Most of the current generation of inkjet printers require high-quality coated or glossy paper for the production of photo-realistic output, and this can be very expensive. One of the ultimate aims of inkjet printer manufacturers is to make color printing media-independent, and the attainment of this goal is generally measured by the output quality achieved on plain copier paper. This has vastly improved over the past few years, but coated or glossy paper is still needed to achieve full-color photographic quality. Some printer manufacturers, like Epson, even has its own proprietary paper which is optimized for use with its piezo-electric technology.
Inkjet printers can become expensive when printer manufacturers tie you to their proprietary consumables. Paper produced by independent companies is much cheaper than that supplied directly by printer manufacturers, but it tends to rely on its universal properties and rarely takes advantage of the idiosyncratic features of particular printer models.
A great deal of research has gone into the production of universal paper types which are optimized specifically for color inkjet printers. PLUS Color Jet paper, produced by Wiggins Teape, is a coated paper produced specifically for color inkjet technology, and Conqueror CX22 is designed for black ink and spot-color business documents and is optimized both for inkjet and laser printers.
Paper pre-conditioning seeks to improve inkjet quality on plain paper by priming the media to receive ink with an agent that binds pigment to the paper, reducing dot gain and smearing. A great deal of effort is going in to trying to achieve this without incurring a dramatic performance hit - if this yields results, one of the major barriers to widespread use of inkjet technology will have been removed.
Wasted ink is also a problem which adversely affects running costs. With printers which combine the cyan, yellow and magenta inks from a single tri-color cartridge, the emptying of one reservoir requires the replacement of the whole cartridge, regardless of how much ink is left in the other two reservoirs. The solution to this problem, deployed by a number of printers already, is to have a separate, independently-replaceable, ink cartridge for each color. The downside is increased maintenance effort - an inkjet printer that uses four cartridges typically requiring twice the attention of one where the three colors are combined.
In terms of manageability, the HP2000C includes another innovative feature. The incorporation of a second paper tray means that two paper types can be kept in the printer at once to minimize user attention. This is essential in a networked environment - as is the ability to warn of impending ink depletion.
Print capacities also have to improve. At the end of 1998 the standard for personal laser printers was around 3,000 pages from a toner/drum cartridge. Typically the best an inkjet could manage was around 500 to 900 pages from a single black ink cartridge. Color ink use fared even worse - supporting a capacity of between 200 and 500 pages only. Print speeds are expected to reach 10ppm by the year 2000, and with these increased print speeds will come increased cartridge capacities. Inkjet manufacturers are expected to introduce workgroup color printers with much larger secondary ink containers linked to small primary ink reservoirs close to or in the print head. These printers will automatically replenish the small primary reservoir from the secondary as needed.
Another area in which reductions in running costs can be made is paper. The expectation is that the recent preoccupation with outright photographic quality on high-cost glossy paper will diminish as inkjet technologists start to focus on getting better results from plain paper for the next generation of inkjet printers.