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Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky
Volume 2 Issue 4 April 2008
In This Issue
How do I get the most from my printer?
From the mailbag: A reader replies
Martin's E-Newsletter featured in Belmont Newspaper again!
I Recommend...
Whether you've had great results with a reliable printer or you've struggled with a recalcitrant one, here is my advice on how to get the most out of your computer printer.
How do I get the most from my printer?

The basics
The three most common types of printers used by regular computer users are inkjet, regular laser, and color laser. Here is a brief comparison:

Inkjet printers:
  • Have either two ink cartridges (black plus tri-color) or four (black plus each color).
  • Cost less to purchase.
  • Cost more per page in the long run.
  • Can print in color.
  • Print more slowly, since they spray rows of ink.
  • Because they use ink, printouts can smear if they get wet.
  • Ink can "bleed" through if lower-grade paper is used.
Regular (black and white) laser printers, compared to inkjets:
  • Have one toner cartridge.
  • Cost more to purchase.
  • Cost less per page in the long run.
  • Can only produce black and white output (or shades of gray), no color.
  • Print faster, since they image an entire page at once.
  • "Bake" the toner onto the paper (just like a copier), so printouts don't smear.
  • Printouts might be a little visible on the other side if lower-grade paper is used.
Color laser printers, compared to regular laser:
  • Have four toner cartridges (black plus each color).
  • Cost more to purchase
  • Cost more per page in the long run.
  • Can print in color.
  • Print just as fast, since they also image an entire page at once.
  • "Bake" the toner onto the paper (just like a copier), so printouts don't smear.
  • Printouts might be a little visible on the other side if lower-grade paper is used.
  • Are more complicated mechanically, with a more complex paper path, so have higher maintenance costs, and possible problems printing on envelopes.
Inkjet printer issues
  • Most unopened ink cartridges have a shelf life of approximately two years.
  • Once you open the seal, cartridges have a useful life of about six months, whether in your printer or not.
  • Most printers use very little power when idle, but some don't fully "cap the pen" unless they're powered off, so your ink may dry out faster if you leave your printer on. This isn't typically mentioned in the manual, so check with the manufacturer to be sure.
  • If your printouts develop "white streaks" (or worse, come out completely blank) some (or all) of the jets are probably clogged. You can "clean" the jets, either by running a "cleaning" function in the computer or by pressing certain buttons on the printer's front panel. However, if the ink level is low just replace the cartridge(s).
  • I've had terrible experiences with generic cartridges and "ink refill" kits, so I strongly recommend buying name-brand cartridges.
Laser printer issues
  • Most unopened laser cartridges, if also stored in a cool and dry place, have a nominal shelf life of approximately two years, but they often last much longer.
  • Toner is a dry powder, and toner cartridges are not airtight by design, so once you open the seal, avoid exposure to light and humidity when not in the printer.
  • If your printouts start to look faded, take out the toner cartridge and gently move it from side to side to redistribute its toner.
  • Be careful re-using paper. Metal foil or waxy coatings can melt inside your printer and cause problems.
Multifunction or All-in-one printers
These are inkjet or laser printers that combine printer, scanner, and sometimes fax functions into one unit (thus, they are also copiers). They can save a lot of space (and wires), but be aware of these issues:
  • Does the scanner have a flatbed (important for books), an automatic document feeder (for stacks of paper), or both?
  • Not all units have a fax, read the description carefully.
  • Most can only do one thing at a time, so if you need to scan or copy while also printing or faxing, buy separate devices instead.
General printer advice
  • You can save ink or toner (and time) by printing in "draft" mode rather than "normal." This option takes a bit of work to find, but it's worth it.
  • If you're always reordering your pages by hand to put page 1 on top, you can probably change an option in the printer software to reverse the page order when printing.
  • Save paper (and ink or toner) by using the Print Preview command (if available) to see what will print before you print, then print just the pages you want, or scale them down from 100% (perhaps to 80% or lower) to fit more onto each page, especially if the printout's right edge is cut off (very common when printing web pages).
  • Keep at least one spare cartridge on hand. Write "last one--buy more" on the package so that when you put it into service you'll also be reminded to restock.
  • Humidity can also cause paper to jam or curl, so consider storing open reams of paper in jumbo (2.5 gallon) zip-lock bags.
  • You can recycle most used ink and toner cartridges, but it can take some effort. Stores like Staples and Cartridge World can help, or try googling "cartridge recycle TOWN" (replacing TOWN with where you live).
  • Microsoft Word can tell you your printer's minimum margins. Open a blank document and set all four margins to 0, then click OK. You'll get a warning, click Fix. Word will then replace the 0's with your printer's minimum permitted margins, based on your printer's physical limits.
  • However, if you're making a document for someone else to read (and possibly print), you should avoid tiny margins, since you have no idea what their printer's limits are. In this case I use 1" margins, sometimes 0.75", but no smaller.
Your printer "queue"
When you tell your computer to print, instead of making you wait until it's done, it creates a print "job" (a set of printer instructions to produce your printout) and puts it in a "queue" to be printed. This queue is managed by a little software program which feeds the data to the printer, freeing you up to do other things. However, this program can decide to put all printer jobs on hold, for example, if the printer runs out of ink or paper, or stops talking to your computer. Thus, it's important to learn how to find your printer queue so you can control it, for example, to restart the queue after correcting a problem with the printer, or to remove duplicate jobs you may have inadvertently created before you noticed your printer has stopped. In other words, if hitting Print didn't print anything, don't just hit Print again, check the queue!

Stopping a runaway print job
If you want to stop your printer while it's printing, try this:
  • Remove the unused paper from the printer; don't fight over the page in its grip.
  • Let the current page finish; you'll then probably see a "paper out" error.
  • On your computer, open the printer queue and "stop" all printer jobs.
  • Delete the job(s) you don't want to print from the queue.
  • Turn your printer off, then on again to clear its memory.
  • Put the blank paper back into the printer.
  • "Start" the printer queue.
  • If your printer stops printing entirely but the front panel display looks normal, one possibility is that the printer queue in your computer has stopped.
  • If your computer is having trouble communicating with your printer, try unplugging and re-plugging your printer's data cable. Do this multiple times on both ends of the cable. This scrapes off corrosion that may have formed on the pins, improving the connection.
  • Printers sometimes get into an odd "state." Here's one way to bring them back to normal: When it's idle, power off your printer, pull its power cord out of the outlet, plug it back in, and then turn it back on.
  • If you get a paper jam, power off your printer before you start to pull out the piece of paper so you're not fighting against the motor.
  • Check your manual for additional ideas. For example, you can probably do a "self-test" by pushing certain buttons on the front panel (without using your computer at all), which can help determine if a problem is with the printer or the computer.
Where to go from here
  • Keep your printer cartridges model numbers handy to save time when you need to buy more.
  • Write the purchase date on each cartridge package.
  • Learn how to find and operate your computer's printer queue.
  • Keep your printer manual handy.
If you know someone else who might find this helpful, please feel free to forward it to them.
If you have any comments about this article, send me a reply!
If you have a topic that you'd like me to write about, I'd love to hear about it!
From the mailbag: A reader replies

In response to last month's newsletter "The Truth About Email" (http://www.kadansky.com/files/newsletters/2008_03_20.html), Ken Hablow of KH Graphics (http://www.khgraphics.com) writes:

"When an organization I work with changed Treasurers, the outgoing Treasurer sent the new Treasurer an email that included the account information and passwords for the group's bank account and PayPal account. Within hours of that email being sent there were several fraudulent charges to the PayPal account, and within a day or two $3,000 was wired out of the bank account. I was sure that someone with access to an email server intercepted the email, or one of those servers had some spyware on it that sent a copy of that email to an outside thief. The good news is that both PayPal and the bank made good on everything, but this really shows how insecure email can be!"
Martin's E-Newsletter featured in Belmont Newspaper again!

They did it again! My local paper, the Belmont Citizen-Herald, has once again published one of my E-Newsletters in a new occasional column titled "Computer Therapist" in the Opinions section.

See the second installment, published in the newspaper on Thursday March 27th, 2008 at http://www.wickedlocal.com/belmont/archive/x1565506936, which is based on my March 2008 issue "The Truth About Email."
I Recommend...

In this section of my newsletter I will sometimes recommend trusted colleagues and other times I'll suggest useful products and software. Today's recommendation is:

Anne Crockett
Licensed Massage Therapist
3MT Muscular Therapy
41 North Rd Suite 100A
Bedford, MA 01730

Although you might not think that my work is as physically demanding as, say, a bullfighter or race car driver, I certainly have my share of stress and muscle issues. Since 2001 I've had regular massage sessions with Anne Crockett, and it's made a big difference for me. She's great! She's very experienced and knowledgeable, and can do deep tissue massage (what I like to call "drilling for oil" as she works on the knots in my shoulders) as well as lighter, more relaxing work. She's always studying new techniques, and she's very good at finding and working out problem areas and suggesting ways to address or avoid overuse, which is important to me since my work day combines driving and working with clients, but not sitting still.

Anne not only has 10 years of experience as a massage therapist, she also taught massage at a number of schools over the years, most recently at the former Massachusetts Institute of Therapeutic Massage in Burlington, Mass. She now runs a private massage practice with her colleagues Tom Karis and Jimmy Busconi. Their mission is to help clients have improved function and live a pain-free life.

Anne also worked for many years in highly structured corporate settings, so she's very familiar with the physical and emotional stresses that come up in such environments.

Anne specializes in Myofascial Release and Myofascial Unwinding, techniques that focus on the body's connective tissue or fascial system. The goal is to release cellular memory, allowing imbalances and patterns of unhealthy posture to be corrected by the client's own body and mind. She is particularly interested in the body/mind/soul connection, working directly with the effects that emotional events have on our physical body and using bodywork to heal them.

Also, a massage session with Anne makes a great gift!

Here's how to contact Anne:
(781) 223-0581 cell

Tell her I sent you!
How to contact me:
email: martin@kadansky.com
phone: (617) 484-6657
web: http://www.kadansky.com

On a regular basis I write about real issues faced by typical computer users. To subscribe to this newsletter, please send an email to martin@kadansky.com and I'll add you to the list, or visit http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter

Did you miss a previous issue? You can find it in my newsletter archive: http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter

Your privacy is important to me. I do not share my newsletter mailing list with anyone else, nor do I rent it out.

Copyright (C) 2008 Kadansky Consulting, Inc. All rights reserved.

I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.

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