Positively Puzzling Printers!
July 22nd, 1999

In continuation of my "Dave's at MacWorld and needs to write his columns in advance" series, today I answer a whole SLEW of questions about printers and their users. If you have a question of your own (printer-related or otherwise is fine!), feel free to e-mail it to [email protected]. Otherwise, as always, read on...

Charles D Phillips writes, "Is it a good idea to get a printer with Ethernet for home, to speed up the time required to transfer and then print a photo?

I am thinking about investing in a color inkjet and see that the low end ones do not come with Ethernet, the more expensive ones come with it. Certainly Ethernet is normally used for networkable printers - but since it is much faster than the typical serial interface, does it provide a faster overall print time?

I have asked around, but people either use printers at home and connect via serial, or they use a networked printer. I haven't found anyone (even in the Houston user group) that knows if an Ethernet connection will allow an inkjet printer to produce prints faster."

Charles -- To answer this question we must first examine each step of the print process. With an inkjet printer, the computer does the image processing via the printer driver (or chooser extension). Once that's done, it must send the data to the printer. Once the printer has the data, it can begin whipping that print head back and forth to put the ink on the paper. Each of these 3 stages will affect the speed of the entire operation. If we speed up the computer, it will process the image faster and get it out to the printer. If we speed up the connection, it will get the data from the computer to the printer faster, and if we get a faster printer, it would move the print head more quickly and get the page finished sooner. So, yes, Ethernet will speed up the print job over a serial connection. The real question is -- by how much?

In my experience, the largest bottleneck with inkjet printers is the speed of the print heads, followed closely by the speed of the computer (since it has to render the image before sending it). Ethernet on inkjets doesn't really seem to affect the overall output speed, it just makes sharing a printer that much more convenient. I think your money would be better spent by getting either a faster printer, or an upgraded processor for your Mac. More RAM on the Mac might help, as well, especially if your system is relying on virtual memory all the time (I'll let you read up on my opinions on VM if you care to...)

Glen Westrich writes, "I have a Beige G3 I'm trying to get to print to my HP870, a non-ethernet, printer. I have a Performa 640 printing to it just fine. When the G3 is connected to the LocalTalk network, it doesn't 'see' anything. I've made sure the Network is set to the Printer Port and LocalTalk and that the LocalTalk PCI Extension is there. Still nothing. The G3 does print fine to a IIg through Ethernet."

Glen -- Apple did some nifty things with the LocalTalk PCI extension that lets it speed up access to the Printer Port on certain machines. In doing so, however, they created some incompatibilities (see the Apple TIL for more info). With that, there are many LocalTalk printers that will not work with the LocalTalk PCI extension enabled. Try disabling that extension. If you can print just fine, then I recommend upgrading to LocalTalk PCI version 1.2. It's rumored to fix these problems. Be sure to try it without ANY version of LocalTalk PCI first, though, just to make sure you're doing the right thing.

John Bodenberg writes, "Dave, once in a while, I have to open up the chooser to reset the output port to my printer because it has switched itself to the modem port. I have tried rebuilding the desktop and zapping the PRAM. Any other thoughts?"

John, it's possible that your battery is going dead. Usually when the printer switches itself to the modem port it's because AppleTalk is enabled and is using the printer port. Try disabling AppleTalk (either in the chooser or in the AppleTalk control panel). If that doesn't solve the problem, replace the battery inside the computer. Among other things, the battery retains the AppleTalk setting. If the battery is running low, it may cause those settings to revert to their defaults, which is "on" for Appletalk.


Marty Sobin writes, "My problem should be something that affects a lot of small businesses. A while back, I had some forms prepared by a designer for purchase orders and confirmations. She used Quark and I converted them to an EPS file. Then I imported the EPS file into Filemaker Pro which I use to track my business paperwork. I have the postscript fonts and the screen fonts (not in some of the really small sizes used). I can print out the paperwork perfectly from my laser printer if I manually download the postscript fonts (which I automatically do with Startup Downloader). However, I now want to fax these documents and the small fonts fax illegibly. I tried fiddling with ATM and also got some additional screen fonts but nothing seems to work. I tried FAXstf and Global Village software with the same poor results. Any suggestions - other than to recreate the EPS files in Filemaker, which would take way too much time and effort?"

Marty -- Your problem stems from the fact that Fax software is not postscript compatible. It uses QuickDraw, which relies on the computer to do the image processing. The Mac doesn't have a "display Postscript" driver built-in, and therefore has some problems printing postscript images and fonts to non-postscript printers. Depending on the specifics of your document, you have a few options.

The first is to try getting TrueType versions of the same fonts that are included in the image. While this won't increase the output resolution of the image itself, it will help with the fonts if they are imbedded in the image.

If that doesn't work, then you'll need to convert the image to a fixed resolution PICT or TIFF file, which will fax just fine. I recommend something at least as high as 200dpi, which is what most faxes are sent at these days (in "high res" mode). You should be able to go back to Quark and have it output this for you. It's also possible that Photoshop could do it, again depending on the way the EPS was created in the first place.

And one last question that I can't find a definitive answer to ANYWHERE!

Ken Jordan writes, "Is it possible to connect two or more iMacs to a single Epson 740 ink jet printer with a usb hub?"

My guess here would be a big resounding NO, but it warrants further investigation. I mean, it would make sense that this could work, but that would mean that we'd have two "Root" hubs on the same USB chain, and I could imagine this causing all sorts of havoc, not the least of which could be burning out one or both of the USB hubs built into the iMacs.

Anyone out there have any thoughts?

And so wraps up another round of "Ask Dave". Check back next week to see what else we have in store, and if you've got a question of your own that you'd like to see answered here, feel free to ask away!

PS. Have a Nice Day.

(this column written with the musical inspiration of Miles Davis: A Tribute to Jack Johnson)