Get This Down on Paper: On Printers and Printing

The Oatmeal webcomic has an enjoyable screed about printers, titled, “Why I Believe Printers Were Sent from Hell to Make Us Miserable” (Click the title or the image below to find out why):

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I don’t entirely disagree, but I know printers are still important—if not quite as essential as they were in the early days of home computing. Following are three recent case studies of my adventures in attempting to satisfy my clients’ printing needs, to varying degrees of success.

1. Catastrophic Incompatibility?

I have a client who bought a new printer to connect to his Early 2009 MacBook. Apple considers this model laptop obsolete, but I was confident that I could get the new printer to work. My first challenge was connecting it. As The Oatmeal noted, most printers don’t come with USB cables to connect to computers. I didn’t expect this to be a problem, as it was a wifi-enabled printer. Sadly, my client’s custom network configuration did not allow wireless printers, so we were going to need to connect the new printer directly, after all.

I returned on a later day with a USB cable, and I also upgraded the client’s Mac to a newer operating system (OS)—after all, it is still capable of running the latest Mac OS, despite being “obsolete.” Even with an updated OS and direct connection, the computer still wouldn’t recognize the new printer. I connected my own laptop, a MacBook Air, running the latest OS at the time, “El Capitan,” and that computer wouldn’t print, either. All of this led me to determine that he must have just gotten a defective printer, which can happen.

I told him I would send him some recommendations for new printers that I would make sure were compatible with his older computer.

Several weeks passed, during which I repeatedly checked in via email and phone, leaving voicemails. I finally connected with him to see if he had picked up the new printer I recommended. He had not.

“The Staples Guy came over,” he said, “and he was able to get the printer to work.” I asked if he could tell me what the tech had been able to do that we had missed, but he couldn’t provide me with any details. It’s frustrating not to know the solution to a problem that had vexed me, but all I can do is be glad my client is printing from his old computer to his new printer, even if I wasn’t the one to make that happen. I still encouraged him to upgrade to a new computer soon, as those certainly don’t last forever (I give laptops three good, solid years of life on average. By year four, they begin to show their age). If nothing else, he should have no difficulty connecting this new printer to any new computer he gets… but then, perhaps I should be more circumspect when it comes to this printer.

2. A Fresh (re)Start

Not long after that adventure, I got a call from another client who had lost the ability to print. It wasn’t a brand new printer, and it had been working reliably for several months. All of a sudden, it stopped doing its job. This printer was connected wirelessly to this client’s home network. To test the printer, I sent a test page from my iPad. If a document would come out of the printer from that source, then I would be able to determine that the error was not with the printer, or the network; but with the client’s computer, a Late 2013 iMac (my rule for desktops, incidentally, is five good years on average, as opposed to three for a laptop).

Interestingly, my iPad had no luck printing, either. At this point, I approached the printer and called upon the motto of computer consultants since the dawn of time: 

And for those who can’t see the video, it’s computer tech Roy from British TV series The IT Crowd, asking a caller, “Have you tried turning it off and on again? …Are you sure that it’s plugged in?”

So I indeed turned the printer off and on again. I even unplugged its power cord and plugged that back in, to be thorough. After the standard boot-up time, I made sure it was connected to the wireless network, and I made a second attempt to print from my iPad. This time it worked, for the most part. The colors were off, indicating clogged printheads. Once I had this working on the client’s iMac, I was going to make sure it ran a head cleaning cycle or two.

Getting back to that iMac, still no luck printing to the newly restarted printer. I could tell that several failed attempts had been made, as the iMac’s Print Queue was full of documents trapped in a neither-here-nor-there limbo. I deleted these stuck documents, always a good course of action, but still no luck. I decided I would uninstall the printer from the computer (on Macs, it’s essentially just hitting the button with the minus sign on it, in the list of connected printers). With that step done, I made the computer look for any nearby printers, and it found the wireless printer. I re-added it, got it printing test pages, and even put it through an extended head-cleaning process to get the colors to line up correctly.

By the time I was done, my confidence, shaken by the failure with the previous printer, was restored. I was not at war with all printer-kind; just that one rogue element, who I’m convinced was in league with its comrade from the Staples tech support department.

Confidence renewed, I ventured forth to help with my latest printer quest:

3. New School Year, New Printer

Despite how technologically sophisticated some schools have gotten, they’re still requiring their students turn in their work printed, on paper, just as their parents and grandparents before them. With this in mind, another client reached out to me to get a new printer for his high school student. He was probably tired of her using his home office printer to print her school work, using up his ink and paper in the process.

He gave me the following criteria: “just want a good printer black white and color. doesn’t need to have fax and all other. just for printing and copying for school. wireless good. smaller the better.”

I often recommend color laser printers over inkjets, due to a much cheaper cost-per-page. Laser toner cartridges, after all, can output many more prints than an equivalent ink cartridge, at a fraction of ink’s ungodly cost. However, color laser printers are much larger than inkjets. Size is one of my clients’ considerations, so in this case, I was going to have to stick with the more compact inkjet printers.

I narrowed the search down to the HP brand (arbitrarily, I admit; but that’s the brand I use in my own office). From that brand I found 12 size-appropriate options available in stores, representing the DeskJet, Envy, OfficeJet, and OfficeJet Pro lines. Based on the need for wireless, as well as a compact size, I ended up selecting the Envy 7644, at my local Apple Store. It had great specs, not least of which a zippy print speed of 14 black pages per minute (ppm).

HJVL2

The HP Envy 7644, which, aside from the model number on the upper-right corner of the face, is identical to the Envy 7640.

What was odd was that several of the other models were available at multiple stores: Best Buy’s selection matched Staples’s and Fry’s’. But this 7644 was only available at Apple. Even HP’s own website omits it, in lieu of the 7640. I contacted HP, and they told me that the 7644 was the exact same printer as the 7640, but the 7644 was exclusive to Apple Stores. If it was the same model, and if I could apply my Apple discount to it, then I knew what to do.

I’m actually installing this new printer today, after this blog post is published. If there are any issues hooking it up (that can’t be resolved by “turning it off and on again”), I’ll follow up. If not, I’ll be back next week, with a new post. Until then, Happy Labor Day!

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