Printer Buying Guide
Printers are essential peripherals, performing a critical role since they render electronic information into tangible records or material output. You're hardly using your computer to the fullest potential if you are unable to print reports, presentations, letters, photos, or anything you need to output. Picking a printer can be confusing, however, in today's competitive, ever-changing landscape. This buying guide rounds out some of the more important criteria to think about before you make that all-important purchase decision. Photocopiers
This is actually the biggest decision to create before anything else. Your choice needs to be based on how you work along with the kind of output you will be expecting from the printer.
o Inkjet: Inkjet printers can deliver stunning color, thus, making this the way to go if you are mostly focused on printing photos. Inkjets can be used as printing text, though the print speed is just too slow if the primary purpose of the printer is document printing. To get additional photo-realism, choose inkjets with an expanded range of colors that includes light cyan and light-weight magenta in addition to the standard four-color CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black). The additional colors deliver more subtle color gradations in blue skies and kinds of skin. And if you print a great deal of black-and-white photos, consider photo printers using more than one variation of black ink or with gray inks. Many photo printers use color inks to make a composite black, producing a muddy tint. Another black-ink cartridge and different shades of gray maintain a neutral tone, with all the gray ink permitting subtle shading and therefore improving the quality of black-and-white photos.
o Dye-sublimation: Dye-sub printers can print continuous tones and a superior range of colors that laser printers can't, making them ideal for more demanding graphic applications or printing in color. Dye-sub prints are also less susceptible to fading and distortion after a while than dye-based ink prints. Furthermore, many consumer-based dye-sublimation printers can print directly from digital cameras and also accept memory cards. They may be, however, more limited in the range and size of printing media that can be used -- usually letter-size paper or smaller.
o Laser: Laser printers include the perfect choice if you wish to print large amounts of text documents. They print quicker than inkjets and have a lower cost of operation on the long-term -- even though they may cost more to acquire initially. There are trade-offs, however. Monochrome laser printers produce crisp black-and-white text but can't be used for color printing. Color lasers deliver excellent text and graphics but you are much more expensive and can be costly to maintain.
Some printers are perfect for general printing, although some are better at specialized tasks or combine several functions into one machine.
o Photo: Invest the lots of pictures, on the internet a photo printer. Photo printers may be in the form of photo inkjets -- which may print both photos and text; snapshot photo printers -- for outputting small 4x6-inch prints; or professional photo printers -- for giant, tabloid-size photos and often including network connections make it possible for printer sharing. Most consumer and professional photo printers use inkjet technology, many snapshot photo printers that print 4x6-inch prints rely on dye-sublimation technology. Regardless of the type or technology utilized, the most important thing to look for in a photo printer is photorealistic quality. Everything else is secondary.
o General Purpose: Since the name implies, general purpose printers can be used for printing almost anything, including text and photos. Select a general printer with a laser format should you print more text than photos; and choose an inkjet format in case you print more photos than text.
o Multifunction: Multifunction printers (MFPs) combine in a device several functions including printing, scanning, faxing, and copying. MFPs are cheaper than buying separate stand-alone devices and lessen the hassle of setting up individual machines. If you are strapped for budget or space, to understand all-in-one devices. Take note, however, that a malfunction with one component takes along the whole device, and individual components is probably not upgradeable. MFPs are available with either laser printers to stress speedy text printing as well as the occasional graphics output; or they are available with inkjet printers for vibrant photo printing.
Environment and Applications
When purchasing a printer, think about where you plan to use it. The house user will have different printing needs from that relating to the office worker, photographer, or traveler.
o General/Basic use at home: Versatile, affordable printers work most effectively choices here, and inkjets usually fulfill the printing needs of all home users looking to output photos off their digital camera or for other light printing needs. Ink cartridges can be expensive, so try to find inkjets with separate cartridges for each color. This way, don't need to throw out entire cartridges -- mainly because one color has been used up ahead of the others -- but replace merely the ones that run out.
o Office at home: An MFP may be a great device to get in your home office, particularly if it comes with an automatic document feeder that can process multipage documents unattended. Extra onboard memory increases efficiency and allows for processing of larger graphics and documents effortlessly. And if scanning and photocopying are important to you, get an MFP with a higher resolution.
o Photography: Photo printers are the obvious choice if printing photos is your main thing. Choose either smaller, snapshot photo printer that produces 4x6-inch prints; or choose larger-sized, professional photo printers which can be capable of delivering tabloid-size 11x17-inch prints -- even up to full-bleed 13x19-inch prints that include a border to allow room for registration marks.
o Text printing: If printing large amounts of text is the thing that you'll be doing most, monochrome standard laser printers would be the best bet -- as they can end up page after page of crisp text fairly rapidly. These printers are fantastic for printing black-and-white text and straightforward graphics, so you may want to get a separate inkjet or photo printer as a way to print color photos - unless you wish to invest in the more expensive color lasers that may print both black-and-white and color documents.
o Small network: A workgroup laser printer might be what you need if your home business office or small office is made around a network. Workgroup lasers pack faster print speeds and still have more memory to take care of multiple print jobs. Additionally they offer more advanced handling capabilities like larger trays, and might offer duplex (double-sided) printing, sorting, and stapling. More expensive than standard laser printers, the majority of workgroup lasers are monochrome -- designed for printing text and simple graphics.
o Traveler: To the businessperson on the go looking to print, portable printers provide the solution with their compact size (small enough to fit in to a briefcase), light weight (under 5 lbs.), and handy power (operates on batteries or with a car charger). Newer models can print wirelessly -- which makes it a non-issue if you forget your USB cable at home. Some portables offer great extras for instance a sheet feeder for automatic page feeding, are able to handle transparencies and envelopes, and even support an optional scanner cartridge that replaces the ink cartridge and turns the printer right into a scanner. Portable printers are more expensive and print slowly than standard printers, but convenience is exactly what you're paying for.
With something called PictBridge support, photo printers don't need to be connected to PCs so that you can print photos. PictBridge is a standard adopted by manufacturers of printers and video cameras for PC-free printing, allowing photos to become printed straight from the photographic camera to the printer through connecting them through a USB cable -- provided that the printer and digital camera are compatible. A variation to this idea will be the ability for printers to read memory cards directly from a digital camera and other image-storing device by simply inserting the cards into designated printer slots.
Once the camera is connected to or the card is inserted in to the printer, photos can be reviewed in a number of ways, with regards to the printer model. Some might feature a built-in LCD screen that permits shots to be reviewed, edits to make, and the ones to be printed chosen completely from the screen. Other models will alow you create an index sheet -- similar to a contact sheet in film printing -- so that you can mark the ones you ultimately choose for printing and rescan the sheet. Other printer models allow you to decide which shots you want to print straight from the digicam. Many types of memory cards are available on the market today, so ensure that the printer accepts what type used by your camera so that you can enjoy card-direct printing of photos.
Paper is obviously an important issue in printing. Here are several important tips on paper handling for printers:
o When buying a printer, ensure that it's equipped to support all the paper sizes and types that you'll be using. In order to print on heavy stock, for instance, make sure the printer can handle the heaviest paper you have. For this purpose, a printer's paper path can give an indication of how it handles paper: Inkjets generally use straight-through paper paths, while lasers use S-shaped or U-shaped paths. Most of the time, the straighter the path, the thicker the media that can be used. However, the curved paths conventional laser printers also makes it possible to have more flexible configurations for input and output trays.
o Using the correct type of paper will likely make a difference to your printing. Inkjets can print with a variety of matte or glossy photo paper, but be sure you choose the right kind of paper on your printer to obtain optimal print results. As an example, matte papers are suitable for both pigment and dye-based inks, while luster finishes are generally more suitable for dye-based inks.
o With regards to size, most inkjets and lasers are prepared for printing of letter and legal sizes. If you wish to print larger prints, however, consider a printer that can handle sizes like 11 by 17 inches. You may also consider getting a printer with multiple paper drawers if you'll be switching between different paper sizes frequently. For a laser printer, multiple output trays, duplexing (double-sided printing), collating, and automatic stapling may be additional useful features.
o If you plan to use third-party paper, make certain it works well with your printer. Before you buy a large quantity of third-party paper, try a few samples by printing precisely the same photos on both the printer manufacturer's paper and the third-party paper, and then compare the outcome.
Printer Specs and Key Features
Printers feature various specifications, so navigating the spec sheet intelligently requires knowledge of what each specification entails in line with the printing technology involved and the type of usage planned to the printer.
o Resolution: For laser printers, 300 dpi is adequate if all you need is to print black-and-white text, but choose no less than 1200 dpi for photorealistic grayscale or color printing. For inkjets, choose one featuring 1200-dpi or older resolution with a droplet size of 4 picoliters or smaller for sharp, clean output. With photo printers, resolution varies according to technology: Output at 300 dpi by photo printers using dye-sublimation technologies are comparable to photo printers using inkjet technology outputting at 1200 dpi or older.
o Speed: Speed ratings vary greatly, and the print speeds cited by manufacturers usually make reference to printing in draft mode or at the cheapest resolution. For laser printers, a more accurate way of measuring actual print speed is to time just how long it will require from the minute you hit "Print" -- for the time that it takes the printer to heat up, spool the job to the print queue, but for the printed output to finally turn out. For inkjets, print speed is just not one of its stronger suits; so you shouldn't be overly concerned with this spec.
o Memory: Extra memory will come in handy for laser printers for them to handle large graphics and documents more easily. Check the maximum upgradeable memory allowed for your printer, if it incorporates a hard drive with similarly upgradeable memory, and if the printer may use generic memory or needs the manufacturer's brand. In the matter of inkjets, memory is built-in instead of upgradeable, but this is not an issue inasmuch as processing occurs on the side of the computer -- so there's no need for large amounts of installed RAM to begin with on inkjets.
o Connectivity: Most printers today not support the older parallel connection but feature instead USB 1.1 or Hi-Speed USB (USB 2.0) -- either of which should work fine with USB computers. For printers for use on a network, it'll need to have an Ethernet port to enable printer sharing. For more flexible printing options, you might want to look for printers with infrared input/output ports which allow wireless printing from notebooks or any other devices with infrared ports. If high-speed or long-distance printing is exactly what you need, consider printers with a FireWire port.
Consumables and cost per page
The purchase price of the printer is only the beginning of its total cost because over time, the hidden price of ink or toner, paper, and parts will add up. These "hidden costs" include the consumables; dividing the total cost of consumables with the number of pages which can be produced from the consumables offers you the cost per page. Laser printers provide lowest cost per page, using affordable toner and normal-weight, uncoated paper. On the other hand, cost per page for inkjets may be four or five times just as much, depending on how much ink you use and the cost of the paper -- normally higher priced, coated, glossy paper for higher-quality color output. The tank configuration for inkjets should be taken into consideration. Inkjets with a single cartridge for that colored inks will incur higher replacement costs because the cartridge must be replaced the moment one color finishes -- even if the cartridge still contains a good amount of ink for the other colors. To avoid wasting costs, get an inkjet with separate cartridges for black each individual color.
All the specs and fancy features in your printer won't mean a thing if you don't have good, solid top printing quality -- whether of text or photos -- to support it.
o Text: Text needs to be smooth and crisp. At the cheapest font sizes, the consumer letters should be clearly readable, and they also should not bleed into one another. Medium-size fonts should have no fuzzy edges, as well as the largest fonts -- especially bold ones -- needs to be filled with solid black, not a muddy brown or bluish tone. It's also wise to be able to see well-formed and well-rounded counters (the openings) in letterforms; should you not, it's usually a sign of the printer laying down too much ink. (Remember, however, that inkjet printers will display some wicking on plain, 20-lb. paper, because the ink bleeds over the paper fibers.)
o Graphics: For color printing, look for gradients -- or places that a color goes from dark to light. Color should transition smoothly, and you should not see any color banding, where distinct bands progress from dark to light. With a test page, you'll likely see a gradient bar which goes from black to white by way of a series of progressively darker gray shades; the transition from shade to shade must be smooth without a noticeable line. Also, look for a nice balance of colours in color-graphic printing -- something that is not overly saturated nor flat and washed out.
o Photo: A good photo print should such as the original photo. Colors needs to be accurate and balanced, vivid although not oversaturated. Good detail should be present in all areas, without jagged lines or pixels or other visual artifacts. Good contrast should exist between shadow and highlight areas -- not muddy or flat and without color. You may not always be able to know the difference from one great print to another, but almost everyone can recognize an undesirable print when they see one. Trust a specific item. Photocopiers