate reality is that the hardware is always pretty crappy and is going to have some issues, but if you're diligent you can eke some more life out of what you're stuck with. Good luck, and happy printing!
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