Choosing a Good Printer

Originally published 12 April 2000 as a Mac Daniel column for Low End Mac.
Rated "Best of Mac Daniel" (top 15 most-read columns) from six months after its publication until it was pulled from the site.

Q: What's a good printer for a vintage Mac, one you can still get toner or ink cartridges for?

A: Any LaserWriter, used or new, would be great — they're built like tanks and run forever. Heck, the original LaserWriter and LaserWriter Plus are tanks — the manual even contains a warning about proper lifting techniques when moving the printer! (If you've never seen one, they're about 24" by 16" by 18" and weigh near 75 lbs. Biggest monster of a printer I've ever seen.)

Toner is reasonably easy to find for most any LaserWriter printer because so many are still in use. (Really. I've seen LaserWriter Plus and LaserWriter II-series machines with page counts in the hundreds of thousands, and I've heard of the occasional LaserWriter II or LaserWriter Plus going into the millions of pages.) A remanufactured toner cartridge (there are many local places that sell these in U.S. cities of 80,000 or more, and the catalog resellers might have them, too) might be your best deal, since the cartridge itself doesn't really degrade substantially with use, and can save you up to half the cost of a new one.

StyleWriters are pretty good — but slower and lower quality. Most office supply stores have the Canon BC-02 cartridge, which fits the StyleWriter I, II, and 1200. If you can't find later cartridges (and most of the later ones are probably still in Mac mail order catalogs), you can at least buy a refill kit and fill your own. I had a StyleWriter II and 1200 that I picked up for $7.50 each at a local university surplus auction (they're now in the hands of family members), and they were great little printers.

The Epson Stylus Color series is generally pretty good; the 740 was quite the excellent value for a while and gave great print quality, according to most reviewers. Check out Epson's web site for the latest information. There are some great deals on the older (but still factory new) Stylus Color series printers (such as the 740) now, and if you need color printing, I'd recommend paying a little more and getting a new Epson with higher resolution and faster print speed than buying a used Color StyleWriter and saving maybe $50 or $75.

HP makes some really good inkjets now too, but I don't know how backwards-compatibile they are; HP has a tendency to make great printers and mediocre drivers. Apple's LaserWriter drivers generally work fine with the HP laser printers, but I don't have any experience with their inkjets at all, least of all on older Mac OS versions.

The first two options are your best price-to-performance bet, I'd say, simply because you can get StyleWriters (esp. black-and-white ones, which are great for text) for under $25 and, if you're lucky, you can get LaserWriters (although probably nothing newer than a LW II series) for under $50. (I got my LaserWriter Plus for $5 and I've seen several LW II series machines, mostly LW II models, go for $25 or so.) If you don't mind spending a little more, you can probably get a faster, newer laser printer (I'd recommend HP or Apple, and the Apple laser printers were, by and large, HP engines in Apple plastics) for under $300.

copyright ©2000-2004 by Chris Lawson