It has been several years since ink jet printers replaced dot matrix printers in offices and on the desks of home computer users around the world
While they originally endured a niche existence as low-cost and low-quality alternatives to laser and dot matrix printers, their ability to print in colour â€“â€“ and their newfound role as photograph printers â€“â€“ has probably changed their fate forever.
â€œThe sale of ink jet photo printers has been buoyed by the proliferation of digital cameras,â€ says Barbara Wollny, with printer maker Hewlett-Packard (HP). Black-and-white ink jet printers are rarely requested nowadays.
â€œAlmost every ink jet printer that gets sold today can print in colour,â€ explains Norbert Neumann, a manager for printer maker Lexmark.
This evolutionary jump for the ink jet may be hampered, however, by a genetic problem. Ink jets, even the black-and-white kind, have always come under fire for their high operating costs: refill ink cartridges have been and remain expensive.
â€œLexmark has raised resolution and reduced drop size,â€ a measure that in part saves ink, explains Neumann.
The use of a four-colour system and the move away from six-colour cartridges helps to keep operating costs down on colour and photo printers, as well, Neumann maintains.
However, there are no big price drops in the offing for ink itself.
â€œInk jet accessories will not get significantly cheaper any time soon,â€ says Wollny.
Nevertheless, where there is a demand, someone is out there filling it.
â€œBuying print cartridges through other manufacturers often saves consumers money without a loss of quality,â€ says Dirk Lorenz of Stiftung Waren-test, adding that although doing so may void your warranty and degrade the quality of more demanding printing applications such as the printing of photographs.
Lorenz also recommends that customers check out ratings in industry magazines and books to know about the hidden costs for any given device. â€œAnyone who needs to print a lot is usually better served by buying a qualitatively better printer.â€ Many of the devices have at least one thing in common, though: the durability of the ink ensures that digital photographs will retain their colours for years to come.
â€œWhen printed on photo paper, prints are now designed to hold their colours for up to 70 years,â€ promises Wollny. After that period, it should be remembered, even traditional photos also have trouble staying picture-perfect.
Still, even if ink jets have slowly managed to change their image, there are questions as to whether their revival is here to stay.
Itâ€™s not just taking pictures that has gone digital. People now tend to store their images digitally, too. The number of pictures printed out is getting smaller in relation to those taken, says Neumann.
In light of the fact that storage media and data bandwidth over the Internet keep growing, the printing out of digital photos may slowly lose its charm. Then ink jets just might return to their original role as the workhorse for the masses.a
Will ink jet printers make it?