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Inside CNET Labs: Printer Woes

Why manufacturers make printer testing even more difficult

Welcome to Inside CNET Labs, an occasional column on the ins and outs of testing tech goods for CNET Reviews. Here, we'll rant and elucidate, giving you a little peek into CNET's most geek-filled department.

I'm starting to question just how much printer vendors value their own products.

One of our prerequisites at CNET Labs is that when we test an inkjet printer for quality, we must use the best available paper provided by the vendor. This allows us to determine the highest quality threshold for the printer, which in turn allows us to fairly compare the print quality of printers based on the paper available. However, most vendors aren't very cooperative about getting us this paper. Even when the printer in question is optimized for said paper (meaning that it would most likely print higher quality images on this paper), vendors are either reluctant or just plain slow about sending it. Or they send the wrong, lower quality paper or paper of the wrong size.

The ink-quantity situation is just as bad. When we receive a printer, we put it through its paces with quality tests as well as speed tests. Speed tests are done at a lower quality setting than quality tests but require us to sometimes print 10 copies of a page 30 times. So not only do we need a lot of ink for the tests, but after we're done with it, we hand it off to the editor who does her own anecdotal tests. Vendors rarely send extra ink.

After we've contacted the printer's maker, we sometimes do receive the correct paper and the extra ink, but many times not for a full week. One vendor begrudgingly agreed to send us extra sheets of the correct paper and extra ink with the disclaimer that we don't use the supplies for personal printing projects. Is this really the vendor's primary concern? Even though they have warehouses full of the tools we need to complete testing in a timely manner, they're worried about wasting some paper? (We would never pilfer test goods, by the way.)

An old teacher of mine used to always say, "Help me help you" when trying to explain a very simple concept. Vendors, take heed. Help us with the necessary tools to help you to see timely and quality reviews of your products.