Brother Printer/Scanners, my experience using one with Linux

I have never participated in Black Friday before. I certainly didn’t fancy the the crushes I saw in the news. But when I saw an offer for a Brother MFC-J5320DW printer/scanner (RRP £200, usual on-line price £150) for £110 online, my only thought was: will it work in Linux? Well I checked the Brother site, and it showed downloadable drivers for the scanner. I assumed that the printer would “just work” as they often do in Linux. So I ordered it.

It arrived the following Tuesday morning. It’s a monster, but width-wise, it’s not significantly wider than my HP Deskjet, so its actual footprint on the side table next to my workstation is no bigger. And it prints A3!

Next thing was to connect it up, as per instructions. It printed an info sheet, and another sheet to confirm that the heads were clean. So I opened PCLinuxOS control centre, went to add new printer, and …. there was no driver!

A few expletives later, I went to the Brother site, and looked at other printers in the MFC-J5 series, and found that the J5620DW did have a printer driver at the Brother site, so I downloaded it. I also downloaded the scanner drivers. I created a new folder called printer inside my Downloads folder, and downloaded all four rpm files there. I opened a terminal and typed in the following commands:

cd Downloads/printer
su (and password as requested)
rpm -Uvh *.rpm

All four files were installed with no dependency requests, this is despite the fact that the printer driver file was a 32-bit file and my system is 64-bit. The scanner driver files come in a choice of 32 and 64 bit. Now checking out the Control Centre, I was able to install the printer. I had a choice of installing it via USB or wireless. Or even both.

The scanner driver files provide a program you can run in the background, brscan-skey. If you do this, by adding it to the programs that run when you log in (this varies according to distro and desktop, so ask at their site), you can use the scanning buttons on your printer. More about this later.

Brother MPC-J5320

Brother MPC-J5320

Printing

Printing on the Brother machine from the computer is straightforward enough, though there is a dazzling array of choices to balance colours etc, which I think may require trial and error. But the main things you need to know are:

  • Borderless printing is achieved via the paper size selection. E.g., you can select A4 or A4 borderless.
  • You can’t print double-sided when using A3, nor when using Borderless, Inkjet Paper, or Photo paper. Only select “Inkjet paper” for paper with a special coating on one side, not for better quality plain paper suitable for inkjets!
  • Any other inconsistent settings you try to make will be flagged up with a warning indicator. For example Plain Normal and Normal printing modes work with Plain Paper and Inkjet Paper respectively. Inkjet paper does not allow Bi-Directional mode.
  • You can feed single sheets in through the rear feeder, and when a page is printed, if there is more to print, the printer will request another sheet to be inserted there, rather than revert to the main paper tray. This means you can use the tray for plain paper, and the rear feeder for others.

Brother do not supply any real guidance for Linux, but most of what you need is covered in the Mac instructions. My recommendation for paper, is to get quality plain paper suitable for inkjets, but not inkjet paper!

Scanning

Provided you have installed the drivers, then all the usual stuff, like xsane, sane via gimp, etc., will work as usual. A nice touch is that you can operate the scanner from the machine itself, and a file will be delivered to your computer, provided you have brscan-skey running in the background! However, the default scripts on your computer can be improved. This involves tampering with some files as root, but really it’s not that hard. Just keep backups.

First you need to navigate to the folder /opt/brother/scanner/brscan-key/script/ where you will find files named (or similarly) as follows:

scantoemail-0.2.4-1.sh
scantofile-0.2.4-1.sh
scantoimage-0.2.4-1.sh
scantoocr-0.2.4-1.sh

These are the files that are run when you give the appropriate instruction from the printer itself. I’m not bothered about scantoemail, in fact I might change the script to do something else, but that’s for later. As for the others, they can be improved.

scantoimage scans the document in your scanner and opens it in gimp. scantofile scans the document and saves it in a folder, ~/brscan. In both cases they open it at 100dpi (dots per inch) which is not very good in my view. 300dpi is better. Both files contain a line which is:

resolution=100

Simply change it to 300 for a better quality scan, in each of those files.

scantoocr, on the other hand, is supposed to scan your document and convert it to text. OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software is hit and miss at the best of times. In fact, I found that it merely Scanned, saved the file, then deleted it! Looking at the script, it’s not hard to see why. The actual lines which call a program called “cuneiform” to perform the conversion, begin with a hash (#), which prevents the line from executing. So if you have cuneiform, or can get it installed, then remove the hashes on those lines. In my distro of Linux, it’s just not there! There are two OCR programs, though, tesseract and gocr. You can try both/either of these. In order to enable one of them, you need to insert a line in the file, just before the last line which starts with is rm -f.

Add ONE of the following lines according to which program you use:

gocr -i “$output_file” -o “$output_file”.txt
tesseract “$output_file” “$output_file”

You can also experiment with the resolution. Here it is already set to 300 which is usually ideal. Too small or too large and the recognition is poor. Try the 300 as set, then try again with 400. See what’s best.

Scantoemail / Shortcut Keys

Now if, like me, you have no use for this key, you could substitute any script to do any job you like. But that’s for another day! It would also be brilliant if it were possible to have scripts triggered by the six Shortcut keys.

The Linux Experience

Well so far, it seems to work better than my HP Deskjet 7760. My main complaint with the HP was that it often stopped accepting documents and I had to unplug the power cord and plug it in again. And it would do this at the most inconvenient times. There was even a time when a software update broke the driver.

I don’t know what little foibles the Brother is going to throw up at me. We’ll see as time goes on. So far it’s just been a matter of getting used to this and that. But thanks to Brother for the Linux drivers, they seem to work well. They’re not like Windows drivers with all sorts of programs on your desktop, but frankly, I don’t need them!

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2 responses

  1. Paul Finnigan | Reply

    Hi, I have just seen this review. I also bought a Brother Printer on offer and made the decision based on Linux drivers. I have the MFC-J6520DW and am equally happy with it, bar borderless printing. You state “Borderless printing is achieved via the paper size selection. E.g., you can select A4 or A4 borderless”. When you print using this option do you get full-bleed prints? I always get a small 1-2mm border on the right hand side of the paper. As I print a lot of photos my android devices get a lot of hammer as the android driver is fine.

  2. Yes borderless printing isn’t quite perfect but it’s better than my old HP. If you print a lot of photos, you might want to install a CISS ink system from http://www.cityinkexpress.co.uk I am considering that when my current ink is close to running out.

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