June 22, 2007

PC Magazine Contributing Editor M. David Stone Closes Out Printer Pundit Week With Panache

By Databazaar Blog

Printer Pundits: M. David Stone on the Inkjet Versus Laser Debate, Impact of Memjet, Prognosis for Dell's Printer Division, and More


Name a major product or technology in the imaging industry and you can bet that M. David Stone has covered it top to bottom. After 25 years, more than 4,000 articles, and a dozen books, this award-winning journalist and consultant has developed a well-deserved reputation as one of the imaging industry's most respected experts.

David works at PC Magazine as a Contributing Editor and Lead Analyst for Printers, Scanners, and Projectors. He also writes for other publications, including Wired. His breadth of knowledge and clear, engaging style receive high marks from casual readers and industry experts alike. After reading the interview below, you should make a beeline for David's recent PC Magazine cover story, Buying Guide: More Printer For The Price, as well as the companion piece, The Future of Ink Jet Printing?, his in-depth analysis of Memjet.

David's interview constitutes the fifth installment of our new Printer Pundits feature. We couldn't have asked for a better ending for Printer Pundit Week. We thank David and hope all of you have enjoyed these interviews.

Databazaar Blog: Will inkjet printers someday replace laser printers in the office?

M. David Stone: A provocative question. (But you can just as easily ask if lasers will someday replace inkjets at home.) As both technologies stand today, each has some advantages over the other, with lasers having the clear edge overall.

That said, there are plenty of examples of one technology taking over from another even if it doesn't match it on all fronts. I've yet to see any printer — not even the old, noisy daisywheel printers — that can match the text quality of a Selectric typewriter with a carbon ribbon. But switching to computers gave so many advantages over using a typewriter that there was no contest.

Likewise, early laser printers didn't have the same quality as daisywheel printers — the output looked like poor quality, third generation copies. But they were so much faster and — probably more importantly — so much quieter, that daisywheel printers didn't have a chance.

So the question really boils down to whether inkjets can give us features that lasers can't, somewhere down the road, and whether offices will be willing to give up some of the strengths of lasers to get those features.

Today's inkjets' only real advantage over lasers is that they're better at photos. That's not important in most offices, and lasers are closing that gap in any case. Lasers on the other hand have lots of advantages.

Lasers as a group are faster. HP's Edgeline printers and the Memjet prototype printers demonstrate that inkjets can catch up on this score, but lasers at any given price are getting faster too. It remains to be seen whether actual products based on inkjet technology will close the gap compared to lasers in the same price range.

Even if inkjets catch up in speed, there's still a quality issue. Lasers let you use almost any quality paper — from cheap copier paper to more expensive laser paper — without worrying about things like the paper curling from too much ink on the page or the color or sharpness of edges being affected from being absorbed by the paper.

A related issue is water resistance. Unless you use special paper, ink smudges if it gets wet. That can easily happen if, for example, you're drinking an iced coffee at your desk and there's condensation on the glass. Pick up the glass, turn the page, and you suddenly have a smudged document.

The point is that lasers can give you more professional looking output with less expensive paper. I don't see inkjet technology catching up on this score any time soon, and I don't see any advantages inkjets can offer to outweigh this disadvantage. On the other hand "someday" is a long way away, so I won't say it will never happen.

Databazaar Blog: If Silverbrook openly licenses its Memjet technology as currently planned, what impact, if any, will that have on the major players in the industry?

M. David Stone: I'm not sure anyone knows the answer to this yet. It's going to depend a lot on when the actual Memjet products show up in the market and what they look like — how well they perform, how much they cost, how good their output quality is, and so on.

If they don't deliver on all their promises, today's big players may not be affected at all. On the other hand, if they do deliver, they'll make a big splash, and the major manufacturers will have to consider licensing the technology themselves — or rushing their own new technologies to market at competitive prices, faster than they had planned. It'll be interesting to watch.

Databazaar Blog: In your recent cover story, Buying Guide: More Printer For The Price, you listed two Dell printers that you like (Dell Photo All-In-One 966 and Dell Multifunction Color Laser Printer 3115cn). Dell entered the printer market late in the game. And other computer makers, such as Apple, departed years ago. What's your prognosis for Dell in this industry?

M. David Stone: I think that Dell has done a good job to this point of delivering quality printers. In some cases the Dell models have been better than similar models from the actual manufacturers, if only because of rewritten installation routines that improve on the original. In addition, based on my experience calling tech support, Dell seems to be better at actually giving support than many vendors I've dealt with (although I don't make enough calls to qualify as a statistically valid sampling). As long as those two things remain true, I think Dell will do just fine. (But keep in mind that this is coming from someone who never understood why Lotus 1-2-3 held the top spot for spreadsheets for so long.)

Databazaar Blog: Can you share with us some of the more interesting feedback you received about the buying guide from readers and perhaps manufacturers?

M. David Stone: Aside from Jim Lyons getting in touch to tell me that he liked the piece and had mentioned it in his blog, I haven't gotten much direct feedback, but I have noticed a distinct rise in the number of readers writing to me about their printer problems in general. I'm guessing they saw my name and decided I was the right person to write to.

Most of the letters refer to problems with ink prices and ink usage. Probably the most interesting — because it reflects people's assumptions about printers — are the ones that complain about using up color ink when almost everything they print is black and white. People really don't understand why the color ink disappears from house keeping functions or why inkjet and laser printers often wind up printing in composite black and using up their expensive color ink or toner. They also expect a "grayscale" choice in a driver to print in black only — which is true in some cases, but not all.

All this tells me that the industry needs to make an effort to educate users on the subject and make a point of including a "black only" option in drivers that's unambiguous and easy to find.

Databazaar Blog: What are the three biggest changes you've seen in the industry since you started covering printers?

M. David Stone: Coming up with a list of big changes is easy. Picking the three biggest is harder. Focusing on the technology, I'll go with:

1. Noisy impact printers (daisywheel and dot matrix) have been almost universally replaced by quiet printers (laser and inkjet) in the office.

2. High quality graphics, photos, and color have all gone from nearly non-existent to the expected norm.

3. We've all gotten spoiled about speed. An 8 page per minute laser printer was once considered a network printer and a 20 page per minute laser was blazingly fast. Now personal laser printers are north of 20 pages per minute.

Databazaar Blog: Which printer(s) do you use at home and at work?

M. David Stone: I do most of my work at home, so I have the luxury of using the same printers for both home and work. I won't mention brands, but ever since I graduated from daisywheel printers, probably 20 years ago, everything I've bought for home or office has been a laser unless it's for photos. I currently have a monochrome laser for printing faxes and emails, a color laser, a 4 by 6 inkjet photo printer, and a supertabloid size inkjet photo printer.

About Printer Pundits
We spend most of our time here at Databazaar Blog on printer gear, but this impressive technology doesn't just appear by magic. With Printer Pundits, we bring you interviews with some of the luminaries in the printer industry — senior executives, analysts, journalists, inventors, and others. Of course, in today's world everyone is a pundit so please share your insights below.

  • June 26, 2007 Ruth

    Could you please tell me who to send suggestions for journalist interviews to, for inclusion in your blog?

    Thanks, Ruth

  • June 30, 2007 Mickey

    Hi David, thank you for your articles, I'm glad to read.
    Printer was coming over technical hazards and bringing us future benefits.
    It’s fun for us to read and purchase the new comers at the store front.
    But at real practice in use, I feel for customers it’s not easy thing to keep catalogue specification in facing many brands of aftermarket.
    Almost aftermarket supplies including OEM does not give us clear specification in print of their packages. Just image photo and so called affordable price tag. Mostly regretted thing is I can not be a ware of losing original featured value of the printer that I spent times to select.

    I would like to present you this news as one of impressive problems for me because I can not go back to the future.
    I feel this indicates sample of the current market technical problems on what is the quality or value that customer can get.
    I have to have a consideration who should get the benefit is customer, but reality is different unfortunately. By Mickey.

    Genuine Ink Proves Longer Life; Color Fading of Inkjet-Printed Images
    Jun 29, 2007 19:54
    Motoaki Itou, Nikkei Electronics

    Gas resistance comparisons using sample images printed by manufacturer A's printer. Top picture row shows results from ink made by company A directly after printing, 1 year after printing, and 5 years after printing. Pictures under number 1 show results from using ink from company I directly after printing and 1 year after printing. Pictures under number 2 shows same results from ink made by company J, 3 from company K, and 4 from company L.
    Gas resistance comparisons using sample images printed by manufacturer B's printer. Top picture row shows results from ink made by company B directly after printing, 1 year after printing, and 5 years after printing. Pictures under number 1 show results from using ink from company I directly after printing and 1 year after printing. Pictures under number 2 shows same results from ink made by company J.
    Allion Test Labs, Inc., a company that verifies product quality and interoperability of PCs and PC peripherals including printers, has compared and evaluated color fading of photos inkjet-printed using printer manufacturers' genuine ink and other manufacturers' refill ink, respectively. Allion did not disclose the relationship between the evaluation results and each ink manufacturer's name, but only revealed it targeted two printers respectively from Seiko Epson Corp. and Cannon Inc. The tests proved genuine ink lasts longer than refill ink, at least in terms of color fading. Allion was contracted to do this color fading evaluation service as a third-party, impartial verification institute.

    Allion conducted accelerated gas resistance tests using three kinds of gases that cause printed color to fade, namely ozone (O3), nitrogen oxide (NOx) and sulfur oxide (SOx). As a result of tests using the two major Japanese printer manufacturers' products, no remarkable color fading was recognized in print using these printer manufacturers' genuine ink and paper after an acceleration test that results in aging equivalent to five years. In contrast, color obviously started to fade in print using refill ink and genuine paper, even in tests resulting in aging equivalent to one year.

    At present, printer manufacturers cite a longer life after printing as a superiority of their genuine ink products like Seiko Epson's "Tsuyo-ink (strong-ink) 200" and Canon's "ChromaLife100." Printer manufacturers insist their printers can exert their real performance only when using genuine ink and paper optimized for the printer. On the other hand, refill ink manufacturers, across the board, stress their products can render quality prints comparable to those using genuine ink.

    The color fading evaluation focused on three factors: light resistance that represents degradation of a photo in a frame exposed to light inside the room, album conservation (dark room conservation) efficiency tested by using a dark room to recreate degradation of photos kept in an album and gas resistance. Of these three factors, Allion varied the conditions by manufacturer in the gas resistance test. Allion employed conditions equivalent to those for Canon's in-house tests this time. The conditions were as follows: The Institute of Image Electronics Engineers of Japan's "N1A.tif" standard image was used as the test image and each printer manufacturer's printer and genuine paper were combined with each different manufacturer's ink. Then switching only ink, Allion evaluated differences between genuine ink and refill ink products. O3, NOx and SOx gas densities in the accelerated gas resistance tests were set at 150, 900 and 50 ppb, respectively, 100x the densities in a normal, real environment. The test temperature was 24 degrees and the humidity was 60%.

    Under these conditions, aging equivalent to that of one year in real life can be tested in 72 hours. A difference between color fastness test conditions defined by the Japanese Industrial Standards Committee (JIS) was the gas added throughout the tests. Suga Test Instrument Co., Ltd.'s "DS-UV" was deployed as a gas corrosion test instrument. If mixed gas is not injected, gas density on the photo surface lowers due to chemical reaction progress during a test. In real environment, however, surface gas density scarcely varies like accelerated tests. To stabilize gas density, gas needs to be injected. JIS standards employ conditions assuming an environment, in which gas density gradually lowers. JIS, therefore, requires testers to set gas density higher than the level Allion applied this time.

    In tests using Seiko Epson's printer, temperature and humidity were set the same as those in tests using Canon's printer, but color fading was evaluated with gas containing no O3. Of element colors, O3 tends to cause fading of magenta in particular.

  • May 14, 2008 john rogers


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