Rant: It’s 2020. Why Do Printers Still Suck? – WIRED

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I hate printers. Just when we need them the most, with print shops locked down, online schooling in session, and everyone working from home, they fail to step up.

Printers have been my enemy ever since I can remember. My first office job involved an evil printer that suffered daily paper jams. Tasked with fixing it, I suffered frequent burns and paper cuts. It had a door you had to close just so, or it would immediately break again with the dreaded phantom paper jam. It tormented me for months, completely indifferent to my cries. There isn’t even any paper in it!

Enemy Number One

More than two decades later, printers haven’t improved at all. It feels like printer companies stopped innovating sometime in the ’90s when sales stopped climbing. In fact, it’s almost as if they’ve regressed. Manufacturers tempt with unbelievably cheap deals on printers and then nail you on expensive ink. To make sure they get their pound of flesh, they focus an inordinate effort on making sure printers only work with proprietary ink cartridges.

My home printer history has always (roughly) followed the same pattern:

  • Buy a printer.
  • Use the printer.
  • Enjoy this brief honeymoon period when the printer actually works as intended.
  • Forget about the printer for weeks until I need it again.
  • Run an urgent print job I need immediately.
  • The printer does not work.
  • Waste a day trying to get the printer working.
  • Go to a print shop.
  • Get rid of the printer.
  • Rinse and repeat.

This 10-step printer plan is an effective recipe for high blood pressure. The final straw came when I frantically tried to print a ticket for a last-minute flight and my printer completed half the job, then mangled the paper and made a surprisingly loud grinding noise before giving up the ghost amid a puff of smoke. To be fair, that time it turned out my toddler dropped some coins into it when I wasn’t looking. Still, I chalked it up to the printer curse and vowed never to own one again.

For many years, I went to a local print shop, or sent things to my brother and asked him to print them. Eventually, sick of printing my tickets and forms and contracts, he called me out on this, pointing out that I’m a tech journalist.

This is true. I am usually technically proficient. I know how to find the right input on the TV. I can bring your apparently dead phone back to life. I can build a computer, configure a router, and successfully remove malware from a laptop. I can read manuals, and when they don’t work, I’m not scared of Googling deep into forums to find the fix I need.

And yet … I cannot bend a printer to my will.

The Inevitable Return

Three years and a couple of printers later, sick of being gouged for ink cartridges that always seem to run out at the worst moment, I optimistically signed up for a printing subscription plan. The idea is you are charged a flat fee based on how many pages you print each month, and the printer automatically orders ink refills when it’s running low. Reading this back, I can only cringe at my naivety.

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