The Hipster PDA has been extended and improved beyond my wildest dreams thanks to things like GTDTiddlyWiki, Douglas Johnston’s DIY Planner, and John Norris’s very creative templates. With this growth and interest have come a lot of requests from readers for the best, cheapest, and most Mac-friendly printer for printing directly to ordinary index cards. I’ve shared this interest since, frankly, I’ve been buffaloed as well—crippled by the crappiness of my old Epson and unsure what to try next. So I did what I always do: I asked for help.
Even as I started asking for reader advice on inexpensive printers that handle standard index cards well, I had a feeling this was going to be a tough post to put together. This was borne out by the very wide range of suggestions you all submitted—over 30 different models by most all the major companies were mentioned (although only 4 got mentioned more than once)—as well as the plain fact it’s virtually impossible to give meaningful advice on a product you’ve never used. Duh, right?
Anyhow, to put this together, I’ve adopted a blended approach. First, I took everyone’s suggestions (and warnings), compiled a tally count, and then did a bit of extra research on CNET, Epinions, etc. (including a couple phone calls to sales support and some assorted friends).
But, in the end, I decided to put my real-life money where my mouth theoretically should be: I popped in to CompUSA on Saturday morning and bought the recommended model that looked best to me—the Canon Pixma iP3000—and then spent the rest of the weekend testing it out. See how much I love you guys?
The Winner: Canon Pixma iP3000 Photo Printer
This sexy little number looks like a toaster oven from 2001 and has an awful lot of cool features given its sub-$100 price tag. Most importantly for our purposes, it takes a big pile of regular old, drug-store index cards and prints whatever you want onto them at a clip of about 10 seconds per card. It also has a 150-sheet, cassette-loading paper drawer (similar to those on the old LaserWriters). This means that you can load up the tray with plain printer paper without removing your blank cards from the top loader —no juggling, and no disruption to your “normal printing.”
It’s a great photo printer and a fast, middle-quality text printer, but if you’re looking for a cheap way to print index cards from your Mac, I think this is a great choice.
I’ll leave the details and deeper nerdery to other reviews and the spec sheet, but here’s a few of the reasons I’m really satisfied with this decision.
- Mac friendly - Included CD installs drivers and a handy little utility app (available from within the Printer Setup Utility)
- Cheap - After rebate, it’s around $80 most places (currently $59.95 at Buy.com)
- Flexible - Cassette feed paper tray and top loader handle multiple media sizes nicely
- Camera-compatible - “PictBridge” (a/k/a, the USB port on the front) lets you plug a Canon camera (like my beloved PowerShot A95) directly into the printer for easy 4x6 printing
- Great photo print quality - Used for its primary purpose (photo printing) it makes beautiful 4800x1200 DPI prints in less than a minute per
- Duplex support - Easy to print on both sides of a sheet (with automatic room for hole punches or binding) without manual feeding
My beefs so far:
- Cheap paper (including most index cards) comes out feeling “wet,” and the ink needs a minute or so to dry. Kind of annoying and easy to smear if you're on the run.
- Likewise, the text and images are not quite as sharp as I’d like when printed onto cheap paper (easily remedied by buying some nice, superwhite inkjet paper).
- Page Setup can be kind of a pain. Index cards are not a stock option (although, quizzically, “credit card” size is).
- Reportedly due to patent reasons (a/k/a “cheapness”), American versions of the iP3000 have their ability to print directly to CDs disabled. Apparently, you can hack this, but it’s still kind of dumb that Aussies get CD printing and we Yanks don’t.
Other Interesting Canon Options
- Cheaper - The Canon iP1500 got a couple votes, and it is, indeed, even cheaper than the iP3000 at a street price under $50. Some reviews complain of low print quality, and it lacks a lot of the 3000’s features, so caveat emptor. Still, it looks like a solid model if you want a fast bargain (and are averse to rebates).
- Faster - The next-generation up from the iP3000, the iP4000, features slightly faster print times (25 ppm b/w vs. the iP3000’s 22 ppm) and slightly higher image quality. The iP4000r, it should be noted, comes with bulit-in wireless. (N.B.: Buy.com has a screaming deal on the iP4000 right now:
$79.99 after rebate.)
- Higher quality - The spanking new iP5000 has the same modest speed increase as the iP4000, but also jacks the image resolution up to a tasty 9600x2400 DPI. Personally, I don’t think it’s worth the $200 retail, but if you have the coin and want very high-quality photo output, this may be your model.
- Great rebate deal - Canon has a rebate running through October—buy any iPX000 series printer and a PowerShot camera (like the A95) and get a $70 rebate. Also, as mentioned above, this mail-in rebate takes $20 off the price of any standalone iPX000 printer. (Note also: most all Canon printers and cameras are—unbelievably to me—eligible for Amazon Prime delivery for participating members.)
Given that I’ve been using the iP3000 less than 48 hours, I can’t promise I’ve covered every angle here, but I can say it looks swell, prints fast, and spits out index cards like a freaking demon. It also has a variety of features and flexibility normally found only in more costly models. Considering the price and extra incentives available right now, this is a splendid deal and my top recommendation, especially for Mac users.
- Samsung - The ML-1740 was mentioned a bunch of times—more than any other model, in fact. It appears to be a solid laser printer that reportedly works great with index cards, and is a bargain at less than $150, retail. Unfortunately, reports of its Mac compatibility are spotty at best. Its home page states “Windows and Linux” support only, and numerous online sources suggest it doesn’t work (out of the box) with Macs. Clearly, it’s possible (as Reader AP verifies), but I’m not confident in recommending a printer whose manufacturer doesn’t explicitly support Macs. Windows folks: this looks like a great home-office unit.
- HP - These were really hard to reduce down to a single printer. There were about a dozen different recommendations, plus I’m assured by HP sales support (for what it’s worth) that virtually all their printers can handle index cards (as with most of this stuff—I have not personally tested this information). Reader Maneesh pointed out the Multifunction PSC 2175, which appears to be a pretty good bargain at about $70; he claims it "Does a great job in feeding in multiple index cards" although Reader McGroarty warns of Tiger compatibility issues and some special setup fu.
- Lexmark - As with the HPs, there were numerous suggestions for Lexmark printers, but they fell off the top billing because a) there wasn’t a single, currently produced model that got more than one mention, and b) their lame attempt to put DRM in their toner cartridges strikes your author as quite sucktastic. Having said that, if you’re looking for a crazy cheap bargain, the Lexmark Z25 can apparently be got for under $25. About this model, Reader Debbie said: “I have even put a small stack in the envelope feed with success.”
- Brother - A couple people mentioned the HL-1440 Laser Printer, but despite mostly strong reviews elsewhere, it’s well over our price limit at ~$200 retail. Still, CNET’s editors gave it a 8/10 rating, and it sounds like a real workhorse if you want a full-time laser printer for your home office.
I encourage you to read all the suggestions in both the Google Group and last week’s thread to get a fuller feel for what people recommended. Also, if you caught any errors or if anything in this was confusing, please do let me know (this was a lot more ground to cover than I had anticipated). Many thanks to everyone who made recommendations and helped to shape this review.
The floor is still open, of course, so feel free to add your favorite index card printer here in comments.
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