Saturday, August 20, 2016

Tips on Scanners, Printers and Copiers for Artists

An artist asked me to give her some tips on Scanners, Printers and Copiers for Artists.

What follows are some general principles, considerations and criteria to consider prior to making a purchase - as opposed to recommendations on specific technology.

At the end I ask you for your recommendations as to specific machines you use and are happy with.  You'll see what I use in this blog.

What do you need it for?

Sit down and write out a list of what you want your machine to do.

  • What are your priorities in terms of functions? Are all functions - scanning, printing copying of equal importance - or is one more important than another. For example I do very little copying but at times in the past I've used the scanner as much as I've printed
  • Is space an issue? Does it need to be an "all in one" scanner/printer/copier? Or do you have the space for separate devices?  There's no question that one device is easier to house - but this tends to come at the cost of performance which fall short of the best that is available in terms of the different functions
    • standalone scanners tend to deliver better performance than scanners bundled into printers
    • photo printers provide much better colour printing compared to 'normal' printers
    • all devices have become better designed and tend to occupy a smaller footprint over time.
  • What quality are you aiming for?  Is the printer for personal or professional use? (i.e. do you aim to sell anything using images printed from your machine?)
  • What quality does the black and white printing  need to deliver? A machine which is excellent at printing text is not the same as a printer which delivers good quality black and white photos. They are totally different outputs and need totally different printers with completely different printer inks
  • Does colour printing need to give you good quality photos?  Colour printing quality varies enormously - from photos to party invites. Some printers are designed to print photos - while others just print in colour - but not to the same standard as a photo printer. If you want photo quality colour printing you have to be buy a photo printer.
  • Is the cost of ink tolerable? The cost of ink is never reasonable - but you can decide whether or not ink costs are excessive.  Look at how much ink costs relative to the number of sheets it will print. I discovered when deciding what my next printer would be that very cheap printers are often associated with more expensive inks - so beware!
  • Consider the paper that a printer needs to use. Printers are very fussy about the different types of surfaces and weights (gsm) of paper stock that they will use. Many a person has totally screwed their printer by attempting to use the wrong type of paper stock which just gets stuck in the printer and refuses to come out!  So first define what sort of paper stock you want to print on. If you want to print on high quality fine art paper designed for inkjets then you need to check what weight they will take.
  • Are standalone scanners better than those bundled with printers. They generally are if they are a decent scanner - and very often have additional functionality (eg scan film). However you need to ask yourself whether you can justify the extra cost for the difference in functionality.  For example being able to upgrade from A4 to A3 size is a big thing for a lot of artists - however A3 printers in the past have either been expensive or not performed well. The first A3 printer which gets ace reviews from everyone will sell well!

After considering all the above, this is the machine I currently use which I got last year.

It's a Canon Pixma MG7751. It's neat, small and unobtrusive (I hate black boxes!) and works well. However it's not exactly what I wanted (I'd prefer the scanning functionality of my last all in one - 9600 DPI which is why I've kept it just for extra scanning capability).

Note link is an Amazon Associate link.

This is my third Canon All in One in well over 10 years. The first two both developed a fault - but only after an acceptable time in terms of years and usage. See Printers come...and printers go.... written in 2009 when I moved from my first to my second.  The first two printer/scanner/copiers lasted 5+ years.  This is the link to the page on the Canon website for the Canon MG7700 series

How much do you want to pay?

Unless you are aiming to operate at a professional level - with a high level of usage - it's difficult to justify the cost of a high end machine.

At a time when it is possible to buy a printer for the same as it costs to refill it with ink, one has to ask what has happened to the quality of printers!

The budget you determine should be one you can justify in terms of the use you get out of it. So think for a moment about:
  • what your usage will be (e.g. how many black and white copies and how many colour)
  • what your usage means in terms of ink (i.e. whatever form ink comes in it has a predictable life in terms of pages).
Don't forget that the budget needs to cover:
  • the cost of buying the printer
  • any cost of added insurance/cover
  • the cost of ink for (say) three years of usage according to your calculations
The latter - the cost of ink - may well swamp the cost of buying the hardware if you aim to use it a lot.  It's therefore wise to assess just how much you are making a commitment to pay BEFORE you hand over the plastic to buy the machine.

Become familiar with the technology

In terms of printing there are office printers (which tend not to print photos) and photo printers (which are not designed for doing lots of printing of text - or rather you can but it will be very expensive in terms of ink).

If your printing needs vary it can be well worthwhile considering whether you need two different sorts of printers to conserve costs on ink.

The thing that makes the biggest difference to the digital scanned image quality is dots per inch. If you want to scan an image and enlarge it, this only works well if you have a very high quality scan.

Copiers perform as well as the scanning functionality and the quality of printing available.

I had to do a review of what was available last year when my printer started to misbehave. That's when I found out how much printers have been downgraded in terms of scanning functionality and dpi performance. That's why I've kept my old printer just for its scanner as it's now virtually impossible to find a 9,600dpi scanner on a reasonably priced printer.

The next time I have to buy a printer I think it's very likely that I will split my printer from my scanner so I can improve both the printer and the scanner. But first I have to make space for both!....

Check the cost, availability and performance of ink!

Cost of printer ink

The cost of printers have come down. Interestingly the cost of ink has not. That's because the business model (profit) for printing lies in the consumables (i.e. the ink).  Printer ink is some of the most expensive liquid in the world.

That's why there is a huge market in clone inks. My general advice is don't touch them - especially during the guarantee period (you could invalidate the warranty). While some may be good - others are awful and there is no way of telling what you are getting - and whether they are going to mess up your machine.  It's the latter reason why I won't touch them.

Printer inks also vary in size and cost between different brands and models. To compare them properly you need to provide an equivalent cost e.g. the cost of printing 100 sheets of a specific quality of paper.

Availability of printer ink

The big question for artists wanting to find a printer which will deliver the quality they want is how easy is it to replace the ink.

Depending on where you live you may be wholly dependent on online purchases simply because local retailers tend to stock only the most popular inks (for the commonest printers sold) and they often don't stock ink for older machines.

I've always stuck with buying a Canon printer because I've found that they tend to change their ink modules less often i.e. add on new models which use it. That's not a scientific fact - but I've never been left high and dry unable to buy Canon ink!

Performance of printer ink

Think about whether you need proper archival inks - because you are selling prints of your work - or ordinary inks used by anybody who wants a photo of their kids. Archival inks cost more - as do the printers that use them.

Some printer inks in the past have not performed well unless the machine is used regularly. I've steered clear of Epson because of major headache stories relating to the performance of Epson printer ink in high quality machines which did not get heavy duty usage (they seized up!)

Things will have moved on. However my advice is to do some research online once you've narrowed down to a shortlist and search for CURRENT reviews and problems with specific machines and/or their inks. You can target searched on Google for a specific time period.

Who provides the best buy?

You've finally decided what machine you want to buy - and now you just need to find one at a good price. However this can be a bit of a problem area.

I'm fussy about who I do business with when it comes to expensive machinery. I'm less fussy when it comes to machinery which doesn't cost a lot.

Unfortunately, combined printer/scanner/copiers and the same functions as seperate devices tend to fall between the two!

I do like to be able to see a machine before I buy it. However I've found that the machines I think meet my criteria (as an artist) the best are very rarely those which you can see easily on the high street or shopping mall.

You then have to fall back on the sort of strategies I've had to adopt in the past:
  • asking a store you like doing business with whether they can order one for you. The answer tends to be no - but not always. Store chains (like John Lewis) seem to be best at getting machines from other branches to collect in your local store.
  • finding a specialist store which you can access relatively easily - and asking them if they have any in stock or any prospect of getting one in soon. Do remember to use the phone rather than travelling miles hoping they will have one!
  • trusting to the anonymous third party vendors on Amazon (or similar) to deliver the goods. The good news here being that I have found Amazon refunds to be totally effective in relation to any products delivered which don't match up to what is promised. Amazon does not want to be known as a seller of counterfeit or defective goods - and vendors do not want to be thrown off Amazon!

and finally....

Thanks to Linda Q for her question. Linda asked it via Art Business: Feedback and Queries - Contact Me on my Art Business Info for Artists website.

Do YOU have any recommendations for Linda with respect to printers or scanners?


beagle said...

I recently purchased this same printer for printing photos for me to paint. However I am still experimenting with the best settings to use. It seems like I cannot get the print to have the same beautiful colors as I see on my computer screen..Any advice on what settings to use? I am printing from Photoshop elements 8

Katherine Tyrrell said...

Well the basic thing you need to understand is that printed colour will never ever look the same as screen colour as they use completely different colour systems - see Making A Mark Guide - Colour a Scientific Perspective v1.0.pdf on this page of my website

Digital Screens uses an additive process and the RGB colour space model

Printing colour uses a subtractive process and the CMYK colour model

They are NOT the same

Neither are they same as the colours you see in real life. You shouldn't be worried about whether your print looks like your screen. Instead you should be focused on whether it looks like the real thing in real life!

Maske sketches and colour note studies when you do your photographs and you'll give yourself a baseline for adjusting colours when producing your painting.

Always use photos for guidance not copying.

Norman said...

A couple of extra points:
1. Check about Operating System compatibility and the quality of any bundled drivers (and other software):
For Linux Operating Systems (eg Ubuntu that I use) I have found that drivers are always available for Hewlwtt Packard printers - already built into the OS (but also you can go to the HP linux site & download hplip which gives some extra features), and these give a full service including scanning over wifi.

2. In the past I found that if Epson printers were not used for a while the print head nozzles got clogged & could be difficult to clear. With HP inkjet printers the nozzles are part of the cartridge so get replaced with every new cartridge. I have not had these clog.

Katherine Tyrrell said...

That's a very common complaint about Epson Printers. I thought they might have addressed it at some point in the last 10 years but obviously not! It's the main reason why I don't buy Epson Printers.

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