Monday Aug 31, 2009

Epson NX - A cheap refurbed printer

I went out shopping at Fry's last Friday and just on a whim, saw they had a diminishing stack of refurbished Epson NX400 inkjet Multi-Function copier, scanner, printers. Price was right. Just $45. So I bought one. Heck, the stack of 4 black, cyan,magenta, yellow cartridges alone was worth about that much. So it was definitely a good deal. Like buying the cartridges and getting a free printer!

I waited until Saturday evening to unpack and install. I used to dread hooking up printers because it'd be a lot of trial and error to get it working. But if folks have noticed since SNV build 90 or so, the printing has been greatly simplified by the support of CUPS option. Solaris LP is still standard on the system, but it's very easy to change. Simply, use the print-service -s cups command to switch over from regular LP to CUPS (see the man page for more info).

The reason why I bought it was due to clogged heads on my older Epsons, and try as I might with the Windex spray into the heads and soak over night (folks may want to do some web search on ammonia-based cleaning and declogging procedures), the black printing head was clogged beyond repair. I did get the colour printing going, but after many dark stains on my fingers, I gave up.

And the reason for my clogged inkjet heads was due to lack of use. Ever since my wife discovered 14 cents/picture Costco Photo Center then found out she can pick up in at most an hour (sometimes in 30 minutes!), she'd rather just print it there. So I don't need to print colour copies often at home, and if colour inkjet printers don't get used often, ink can dry on the heads and clog them up. Some printers are designed so the cartridges contain a fresh head, like the HP inkjet printers. However, this tends to add cost to each cartridge, but has the advantage that each cartridge comes with a new print-head. Needless to say, I placed my bets on lower cost cartridges.

Still, I have to print with a colour printer every Fall, and that's because my kids go back to school. Our school has an annual request for emergency rations and updated emergency contact information, which includes a couple of colour photos of each child that can be used in case of an emergency for identification by law enforcement or school staff.

So what was great about the NX400 was that it has USB and PictBridge. It allows me to directly print from the camera. It also has a small 2 inch or so colour LCD display. And the reason I bought it was because if I couldn't get Solaris to recognize it, at lease, with direct printing from a camera or USB, I could copy my picture onto some flash memory and use my camera as the printer driver. But deep down, I was hoping for CUPS to recognize it.

Upon plugging it in the first time, Solaris CUPS responded and loaded the driver for Epson Stylus CX8400. I brought up my browser and put in the URL for http://localhost:631/ and then tried to use the browser links to have CUPS print a test page. But after shooting out 5 pages of blanks, then marking the top of the next 20 pages with a couple of characters each, the NX400 was definitely not happy. So I managed to dequeue the remainder of the print job, and shut down the printer and restart it to clear the job. I guessed this would happen and it did so nothing was new. But I decided to make a concerted effort to try each printer type under Epson listed in CUPS and see if those drivers would work. One by one, I tried for about an hour, working backwards from the bottom of the list. I finally tried the Gimp-print driver for the Epson CX3100, and to my great surprise, the test page printed beautifully. I couldn't believe it, and setup a remote system to network print using this printer. On the remote side, I configured it to issue out generic Postscript. And it too printed out over the network! Fantastic.

Fig. 1. Epson NX200 multi-function printer/scanner/copier

So I went back to Fry's Sunday and found they were out of stock. There, I notice another Epson printer, the NX200, which looks almost the same in size, design, shape, and even multi-function scanner/copier features, except for no colour LCD display. Instead, it has push buttons. But this too, offers PictBridge and USB/SD card direct printing from my camera. When I asked the sales clerk if he had any NX200 units in the back, he said, "No." However he explained the Palo Alto store had 14 in stock. But what was amazing was the $29.99 price tag. A truly excellent deal considering the print cartridges are worth more than that.

I rushed to the Palo Alto store and on a hunch, picked up another printer, the NX200. Rushing home, I unpacked it, and it was indeed identical, using the same cartridges, and had the same chassis and only varied by the display and button interface. Plugging it in, and configuring CUPS, indeed, it uses the same Stylus CX3100 Gimp-print driver and prints well under Solaris. I went back to the Palo Alto store in the evening to check if there were more, and picked up 3 NX200s, no limit, at $29.99 each. I figured my parents, in-laws, and other friends might need a printer as a gift.

In printing out colour pictures, I found the PictBridge from my DigCam to printer to work great. Colours were vivid and accurate and no PC needed. However, printing from GIMP on Solaris, simple line art prints beautifully and fast. But photo-printing is too light in 360 DPI as well as 720x360DPI, but too dark using 720x720 DPI and finer. I tried playing around with GIMP brightness and contrast and colour saturation. I managed to get the 720x360DPI mode to print acceptable albeit somewhat grainy pictures, and in doing so, I also accomplished what I originally set out to do - to print my kids ID photo collage and age/height/wt info on the picture for their start-of-school-year emergency packet.




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