I’m getting over the flu, and my hands are covered in ink.

When I re-started the Finnix project in 2005, I bought an inkjet printer. I already had a laser printer (an HP LaserJet 1200, which lasted 12 years, never once having to replace the toner cartridge), but I wanted a compatible inkjet printer to be able to print directly on CDs. This was a relatively new concept at the time, but there were a few mid-range printers which did this.

I bought an Epson Stylus Photo R220 from CompUSA (remember them?) for about $120, and kept it alive for the last 8 years. In inkjet printer years, that’s easily over 100. Several times over the last few years, I considered replacing it, but the R220 was the devil I knew. I knew all inkjets are crap in some way or another, and I knew exactly what the quirks were on the R220. The biggest problem was if I didn’t print something at least once per week, the nozzles would clog up and would require about half the cartridges’ worth of ink to unclog them. That, and the utility to print directly on CDs required a Windows-only application (you do not want to try to position things manually when printing CDs). Still, overall it was a decent printer.

Today I went to use it, and got a notification, something to the effect of “parts within the printer are almost at the end of their service life”. From some searching, I found out this meant the overflow ink reservoir (which is a series of cotton pads within the printer) was almost full, according to its predictions. I followed a guide which showed me how to redirect the overflow tube outside the printer and into a new receptacle (in this case, a small bowl with some paper towels in it), and felt satisfaction with my “mod”.

I also needed to replace the ink cartridges which were empty. I did so, ran the ink priming utility, and did a nozzle check test, which prints a test pattern for each color and lets you determine if any colors’ lines are clogged. Normally after replacing the cartridges, some of the lines would be clogged. The solution is simply to wait a few hours, prime it again, and test it again. Getting full output would usually never take more than 2 or 3 cycles.

This time, all of the colors looked remarkably well, except for cyan. Instead of a series of diagonal lines, cyan came out as one big blob halfway down the page. Game over, man.

I did some quick research, and settled on the Canon Pixma MG5320 as a replacement. The first thing you will notice is it’s a “multifunction” printer. That’s because it seems you cannot buy just a printer anymore, unless you want to spend $500 or more on a “professional” printer. I already have a scanner, an Epson Perfection V200, and it works fine (I mostly use it for light document scanning). I didn’t really want a multifunction printer because I suspected the scanning software would be crap (spoiler alert: turns out I was right), and it nearly doubles the size of the unit. But that’s what I had to get.

It got decent reviews, with the biggest con being the cartridges are small. However, aftermarket cartridges are available, which was a requirement I had in a replacement. The MG5320 was replaced by the MG5420 in December, which is nearly the same, but SuperMediaStore doesn’t have aftermarket versions of the MG5420’s cartridges yet. I don’t know if it’s just because the MG5420 is new or if the cartridges have even more restrictions which haven’t been bypassed by the aftermarket manufacturers yet, but I didn’t want to risk it. Walmart was still selling the MG5320, and it was on sale for $90 (probably clearance), so I went there and bought one.

Setup was easy, mostly done through its built-in LCD. One eye raiser is it required a special piece of heavy paper to do the initial calibration, with special notches on the paper. The printer included two sheets; I really hope this calibration is not required whenever the cartridges are changed. The old R220 used six cartridges: cyan, light cyan, magenta, light magenta, yellow and black. The MG5320 uses five: cyan, magenta, yellow, black, and another black. (One of the black cartridges is larger than the others and is apparently for when you’re just doing grayscale printing. How much more black could have been included with this printer? The answer is none. None more black.) I was worried not having the more granular cyan and magenta would affect the print output, but the first CD I printed looks just as good as the old printer.

The Canon software used to print CDs is a bit more convoluted than the old Epson software, but it gets the job done, where the job is “just take this 600dpi image and put it on a CD”. (Both the old and new software wanted me to do text/clipart/etc layouts, in a 1990s Broderbund Print Shop sort of way.) But the end result on the new printer is fine. Oh, and while it’s directly connected to the Windows machine via USB (like all printers, this one didn’t come with the required USB cable because, err, look over there!), there is also a wifi adapter on it. After setting that up, I was able to tell my Ubuntu laptop to automatically find and use it. It was literally the easiest printer setup I had ever done.

PS: If you want to print on CDs using a printer with a CD attachment, forget the printable CDs you find at the office supply store. They’re porous, look bad, and smudge easily. Instead, get Taiyo Yuden Water Shield CDs. I don’t know how they work, but they do. They’re high gloss, dry almost immediately, and once they dry, they’re waterproof and almost impervious to wear. Quite simply, they look great, and are worth the extra money.

PPS: I got rid of the HP LaserJet 1200 last year. I loved that thing. I bought it in 2000 from an OfficeMax which was selling it as a used floor demo unit (for about $200 IIRC, about $150 less than retail), so it already had a bunch of pages printed. Still, the toner cartridge which came with it was still going strong 12 years later. However, in its final years, the feeder was producing extremely skewed printouts, which was not something you could just adjust. I replaced it with a Brother HL-2270DW, which I picked up on sale for $70. It’s got wired/wireless connectivity, supports duplex printing, but is otherwise just a simple laser printer, which is fine by me. Though, ironically, I have to tell Ubuntu it’s an HP LaserJet 1200 PCL3 with a duplexer to get it to work, but once I do that, it works fine.