Too Busy For Words - the PaulWay Blog

Fri 14th Sep, 2007

And They Pay These People?

I've spent several days printing The Open CD SFD 2007 labels on CDs for Software Freedom Day. Since it's all black and white, I selected "high quality greyscale" from the print options dialogue with the view to saving ink. Having a printer that can print directly on CDs has been a boon, and the Epson Stylus Photo R210 now seems to have full support in the gutenprint driver for all its more esoteric options. Three hundred and fifty CDs went past with only a few minor hitches. Then, at three in the afternoon on Friday the printer decides to stop right in the middle of a label and complain that it just cannot print any more until it gets some more.

I was a little surprised - even though the ink cartridges are tiny they'd usually lasted many prints more than that of full A4. But worse news arrived when I asked the printer which cartridges were out of ink. Yes, you guessed it - it was the cyan, light cyan and magenta cartridges. I've been only printing in greyscale, and I've run out of colour cartridges? It hadn't been a brilliant day, I still had any number of CDs to print, and here was the printer being obstreperous. Something in me finally snapped: I called Epson Tech Support to complain.

I will at least credit them with having a system where you can request a call back rather than wait on the phone, and even better having this system actually work and having someone call you back. This was the only bright point, because the conversation took the turn I had been expecting yet fearing: their tech support person told me, in the tones used to educate a particularly thick Lousianian, that the black ink could only produce black and in order to make grey they had to mix the colours. In hindsight he didn't even try to explain how this worked, but that may have been simply that I knew the explanation. It did not, however, satisfy me.

"What about the variable dot size your printers have?" I queried. "That only produces black," he responded automatically. "What about dithering?" I pursued lamely. "That would still only produce black," he repeated. Obviously no-one was going to get this guy to admit that their printers might be doing something stupid, so I said "Thank you" and hung up. Reasonable explanation I can cope with, but blatantly stupid and illogical statements that are repeated as dogma without answering my questions is just too much to take. If time allows, I will write a letter of complaint to Epson about this treatment. I can accept "sorry, the printer still just automatically uses coloured ink to produce a fine greyscale despite what you set the printer options to", but I can't accept "black only produces black" repeated endlessly.

What I ultimately want in a printer is three things: an attempt to use the absolute maximum of ink from their cartridges, the print head on the cartridge so that they get replaced regularly, and cartridges that are worth what they actually cost to make. I don't mind buying a printer for $500 instead of $150 if I know that the cartridges are going to be cheaper and that I'm going to get a lot of distance out of them. I think Choice would come out in favour of this kind of printer too. And with picolitre dots at 5760dpi resolution these days it can't be hard to produce greyscale that is truly only using black - I've even seen printers with 'grey ink' to produce better light grey scales.

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