Dennis Faas's picture

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.

From Dot Matrix to Ink Jet and Bubble Jet

The first, commercially available for the PC market, 'bubble jet' printer was introduced back in the early '80s by Hewlett Packard. It was small, required each sheet of paper to be hand fed, about the size of a cigar box, and consumed paper and ink to produce a fairly good result.

One of the greatest features of the bubble jet was that it could print 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.

Another major feature that the bubble jet offered was that it could print on individual sheets of paper. In comparison, paper for dot matrix printers was connected (one after another) and you needed to separate each printed page from the pile to get the page you wanted plus remove the pin feed strips from both sides of the page.

Did I mention that dot matrix printers are 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 Ink Jets and Bubble Jets Work

How does it work, you ask? An inkjet or bubble jet printer (there is a difference) 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 and timing 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 be in different colors combined together to create near photo-quality images.

Differences between Ink Jet and Bubble Jet

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 the ink solvent 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 tiny 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, it forces a tiny amount of ink out of the nozzle. When it moves back, it pulls more ink into the reservoir to replace the ink pumped 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.

Buying Cartridges

There is a drawback to this wonderful technology, 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.

You should only buy from companies that guarantee their products, just to be on the safe side. Many of us use the printer extensively 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.

The name of the program is FinePrint. Registration is around $49.00 US so it isn't all that inexpensive but it will pay for itself fairly quickly with the savings in paper and ink. 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 controlling the 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 98 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. If you just want to save ink, Ink Saver ($34.99) will do just that: save your ink. It doesn't do anything else, like print multiple pages on a single sheet of paper, but it will reduce ink usage by up to 50% and more. It does it by changing the size of the ink bubbles being sprayed for the characters being printed. At the maximum setting, the characters are rather thin and light, but readable. I wouldn't use it for really important things like reports and homework that will make an impression and is handed in, but for things you need to keep for reference it will extend your print cartridges to twice their life. They say that if you print 20 pages a week, you should see a savings of close to $200 a year. You can buy a lot of snacks with that kind of savings.

And, as always, HAVE FUN!

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