Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Saturday, January 15, 2011

So you want to print your genealogy?

My first question when the subject of printing comes up is why would I want to print out my genealogy? This seems to be part of the endless discussion about whether you can still do genealogy from paper copies. But in this post, we will assume that you already have come to the conclusion that some portion of your genealogical data needs to be printed and discuss what kind of printers are now (2011) available and the pluses and minuses of each type.

If you have purchased a computer in the last couple of years, you may have noticed that the vendor offers you a "free" inkjet printer along with your computer system. The reason is simple, replacement ink cartridges cost more than a new printer. The current price for the least expensive HP Deskjet Printer is $29.95 after a rebate direct from HP. The cash price is $69.99 retail. I am not expressing any opinion at all about the quality or other features of any of the printers I mention, I am using the price to demonstrate a point, that most printers today are less expensive than their replacement ink or toner cartridge. In the case of the HP Deskjet, one extended Black cartridge (not color) is about $60 or twice as much as the cost of the printer. 

The point is this, when you look at a printer today, it is more important to look at the cost of the replacement ink cartridges or toner than the cost of the machine itself. There are cheaper ways to replenish the ink cartridges, such as buying kits to reload them with ink, but there is still a cost involved in the printing supplies which will eventually, sooner or later (usually sooner) equal or exceed the cost of the printer.

There are essentially two types of printers on the market today; those that use ink sprayed onto the paper in some form and those that use toner, a plastic powder that is melted onto the page. I guess it is obvious that inkjet printers use ink and laser printers use toner. All photocopy/laser machines use toner cartridges. The process used by inkjets to form an image whether a photo or text is same, the ink is sprayed onto the page in really tiny drops. On the other hand, laser printers use an electrostatic charge to form the image on the paper and then the paper passes next to a dispenser filled with plastic powder which adheres to the parts charged by the imaging mechanism. Then the toner is fused to the paper by a heated element appropriately called the fuser assembly.

Inkjet printers are usually very quiet, start printing instantly and have good quality color prints (from color printers, of course). On the other hand, they are comparatively quite expensive to operate and have a tendency to run out of ink at inconvenient times. Laser printers take a little longer to print the first copy, but are usually faster on longer jobs. They cost slightly more than inkjet printers but the toner cartridges generally last a lot longer than the ink cartridges. The cost of prints is usually lower than inkject but the quality of the photo printing is considerably worse than the dedicated inkject photo printers. 

I have already mentioned the price of one of the least expensive inkjet printers available, what about a laser printer? Used laser printers are selling for around $10 to $20. That's right $10. New black and white laser printers start at about $25. No this is not a typo. You guessed it! It is now cheaper to buy a new printer than it is to replace the cartridge.

But what about quality? The cheapest printers advertise up to 1200 x 1200 dpi (dots per inch). So what's the catch? There really isn't one. In fact, you can buy a combination scanner, inkjet printer and FAX machine for under $100. Why aren't all these printer manufacturers going out of business? Remember the cost of ink and toner? That is the reason.

Most of the inkjet printers are being sold today for printing photos as well as text. But the manufacturers know that you will not print just one photo at the lowest average cost of about 25 cents, but probably use up a lot of ink printing a lot of photos. This economical cost of photo prints is primarily from machines that print only photos. No text.

Some of the things you want to compare and look for in a printer of any type are the following:
  • Resolution -- higher resolution = more expensive
  • Print Speed -- faster = more expensive
  • Connectivity and wireless operation -- will it work with your computer?
  • Media capacity -- such as how many pages the tray will hold
  • Media sizes -- such as larger sheets and or legal size prints
  • Controls -- easy to use and see
  • Memory card capability -- print directly from the camera or memory card
  • Cost per sheet of operation -- sometimes really difficult to determine
  • Size and weight -- there are portable printers
What if I walk into Costco or Walmart and just pick up the first printer I come to? You will probably get a good quality printer, but it may not be what you really want. Think about what you really need or want to print? Do you really want to print a lot of photos, or just some for special occasions? Do you produce a lot of reports with color graphics? Maybe you need a color laser printer that will give you high quality and low cost per print.

Will you use the printer for anything beside genealogy? Very likely. If you find that you only print a very few copies every month, then you can get by with just about any inexpensive printer. HP, Canon, Lexmark, Epson or Kodak. But, you might also want to look online for printing services. You may find that if you are only interested in doing photos once and while, it is cheaper to take them to a local Walmart, Walgreens or Costco for prints or send the files to Shutterfly or Snapfish or some other online printing company and get along with a plain black and white printer for family group records and pedigree charts.


  1. Being a bit old fashion, I do still like having a copy in my three ring binders of the group sheets. Also I am not as much into digital photos as the rest of the world. BUT I will agree with your statements on the cost of printers in relation to cost of ink. Even the salesman who sold me my latest printer told me to buy ink on line as to in the store and no need to buy brand names of the ink, either. Remanufactured or generic seems to work fine for most all my needs and the ease of quick delivery is a plus for those of us who live in rural America and don't have ready access to the big name stores.

  2. Anyone interested in an inkjet printer should definitely consider the replacement cartridges. I replaced my old one with a new all-in-one scanner/copier/printer (and it's wireless) because the old one had all the ink colors in one cartridge. If one color ran out, I had to replace the whole thing. What a waste! My new one has 5 separate cartridges - 3 color, 1 small black, and 1 large black. They cost roughly $13-16 each and last quite a while (because you don't have to replace them until they are empty). The device itself cost about $100. You can purchase a "package deal" with the cartridges and get a discount on them, but you don't have to. In case anyone is wondering what brand it is, feel free to email me. I don't want to give away free advertising on someone else's blog :)

  3. I think your article explanation was very informative for everyone.Really we did not know details which types of printer will be better for us.I have been using a Canon printer for a long time but did not know about deeply about that printer.Suddenly I faced Canon Printer Error 5200 in my system that was increasing my frustrating level because I thought it was printer drivers problem and also updated the drivers but could not fix the problem.If anyone has solution the suggest to me.

  4. I really appreciate your post.I think every printer users should be follow your content explanation.I have been using a canon printer but when wanted to print PDF file at that time Canon Printer Error 5200 pop-up notification shown on my system screen.