The Power of the Press

Printing PressBehavior is printing a special-purpose marketing piece for which we need only about 50 copies. Taking this to a traditional offset printer — the old school kind, with huge, dangerous, finger-eating mechanical presses, unionized staff brimming with arcane printing knowledge, and storerooms full of noxious chemicals — would have made absolutely no economic sense. We also priced this out with one of the new breed of printers, the kind that straddle the line between traditional shops and digital service bureaus, and even that quote was pricier than we’d anticipated.

Instead, we’ve turned to the amazing power of desktop ink jet printing, the kind that’s nearly ubiquitous these days thanks to the stalwart marketing efforts of printer manufacturers.

The Gutenberg Revolution

If you purchase a consumer PC package these days, it’s a virtual certainty that it will include a massively discounted color printer of some kind. A friend of mine just recently purchased an iBook, and it included a coupon for a full refund on a Canon printer — in effect, the printer was free.

Below: the EPSON Stylus C80, a bargain if you never have to buy inks for it.

This is amazing because the quality of these machines is very, very impressive. We’re using an EPSON Stylus C80 for our marketing piece, and the quality of the lines, detail and color is superb. To the layman, it’s actually within plausible striking distance of an offset-printed page. This is the kind of power and print fidelity that I used to daydream about having access to when I was a kid, hand-making covers for mix tapes I made for my friends. Now it’s here and available, and I continuously find that fact to be a sort of minor miracle.

EPSON Stylus C80


On the other hand, these machines are very much consumer products at heart, and as such they are deeply flawed. First of all, they’re slow; it’s taken all day to print these things and even now, at 07:30p, they’re still not done. We’ve even got two Stylus C80s going at once, each printing half of the job, and the pace is glacial.

This technology’s worst offense is the ridiculous price of replacement ink cartridges — this morning I forked over US$70 for a new set of cyan, magenta, yellow and black inks. Seventy dollars, nearly half the cost of the printer itself! Imagine if a full tank of gas cost even 33% of the cost of the car it fueled.

Maybe that’s a bad analogy, but it’s a barely concealed fact that, for printer manufacturers, the machines themselves are the razor and the cartridges are the blades, which is to say that the real money is to be made in supplying refills. That’s a tried and true consumer strategy, but I’ve been reading lately that some companies, notably EPSON, are using a technological trigger to indicate that the cartridges are empty even before the ink has truly run out. I accept that this kind of power needs to come at a price, but I wish it weren’t sold with so much cynicism.



  1. That’s part of the reason why I’m loathe to buy a printer. I’m half-tempted by the good words for the C80 you mention but the cost of the cartridge is mystifying. Back in college when I worked in the lab and even at work, the laser printers would start to say toner low. It seemed that continually shaking the damn things (which everybody does) you’d extend the life by another third of the time. It’s all a scam!

    Have you seen Gocco printers? Small little silkscreen like devices, amazing, and a good cheap investment.

  2. I would rather just pay $400 for a printer that worked perfectly for a year and didn’t require ink refills. The question is, now that the printer industry has (for lack of a better metaphor) painted themselves into a corner by absurdly undercutting each other’s retail price and compensating with crazy refill prices, how could they possibly market a $400 printer to compete with $120 printers?

    Ah, the joys of our culture of disposability!

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