Things: A New Printer


The story of stuff is a tale I enter reluctantly but far too often. Try as I might to swim against the current of temptation and want, I will yield to the flow of consumerism and rationalize that I must have just one more toy, one more upgrade, and then I’ll be content, I promise. But I rarely am.

And so, in this joy of expectation in what my new tools will afford me, there is the usual conflict between the devil of You Have Enough and the devil of Just One More. But here’s how the latter devil frames his argument:

Your old Canon printer doesn’t work with your new Mac operating system. You know you need to own a functioning color printer, even if all you do is the usual occasional prints for family. The Canon can stay right where it is for printed pages of text. But to print to photo paper, you have no choice but to replace what you have.

If you plan to do “art prints” you’ll need a machine that goes beyond 8 x 10 dimension. That means more desk real estate taken up, greater expense in inks, and of course, a more complex and expensive machine. You want archival inks, want to be able to use the best paper for the image, and a machine with a high probability of reliable service for several years. Another $150 printer will not suffice.

And here’s the thing: you have left some concrete vestige of your words between the covers of Slow Road Home. (As a legacy when you’re gone, the million words of Fragments will be a mere ghost.) But what you don’t have are tangible, “permanent” expressions of your visual creativity. Get a few dozen images printed up and framed for your walls if nothing else. There, you’ll have something that will persist, hang on the walls of your children–or the folks who buy five pictures for a dollar at the auction of your “stuff” when you leave this blessed place.

And forget about the expense. You’ll be able to show your stuff in the galleries that have offered you space in the past when you had nothing ready to hang. You’ll sell enough the first year to pay for the printer; after that, you can at least make enough from the occasional sales to pay for paper and ink for your personal prints. You have friends in the framing and matting biz and others who can tutor you in printing expertise. You have the ability to set up a web store for online sales. What are you waiting for?

So today, I may order the Epson R2880 from B&H–unless I get cold feet; unless some of you Have Enough devils can tell me some good reasons why I shouldn’t opt for just one more toy–no, tool! Or can offer a better choice of printer–with explanation. (The older Epson 2400 would be $130 less with a rebate for the next two weeks. I wonder.)

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. My only word of advice regarding epson printers is this: They work well, but only if you use them often. If you let an epson sit unused, the heads clog, and are a major pain to unclog. On an hp the heads are part of the ink cartridge, and on most canon’s the head is replaceable. But on an epson, the head is part of the printer. not user replaceable, and easily clogged if the printer sits for a few weeks unused.

    Having said that, if you use it often enough to keep the ink flowing, you can’t do much better for print quality.

  2. How about a word from a poor devil who hasn’t made the plunge, and really doesn’t know much at all?

    My wildly successful nature photographer friend suggested the 3800 to me, who am just a beginner, calling it’s output “stunning”, which left me a but punch drunk. I wanted it solely because it was the one he suggested.

    Subsequently, I got busy rationalized why I should purchase it. I always manufacture value validations for things I want. In this case, I told myself that the high volume cartridges on 3800 are a better value, and that the printer comes with $450 of ink included. But it’s worrisome that it would be money wasted unless you used all the ink before 24 months, leaving you, of course, to buy another round of costly high volume cartridges.

    Anyway, thanks for letting me think out loud here. I did just notice that you can request a sample print from Epson, just the very thing I need to do if I am to go any further down this road.

  3. My last two printers were Epson and have been very satisfied. The new Epson’s seem to be more difficult to set up, but once you do their output is outstanding.
    It was 98 degrees yesterday and I’ll be in the mountains tomorrow. See you during the visit.

  4. It’s easy to beat yourself up about getting a printer when you already have one. But you have as much *need* for a good photo printer as anyone I know. It’s not yielding to consumerism; you’re buying a necessary tool.

    I have a feeling that this printer is going to be used for more than just making prints to hang in your home. Your passion for photography and your willingness to share your photos with other people on your blog will lead you to a wider sharing. Follow your bliss, as Joseph Campbell used to say, and the money will take care of itself.

    And I’ve already put in my order for that black and white barn!

  5. Okay, it’s 2:00 and the 2880 is on its way. Time to print up or shut up. Oh the dreaded learning curve, the wasted paper, the too-red faces and too-blue grass, the rants that only the dog can (or should hear) before the AHHHs of satisfaction where the print matches the memory of the moment behind the camera. Baby steps (and small prints at first!)

  6. Congratulations on your choice of an Epson! As for the clogging problem: When we were gone for over 4 months and turned the power off, it did indeed clog up and need to go to a repair guy to soak it clean. But he told us the next time we are gone for an exptended time to leave the power on. The machine will then go through an automatic cleaning cycle every so often. We recently were out of town for 7 weeks, and sure enough: with the power left on, there was no clogging.

  7. I read this post too late to offer my advice but here it is anyhoo. B&H has a 7 day return policy I think, heh. I’m the shameful owner of an Epson 2200, which printed all of 2 pics before being permanently relegated to a dark closet. When I added up the cost of the printer, ink cartridges, quality paper, misprints, and time involved in learning, trial and error, and finally getting a good print, it was better for me financially but moreso mentally to just pay a pro lab to do my prints. No hassles, just ftp them the file, and wa-la, it comes back in the mail to perfection. If you plan to sell them then the cost must be passed on the buyer which can hurt, but if it’s a worthy image buyers will pay for it. If you enjoy printing as part of the creative process, then doing your own is definitely the way to go, but for me printing is just a necessary evil and worth paying someone else to do it.

  8. As much as I love Fletch’s photos, I disagree on the printer. I recently wore out my Epson 2200 after 3 yrs or so. The quality was outstanding, though the new 4800 is even better, but truly more prone to clogging. The deal for me is that when I did film, I always wanted the artistic control that printing my own stuff gave me, and now that I’m digital I still do. I find that doing my own prints makes me a better photographer, and a better editor. Fred, yell when you get stuck. Some of us may be able to shorten the learning curve, which, when you’re on your own, is, indeed horribly steep and high.

  9. I practice a simple rule on any equipment purchase. Buy the best equipment you can afford and use until it wears out. There’s a reason why the world’s best digital print houses (like Nash Editions) use Epson printers. Their quality is superb and their professional level printers are reliable as hell.

    I’ve been using an Epson 9600 for four years now without a hiccup or problem and have turned out several thousand large format prints with it on everything from matte to canvas. The largest print job was a series of 44 by 150 canvas prints for a photo exhibition.

    The 2200 is a good printer for small print jobs but the ink cartridges are small and run out easily. The 2880 should be better. I use both a 3800 for medium load work and a 4880 for heavier duty stuff and they perform flawlessly.

    If you take the time to create a good photograph, you should not skimp on the final production product — the printer.

  10. I didn’t mean to disparage the Epson 2200. I’m sure it is/was a great printer. The shame was for myself in buying an expensive printer and then shortly coming to the conclusion that making my own prints was not a good choice for me.

  11. I’ve had the Epson R2400 for 2 years now and it has worked flawlessly. Like any printer you’ll need to sit down with it over coffee and talk about its wants and desires and all that but once you’re past the first date it’s pretty low maintenance from there on out. I get amazing prints from it and I suspect the next generation would have the usual next generation sexxay-ness.

    You may already have a solution for ink but we love the Staples program. It’s a great solution for country folks because it negates the need for ink runs. You basically buy as many extra sets of cartridges as you need (we just bought one extra set) and once signed up for their program you mail empties back to Staples with envelopes they provide, and pretty damn quickly they mail you back a replacement. I’ve used it for over 2 years now and it’s a great program.