Forget the consumables: who is going to be able to read the printing in years to come?
Printers are often taken for granted. They are a necessity but are also viewed as a money pit.
What you save on the cost of the hardware is more than compensated for by the cost of ink or toner. Nowhere is this more true than in the world of inkjet printers where the ink seems to go through the printer faster than a dose of Epsom salts.
Having recently forsaken my old HP printer for a newer machine from an alternative supplier, I am now counting the cost. When printing, the dialog box shows icons for the cartridges and I am convinced that I can see the ink draining away.
After printing less than 100 pages I will soon be needing another cartridge. At £15 for a black ink cartridge this is exactly a third of the price of the hardware. This is alarming because I estimate that I will have used three by the end of the first month. I have yet to determine the rate at which I use the colour cartridge (£17) but I can see that my bargain buy was a pig in a poke.
Although I stress this was not an HP printer, it is the background against which HP's push for inkjets in the business environment is set. If ever there was a need for a charm offensive, the inkjet market is a prime case. And if ever there was a company that needed to dispel the negative image, HP is the one because of its leadership role in the market.
Consequently, the company is going to great lengths to show that ink-jet is ready for business and that it can compete with colour lasers on speed as well as price by using higher capacity cartridges.
The primary use of ink-based printers is to provide low-cost publicity materials that can be printed to high-quality on demand. This negates the need to litter warehouses with commercially printed catalogues and forms that need to be thrown away every time the product line prices or models change.
Printer manufacturer Lexmark claims its implementation of on-demand printing has already closed down two Department of Defense warehouses in the US.
In itself this represents a pretty good return on investment but a cynic might ask if the warehouses were then used to store replacement cartridges.
One challenge that ink poses is the question of permanence - how long before the image fades?
Stability tests by Wilhelm Imaging Research shows some alarming results. Using an accelerated light test, images faded appreciably for some printers in three years using specialist papers. The top prognosis was 73 years before noticeable image degradation but this was using HP's high-end print paper and, let's face it, no-one reading this article is likely to be able to confirm the results in 2076.
What Henry Wilhelm does say is that the choice of printer and paper is crucial. What worries me is that this is yet another reason for companies to pile on the costs of consumables.
The basic lesson is to distrust paper and rely instead on backed-up copies stored on magnetic and optical discs. A small offering to the god of image permanence might also help.
This was first published in February 2003