Printers have their places, but you need to think twice before assuming they make good gifts.
Starting our fourth decade: Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously online for 30 years


Cheapskate's guide, Part 4: Printers

December 8, 2013

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2013, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2013, The Post-Standard

Who needs a printer these days?

It used to be a big thing to print the pictures of the kids or the shots you took at the family picnic. How else could you show them to your friends and coworkers?

Ah, that kind of thinking is so 1990s. You don't need to be told that a funny thing happened on the way to your new printer: It got ambushed by Facebook and all the other online photo sharing sites.

The way I see it, there are only two things left that might require a printer:

  •  Student homework
  •  Photo exhibitions

  • Even those two are tottering. Many teachers are already collecting student homework by email. And photo exhibitions will draw much more attention if the pictures they're showing are on a big HD screen on the gallery wall.

    What's that, you say? What about printing office memos? Invoices? Meeting notes? Recipes? Pictures in little frames on the mantel?

    Nonsense. Memos should be emailed. Invoices should be stored in databases. Meeting notes should be on a laptop or tablet. And so on. The world changed while a lot of us weren't looking. Even those mantel photos are turkeys. Use an old tablet or buy a cheap photoframe. Stick it on the mantle and run slideshows.

    I'm not being coy or cruel. Printers have their places, but you need to think twice before assuming they make good gifts. For one thing, see the statements above. (Please.) For another, something that feeds on $50 bills isn't a gift; it's a liability.

    What do I mean? Replacement ink for a decent color inkjet can easily run $30 to $50. It's not as if you're hauling home a few gallons at that price, either. You get an amount measured in milliliters. In case you're wondering where you've heard that word before, it's used to specify the dosage for a vaccination.

    So watch out. If your recipient doesn't need color printing capability, stick with black and white and get a laser printer, not an inkjet. Laser printers cost far less to run and don't cost much more to buy. A household or small office that does a lot of printing could easily save $40 to $60 every few months by using a black-and-white laser instead of a color inkjet.

    Good laser printers start at $60 or so at discount. Check prices at New Egg (www.newegg.com) and then look through the stock at local stores to see if buying locally makes sense. Spending a few bucks more locally is well worth it.

    If you must give a color printer, color lasers might be a good buy if you're not concerned about photo quality. If the recipient doesn't intend to print in color very often, get a cheap color inkjet. Epson makes the best models, and you can safely choose the cheapest Epson without worrying about quality. (Epson doesn't know how to make a bad printer.)

    But gifts that are half missing aren't useful. Always give good printer paper along with the printer. B/W laser printers can use any printer-or-copier paper, but look for a high whiteness value (it's a number on the package) for a classier appearance. Color photos will look ugly on cheap paper, so give some Kodak Premium or Ultra Premium paper with the printer. Skip the store brands, which are universally poor.