Ann Arbor Business to Business
Small Business and the Internet

Ink Jetting

June 2002

By Mike Gould

It's Spring, and the network administrator's thoughts turn to... anything but networking. So let's cast cares to the wind and talk about inkjet printers. (You can buy these on the Internet, so that satisfies the contractual topic constraint for this column.)

By now, everybody out there has a color inkjet printer, right? If not, go buy one right now because they are cheap, easy to use and fun. Oh yeah, and incredibly business-like. You can do flyers, posters, colored logos on your stationary, all the standard stuff. But let's think beyond the standard and get right to the fun stuff. I'm talking decals, refrigerator magnets, and freakin' tattoos, here, folks. That's right, tattoos streaming right out of your business computer's inkjet printer. How cool is that?

Printers are cheap but the ink'll kill ya
First, some general background. The major printer makers, Epson, HP, Canon, etc., are following the Gillette concept of marketing: give away the razors and charge for the blades. A top-notch zippy-quick color printer is less than $100 these days, often much less. You take one home, print up a bunch of newsletters, run out of ink, run back to the store, and Pow! - the ink costs more than the printer.

So you go out and buy some bulk ink and syringes, and refill your own cartridges (carts). You may end up with tie-dyed fingers for a while, but this can be made to work. There are also carts out there from other manufacturers that will work just as well as factory originals on most models. Just make sure you get the right type for your particular printer.

Now the printer makers see their ink revenues start to shrink, and, as this is now their profit center, Something Must Be Done. Epson, for instance, has started a clever practice of implanting a computer chip that tracks ink usage into their carts. Refill one of these puppies and you get an error message "I'm sorry, Dave, I can't do that. You have already used up that pod and I won't open the door" (or words to that effect). So now you have companies that make a device to re-program the chip and the party continues.

The coolest system is one that dispenses with carts entirely and uses big bottles of ink that connect to the print head via a nest of plastic tubes. This sort of thing will set you back around $250, but will cut your printing costs in thirds, maybe more. I provide links to all this at the bottom of the article. This sort of thing is not for the faint of heart, but if you spend most of your time printing, this is the ticket.

A Big Fat Digression - Party Time
Did you ever hear the term "Third Party"? That refers to a company that makes items which work with another company's products, such as the cart makers above. "Aftermarket" is another term for this. Ever wonder who the other 2 parties were, and why you weren't invited? Party 1 = original manufacturer, Party 2 = you, Party 3 = somebody making punch for somebody else's punchbowl.

Inka Dinka Doo
In defense of the printer makers, it should be pointed out that Epson, for instance, makes special formulations of ink that are supposed to last much longer than ordinary inks. This is of interest to us digital photographer types who would like our printed efforts to look nice on a wall somewhere for decades to come. It is also possible to screw up your printer by having third party inks clog the print head, or by introducing air bubbles into the ink system.

I have had mixed results with refills. One set of inks I tried caused a number of problems, and I went back to using the Epson products on my Epson PhotoStylus. I was using it for photographic purposes, though. If you are just printing colored letters and such, this may work just fine for you. YMMV (GeekSpeak for Your Mileage May Vary).

Beyond the Valley of the Newsletter
It being Spring and all, it is now the start of the camping season. We do a long camping trip to Northern Michigan to capture morel mushrooms every year, and call this RoonQuest. There are around 10 to 12 hunters in camp, and this year I decided to get my printer involved. I made up a RoonQuest 2002 logo, and printed out temporary tattoos, iron-ons and magnets as little gifts. They were a big hit, and did much to alleviate the gloom brought about by the lousy weather and sparse morel pickin's.

The temporary tattoos are available at the site below, and consist of special paper that you run through your printer. You then stick the print-out onto special double-stick transparent plastic. You cut out your design, peel off one side of the double-stick backing, paste it onto a handy body part, and then soak off the other side of the backing with water. Your result is an easily-removable tattoo-like object that delights kids, the hats-on-backwards set, and the young at heart. This sort of thing is fun at company picnics, trade shows, and tent sales.

Iron-on paper is available at most office supply places. As with the tattoos, you have to print the design flipped right to left, which you can do with just about any image processing app. I use Photoshop for this, and recommend Photoshop Elements for those getting started with imaging. With iron-ons you can make small patches as I did for RoonQuest, or full pictures up to 8 X 11 inches.

The real kick was discovering the refrigerator magnet media at Staples. Made by Xerox, this is flexible white vinyl material with a plastic magnetic backing, 4 sheets for $10. Each sheet made 16 magnets in the size I was printing. Be aware that this process is not as robust as the thicker magnets available from local printers and such, and not suited to bigger signs destined for outdoors. But for little refrigerator magnets with your logo or entire business card, big fun!

Continuous ink feed system:
Tattoos, decals and other fun stuff:
A Google search will reveal other vendors.

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