Friday, August 26, 2005


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One area of computing that we haven’t touched on yet is printing. With today’s hardware prices, I suppose it would be safe to say that most home computer owners have an ink jet or bubble jet printer connected to their system.

The first, commercially available for the PC market, ‘bubble jet’ printer was introduced back in the early ‘80s. It was small, about the size of a cigar box, and consumed paper and ink to produce a fairly good copy Quietly! You have to understand, this was during the time when dot-matrix printers were at their height. Noisy, buzzing, clunking machines that were slow and consumed whole blocks of paper where each sheet was still attached to the next in line. Buying paper usually resulted in having several hundred feet of paper rolling in to the printer and coming out the other side with text or graphics imprinted on it. You needed to separate each printed page from the pile to get the sheet you wanted plus remove the pin feed strips from both sides of the page. Messy and wasteful from the view point of the tree it took to make all that waste paper. Did I mention the printer was noisy? It was so bad that most commercial organizations that used them set aside a small room to contain the printer and its noise. The bubble jet however was silent. You heard the scrape of the paper as it slid into the mechanism, but that was the extent of it. It was also much faster, and it printed on single sheets of copier paper. Because of its size, the printer could be set on the desk.  Benefits all around!

How does it work, you ask? An inkjet or bubble jet printer (there is a difference, see below) is any printer that places extremely small droplets of ink onto paper to create an image. The printer uses ink cartridges to do the work. The next time you need to replace your empty ink cartridges, take a look at the bottom of the cartridge. You will see a series of tiny holes. This is where the ink comes out. When the printer moves the cartridge back and forth across the page, the electronics in the printer ‘pumps’ the ink out of the tiny holes in the cartridge. By regulating yhe timing of the ‘pump’ with the position of the printing assembly over the paper, an image is deposited.

A few facts:
1. The dots are extremely small (usually between 50 and 60 microns in diameter), so small that they are tinier than the diameter of a human hair (70 microns)!
2. The dots are positioned very precisely, with resolutions of up to 1440x720 dots per inch (dpi). Expect this to go up even higher as printer manufactures improve their products.
3. The dots can have different colors combined together to create photo-quality images.

The main difference between the bubble jet and ink jet is in the way the ink is ‘pumped’ onto the paper. In the bubble jet printer, tiny heaters create heat, and this heat vaporizes ink to create a bubble. As the bubble expands, some of the ink is pushed out of a nozzle onto the paper. When the bubble "pops" (collapses), and a vacuum is created. This pulls more ink into the print head from the cartridge. The ink jet printer has a crystal located at the back of the ink reservoir of each nozzle. The crystal receives a tiny electric charge that causes it to sort of do the hula. When the crystal moves one way, it forces a tiny amount of ink out of the nozzle. When it moves the other way, it pulls some more ink into the reservoir to replace the ink sprayed out. Given the size of the droplets given above, the bubbles and the movement of the crystal are very, VERY small. Watch your printer move when you print something. It’s truly amazing to see how the text and/or images are printed when you consider the size of each droplet and the speed of movement.

There is a drawback, though. The cost of the cartridges! If you purchase from the manufacture, prices range from $25 US and up. You can purchase Off-Brand cartridges starting around $7US, but be careful. You can save money that way, but the cartridge may clog or cause problems for the printer. Buy from companies that guarantee their products, just to be on the safe side. Anyway, some of us need to use the printer a lot for various reasons, making a permanent copy for filing, a form for mailing, etc. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to conserve on ink, AND paper? Well, I found something that does the trick.

I didn’t find this one on the down load sites. The name of the program is FinePrint. is the site for it. Registration is $49.00 US so it isn’t cheap but it will pay for itself with the savings in paper and ink. How? The program enables you to print multiple pages of text or images on a single sheet of paper. It also has the ability to extend the life of the ink cartridge by limiting to amount of ink used. The really nice thing about it is that even with the maximum number of pages (up to 8) printed on the sheet, they are still legible. It installs like a print device on Windows and will install cleanly on Windows 95 to XP. If you need to be able to do a LOT of printing with an Ink Jet printer, this is one tool you need on your system.

And, as always, HAVE FUN!