Printer Buying Guide

Printer Buying Guide

Printers are very important peripherals, performing a critical role since they render electronic information into tangible records or material output. You're not really using your computer to the fullest potential if you are unable to print reports, presentations, letters, photos, or something you need to output. Selecting a printer can be confusing, however, in the present competitive, ever-changing landscape. This buying guide completes some of the more important criteria to take into consideration before you make that all-important purchase decision.


Printing Technologies

This is the biggest decision to make before anything else. Your choice needs to be based on how you work and also the kind of output you will be expecting from the printer.

o Inkjet: Inkjet printers can deliver stunning color, making this the way to go if you are mostly worried about printing photos. Inkjets can be used as printing text, however the print speed is simply too slow if the primary intent behind the printer is document printing. To become more photo-realism, choose inkjets with an expanded range of colors that includes light cyan and magenta in addition to the standard four-color CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black). The excess colors deliver more subtle color gradations in blue skies and skin tones. And if you print a great deal of black-and-white photos, consider photo printers exceeding one variation of black ink or with gray inks. Many photo printers use color inks to create a composite black, causing a muddy tint. An extra black-ink cartridge and different shades of gray maintain a neutral tone, with the gray ink allowing for subtle shading thereby improving the quality of black-and-white photos.

o Dye-sublimation: Dye-sub printers can print continuous tones as well as 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 over time than dye-based ink prints. Additionally, many consumer-based dye-sublimation printers can print from digital cameras and also accept memory cards. They may be, however, more limited inside the range and sized printing media you can use -- usually letter-size paper or smaller.

o Laser: Laser printers will be the perfect choice in order to print large amounts of text documents. They print quicker than inkjets and have a lower cost of operation in the long-term -- even though they may cost more to buy 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.

Printer Usage

Some printers are perfect for general printing, while some are better at specialized tasks or combine several functions into one machine.

o Photo: For lots of pictures, a great idea is a photo printer. Photo printers could be in the form of photo inkjets -- which can print both photos and text; snapshot photo printers -- for outputting small 4x6-inch prints; or professional photo printers -- for large, tabloid-size photos and often including network connections to allow printer sharing. Most consumer and professional photo printers use inkjet technology, while most snapshot photo printers that print 4x6-inch prints count on dye-sublimation technology. Regardless of the type or technology that is used, the most important thing to look for in a photo printer is photorealistic quality. Everything else is secondary.

o General Purpose: As the name implies, general purpose printers can be used printing almost anything, including text and photos. Pick a general printer which has a laser format should you print more text than photos; and judge an inkjet format if you print more photos than text.

o Multifunction: Multifunction printers (MFPs) combine in a single device several functions for example printing, scanning, faxing, and copying. MFPs are cheaper than buying separate stand-alone devices and cut down on the hassle of setting up individual machines. Should you be strapped for budget or space, buying a all-in-one devices. Take note, however, a malfunction with one component takes along the whole device, and individual components will not be upgradeable. MFPs are available with either laser printers to stress speedy text printing and also the occasional graphics output; or they are offered 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 those of the office worker, photographer, or traveler.

o General/Basic use at home: Versatile, affordable printers work most effectively choices here, and inkjets usually match the printing needs of many home users looking to output photos off their digital camera or for other light printing needs. Ink cartridges can be expensive, so look for inkjets with separate cartridges for every color. This way, you don't need to throw out entire cartridges -- simply because one color was used up ahead of the others -- but replace just the ones that run out.

o Home business: An MFP may be a great device to own in your home office, particularly when it comes with an automatic document feeder that could process multipage documents unattended. Extra onboard memory increases efficiency and permits processing of larger graphics and documents without difficulty. And if scanning and photocopying you need, get an MFP with a higher resolution.

o Photography: Photo printers include the obvious choice if printing photos is your main thing. Choose either smaller, snapshot photo printer which causes 4x6-inch prints; or choose larger-sized, professional photo printers which are capable of delivering tabloid-size 11x17-inch prints -- even as much as full-bleed 13x19-inch prints that include a border allowing room for registration marks.

o Text printing: If printing large amounts of text is what you'll be doing most, monochrome standard laser printers would be the best bet -- as they can come out page after page of crisp text fairly rapidly. These printers are perfect for printing black-and-white text and graphics, so you may need to get a separate inkjet or photo printer to be able to print color photos - if you do not wish to invest in the more costly color lasers that can print both black-and-white and color documents.

o Small network: A workgroup laser printer might be what you need if your office at home or small office is built around a network. Workgroup lasers pack faster print speeds and possess more memory to take care of multiple print jobs. Additionally they offer more advanced handling capabilities including larger trays, and may offer duplex (double-sided) printing, sorting, and stapling. More costly than standard laser printers, virtually all workgroup lasers are monochrome -- suitable for printing text as well as simple graphics.

o Traveler: For your businessperson on the go and seeking to print, portable printers provide the solution with their lightweight (small enough to fit in to a briefcase), light weight (less than 5 lbs.), and handy power (runs using batteries or which has a car charger). Newer models can print wirelessly -- making it a non-issue if you forget your USB cable in your house. Some portables offer great extras like a sheet feeder for automatic page feeding, are able to handle transparencies and envelopes, and in many cases support an optional scanner cartridge that replaces a lot of it cartridge and turns the printer into a scanner. Portable printers will set you back and print slowly than standard printers, but convenience is what you're paying for.

PC-free printing

With something called PictBridge support, photo printers need not be connected to PCs to be able to print photos. PictBridge is often a standard adopted by manufacturers of printers and cameras for PC-free printing, allowing photos being printed straight from the camera to the printer simply by connecting them via a USB cable -- so long as the printer and digital camera are compatible. An alternative to this idea may be the ability for printers to read memory cards straight from a digital camera or any other image-storing device by simply inserting them into designated printer slots.

When the camera is linked to or the card is inserted into the printer, photos can be reviewed in a number of ways, based on the printer model. Some may feature a built-in LCD screen which allows shots to be reviewed, edits to make, and the ones to be printed chosen completely from the screen. Other models may let you create an index sheet -- similar to a contact sheet in film printing -- so you can mark the ones you decide on for printing and rescan the sheet. Other printer models let you decide which shots you want to print straight from the photographic camera. Many types of memory cards are available on the market today, so make sure the printer accepts the type used by your camera that you can enjoy card-direct printing of photos.

Paper Handling

Paper is usually an important issue in printing. Here are several important tips on paper handling for printers:

o When purchasing a printer, make certain 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 employ. For this purpose, a printer's paper path will 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 press that can be used. However, the curved paths usual for laser printers also assists you to have more flexible configurations for input and output trays.

o With all 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 ensure you choose the right kind of paper to your printer to obtain optimal print results. For instance, matte papers are compatible with both pigment and dye-based inks, while luster finishes are likely to be more suitable for dye-based inks.

o With regards to size, most inkjets and lasers can handle printing of letter and legal sizes. If you want to print larger prints, however, look at a printer that can handle sizes like 11 by 17 inches. You may even consider getting a printer with multiple paper drawers when you be switching between different paper sizes on a regular basis. For a laser printer, multiple output trays, duplexing (double-sided printing), collating, and automatic stapling can be additional useful features.

o If you plan to use third-party paper, make certain it works well together with your printer. Before you buy a big quantity of third-party paper, consider using a few samples by printing the same photos on both the printer manufacturer's paper and the third-party paper, and then compare the final results.

Printer Specs and Key Features

Printers feature various specifications, so navigating the spec sheet intelligently requires knowledge of what each specification entails based on the printing technology involved or 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 printing in color. For inkjets, choose one featuring 1200-dpi or higher resolution with a droplet size of 4 picoliters or smaller for sharp, clean output. With photo printers, resolution varies as outlined by 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 also the print speeds cited by manufacturers usually make reference to printing in draft mode or at the deepest resolution. For laser printers, a far more accurate way of measuring actual print speed is usually to time just how long it will require from the minute you hit "Print" -- on the time that it takes the printer to loosen up, spool the job into the print queue, as well as the printed output to finally emerge. For inkjets, print speed isn't one of its stronger suits; so avoid being overly concerned with this spec.

o Memory: Extra memory comes in handy for laser printers to be able to handle large graphics and documents more easily. Check the maximum upgradeable memory allowed for the printer, if it comes with a hard drive with similarly upgradeable memory, if the printer are able to use generic memory or needs the manufacturer's brand. Regarding inkjets, memory is built-in and not upgradeable, but this is not an issue inasmuch as processing occurs along 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 will no longer support the older parallel connection but feature instead USB 1.1 or Hi-Speed USB (USB 2.0) -- either ones should work fine with USB computers. For printers to use on a network, it will need to have an Ethernet port to allow printer sharing. For further flexible printing options, you might want to look for printers with infrared input/output ports that allow wireless printing from notebooks or another devices with infrared ports. If high-speed or long-distance printing is the thing that you need, consider printers which has a FireWire port.

Consumables and cost per page

The fee 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 prove to add up. These "hidden costs" will be the consumables; dividing the total cost of consumables with the number of pages that can be produced from the consumables will give you the cost per page. Laser printers provide you with the lowest cost per page, using relatively inexpensive toner and normal-weight, uncoated paper. However, cost per page for inkjets might be four or five times as much, depending on how much ink you have and the cost of the paper -- normally more expensive, coated, glossy paper for higher-quality color output. The tank configuration for inkjets ought to be taken into consideration. Inkjets with a single cartridge for that colored inks will incur higher replacement costs for the reason that cartridge must be replaced when one color expires -- even if the cartridge still contains a lot of ink for the other colors. In order to save costs, get an inkjet with separate cartridges for black every individual color.

Print Quality

All the specs and fancy features with 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 must be smooth and crisp. At the cheapest font sizes, the average person letters should be clearly readable, plus they should not bleed into each other. Medium-size fonts should have no fuzzy edges, and 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; unless you, it's usually a sign of the printer retiring too much ink. (Remember, however, that inkjet printers displays some wicking on plain, 20-lb. paper, as the ink bleeds along the paper fibers.)

o Graphics: For color printing, look for gradients -- or locations 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. On the test page, you will likely see a gradient bar which goes from black to white via a series of progressively darker gray shades; the transition from shade to shade must be smooth without a noticeable line. Also, locate a nice balance of colours in color-graphic printing -- something that isn't overly saturated nor flat and pale.

o Photo: A good photo print should like the original photo. Colors ought to be accurate and balanced, vivid but not oversaturated. Good detail ought to be present in all areas, without any jagged lines or pixels or some 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 tell the difference from one great print to an alternative, but almost everyone can recognize a poor print when they see one. Trust what you see.