Hardware Tips: Get More Work From Your Inkjet for Less Money

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Too often an inexpensive inkjet printer ends up costing you a fortune. Here's how to control your inkjet costs.

Practice good housekeeping: Keeping your printer's mechanisms clean will ensure that the device runs at its best. An occasional blast from a $7 can of compressed air (available at electronics stores) will keep dust and bits of paper from clogging the paper path and other moving parts.

Ensure that the small ink nozzles on your printheads are clear of dried ink. The most common cause of clogs is underuse, so print a page once a week to keep the nozzles clean. Many inkjet printers have a cleaning program in their settings that can handle partially clogged nozzles. Unfortunately these programs are ink profligates, so use them judiciously. If running the program once doesn't help, print another page to eliminate excess ink before you run the program again. (Note that many inkjets automatically clear the nozzles when you turn the machines on.)

Use less ink: Cut down on the ink your printer deposits on the page by lowering its quality setting. Some printers have an external print-quality control, but you can also right-click the printer's entry under 'Printers and Faxes' in Control Panel, and look for a 'Print Quality' setting. If you have a color inkjet but print mostly in black, disable the device's color-printing setting; on some models, this not only saves ink but also speeds up printing.

To avoid having to change your print quality--or any other setting--each time you print, create an additional printer installation for each. For example, make one labeled "Draft" for low-resolution printing, and another named "Final" for printing at the highest quality. Read Scott Dunn's tips in his Windows Tips column from October 2002.

Dan Littman's "Slash Ink Jet Printing Costs" in the August 2002 issue evaluates Strydent Software's $35 InkSaver utility and offers insights into calculating the real cost per printed page for your printer.

Almost never pay retail: Third-party replacement ink cartridges from such online retailers as PrintPal and Carrot Ink can cost less than half the price of the manufacturer's ink cartridges. However, these savings aren't without risk. PC World tests of third-party inks revealed problems with quality--especially the ink's longevity--as well as with clogged print nozzles. The bottom line: If you require consistently high-quality, high-resolution output for presentation graphics or photographs, stick with the manufacturer's cartridges; but if you print lots of draft documents and low-resolution images, third-party cartridges may be worth the potential hassles. For more on our inkjet ink tests, read "Cheap Ink Probed" from the September 2003 issue.

Wireless Woes

My wireless keyboard suddenly stops working, often at critical moments. Any idea how to remedy this? Also, is there any way to bypass the keyboard on my Windows XP system and enter keystrokes using my mouse in a pinch?

Robert Albert, Alexandria, Virginia

First, check the connection between the Bluetooth or RF transceiver and your PC; if it's working, move the transceiver so it's closer to the keyboard. Next, spin the batteries inside the keyboard or mouse--this can squeeze more juice out of a low power cell. Replace the batteries if necessary. Finally, remove or temporarily turn off nearby devices that may be causing electrical interference, including microwave ovens, portable phones, and even some flat-panel displays. To bypass the keyboard in Windows XP and 2000, use the On-Screen Keyboard. Click Start, Programs (or All Programs), Accessories, Accessibility, On-Screen Keyboard (see FIGURE 1).

Don't Miss a Word

"Note to self: Get voice recorder for making notes to self." Ever wish you could record all your deep thoughts and daily reminders without having to lug around yet another electronic gizmo? If you have an iPod, you can. Belkin's $50 Voice Recorder for iPod plugs into the top of any 3G or 4G iPod model and automatically turns it into a voice recorder. A new version for the 5G iPod should be available by the time you read this.

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