Printer Buying Guide

Printer Buying Guide

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

Printing Technologies

This can be the biggest decision to produce before anything else. Your choice must be based on how you work along with the kind of output you will end up expecting from the printer.

o Inkjet: Inkjet printers can deliver stunning color, making this the way to go if you are mostly concerned with printing photos. Inkjets can be used as printing text, however the print speed is simply too slow if the primary purpose of the printer is document printing. To get additional photo-realism, choose inkjets with an expanded selection 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 skin color. And if you print significant amounts of black-and-white photos, consider photo printers with over one variation of black and white or with gray inks. Many photo printers use color inks to generate a composite black, causing a muddy tint. A second black-ink cartridge and different shades of gray maintain a neutral tone, together with the gray ink allowing for subtle shading and therefore improving the quality of black-and-white photos.

o Dye-sublimation: Dye-sub printers can print continuous tones along with a superior range of colors that laser printers cannot, making them ideal for more demanding graphic applications or printing in color. Dye-sub prints are also less at risk of fading and distortion over time than dye-based ink prints. In addition, many consumer-based dye-sublimation printers can print directly from digital cameras and also accept memory cards. They are, however, more limited in the range and height and width of printing media which can be used -- usually letter-size paper or smaller.

o Laser: Laser printers would be the perfect choice if you wish to print large amounts of text documents. They print faster than inkjets and have a lower cost of operation on the long-term -- even though they may cost more to purchase initially. There are trade-offs, however. Monochrome laser printers produce crisp black-and-white text but is not used for color printing. Color lasers deliver excellent text and graphics but are much more expensive and are costly to maintain.

Printer Usage

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

o Photo: For lots of pictures, on the internet a photo printer. Photo printers can be in the form of photo inkjets -- which could 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 make it possible for printer sharing. Most consumer and professional photo printers use inkjet technology, while many snapshot photo printers that print 4x6-inch prints rely on dye-sublimation technology. Regardless of the type or technology which is used, the most important thing to look for inside a photo printer is photorealistic quality. Any devices is secondary.

o General Purpose: Because the name implies, general purpose printers can be used printing almost anything, including text and photos. Choose a general printer using a laser format in the event you print more text than photos; and select an inkjet format should you print more photos than text.

o Multifunction: Multifunction printers (MFPs) combine a single device several functions including printing, scanning, faxing, and copying. MFPs are less expensive than buying separate stand-alone devices and reduce the hassle of setting up individual machines. If you're strapped for budget or space, to understand all-in-one devices. Take note, however, that a malfunction with one component takes on the whole device, and individual components is probably not upgradeable. MFPs are available with either laser printers to emphasize speedy text printing and also the occasional graphics output; or they are available with inkjet printers for vibrant photo printing.

Environment and Applications

When buying a printer, think about where and how you plan to use it. Your home user will have different printing needs from that regarding the office worker, photographer, or traveler.

o General/Basic your kitchen at home: Versatile, affordable printers work best choices here, and inkjets usually fulfill the printing needs of many home users planning to output photos using their digital camera or for other light printing needs. Inkjet cartridges can be expensive, so seek out inkjets with separate cartridges per color. This way, you don't need to throw out entire cartridges -- mainly because one color has been used up ahead of the others -- but replace only the ones that run out.

o Home office: An MFP may be a great device to have in your home office, particularly when it comes with an automatic document feeder that will process multipage documents unattended. Extra onboard memory increases efficiency and permits processing of larger graphics and documents without difficulty. 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 small, 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 around full-bleed 13x19-inch prints that include a border to allow room for registration marks.

o Text printing: If printing considerable amounts of text is the thing that you'll be doing most, monochrome standard laser printers are your best bet -- as they can turn out page after page of crisp text fairly rapidly. These printers are best for printing black-and-white text and graphics, so you may should get a separate inkjet or photo printer in order to print color photos - unless you wish to invest in the more expensive color lasers that will print both black-and-white and color documents.

o Small network: A workgroup laser printer could be what you need if your home business office or small office is built around a network. Workgroup lasers pack faster print speeds and also 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 costly than standard laser printers, nearly all workgroup lasers are monochrome -- designed for printing text as well as simple graphics.

o Traveler: For your businessperson on the go looking to print, portable printers supply the solution with their lightweight (small enough to fit in to a briefcase), light weight (below 5 lbs.), and handy power (operates on batteries or which has 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 such as a sheet feeder for automatic page feeding, can easily handle transparencies and envelopes, as well as support an optional scanner cartridge that replaces a lot of it cartridge and turns the printer in to a scanner. Portable printers will set you back and print slower than standard printers, but convenience is exactly what you're paying for.

PC-free printing

With something called PictBridge support, photo printers do not need to be connected to PCs as a way to print photos. PictBridge can be a standard adopted by manufacturers of printers and video cameras for PC-free printing, allowing photos to become printed straight from the digital camera to the printer through connecting them by having a USB cable -- provided that the printer and camera are compatible. An alternative to this idea may be the ability for printers to learn memory cards completely from a digital camera or any other image-storing device by simply inserting the cards into designated printer slots.

After the camera is linked to or the card is inserted to the printer, photos could be reviewed in a number of ways, depending on the printer model. Some may feature a built-in LCD screen which allows shots to be reviewed, edits to be made, and the ones to be printed chosen from the screen. Other models may let you create an index sheet -- much like a contact sheet in film printing -- so you can mark the ones you choose for printing and rescan the sheet. Other printer models permit you to decide which shots you need to print straight from the photographic camera. Many types of memory cards can be obtained on the market today, so ensure that the printer accepts the type used by your camera for you to enjoy card-direct printing of photos.

Paper Handling

Paper is obviously an important issue in printing. Below are a few important tips on paper handling for printers:

o When purchasing a printer, make sure that it's equipped to allow for all the paper types and sizes that you'll be using. If you need to print on heavy stock, as an illustration, make sure the printer can handle the heaviest paper you have. 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. In most cases, the straighter the path, the thicker the press that can be used. However, the curved paths typical of laser printers also makes it possible to have more flexible configurations for input and output trays.

o Using the correct type of paper may also make a difference to your printing. Inkjets can print with a variety of matte or glossy photo paper, but make sure you choose the right kind of paper to your printer to obtain optimal print results. For instance, matte papers are suitable for both pigment and dye-based inks, while luster finishes are usually more suitable for dye-based inks.

o In terms of size, most inkjets and lasers are prepared for printing of letter and legal sizes. If you wish to print larger prints, however, look at a printer that can handle sizes like 11 by 17 inches. It's also possible to consider getting a printer with multiple paper drawers if you'll be switching between different paper sizes often. For a laser printer, multiple output trays, duplexing (double-sided printing), collating, and automatic stapling may be additional useful features.

o If you intend to use third-party paper, make certain it works well together with your printer. Before you buy a substantial quantity of third-party paper, get a few samples by printing the same photos on both the printer manufacturer's paper and also 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 according to the printing technology involved and for the type of usage planned for the printer.

o Resolution: For laser printers, 300 dpi is adequate if you simply need 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 maybe more resolution with a droplet height and width 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 technology is comparable to photo printers using inkjet technology outputting at 1200 dpi or maybe more.

o Speed: Speed ratings vary greatly, as well as the print speeds cited by manufacturers usually talk about printing in draft mode or at the deepest resolution. For laser printers, a much more accurate way of measuring actual print speed is usually to time just how long it takes from the minute you hit "Print" -- to the time that it takes the printer to warm-up, spool the job in the print queue, and for the printed output to finally turn out. For inkjets, print speed is just not one of its stronger suits; so don't be overly concerned with this spec.

o Memory: Extra memory will come in handy for laser printers to enable them to handle large graphics and documents with less effort. Check the maximum upgradeable memory allowed for the printer, if it includes a hard drive with similarly upgradeable memory, and if the printer can use generic memory or needs the manufacturer's brand. In the matter of inkjets, memory is built-in and never upgradeable, but this isn't an issue inasmuch as processing occurs to the side of the computer -- so you shouldn't have 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 which should work fine with USB computers. For printers to be utilized on a network, it will need to have an Ethernet port make it possible for printer sharing. To get more flexible printing options, you might look for printers with infrared input/output ports that permit wireless printing from notebooks and other devices with infrared ports. Of course, if high-speed or long-distance printing 's what you need, consider printers having a FireWire port.

Consumables and cost per page

The purchase price of the printer is simply the beginning of its price tag because over time, the hidden cost of ink or toner, paper, and parts include up. These "hidden costs" are the consumables; dividing the total cost of consumables from the number of pages that can be produced from the consumables will give you the cost per page. Laser printers provide the lowest cost per page, using affordable toner and normal-weight, uncoated paper. Conversely, cost per page for inkjets could be four or five times just as much, depending on how much ink you employ and the cost of the paper -- normally costlier, coated, glossy paper for higher-quality color output. The tank configuration for inkjets also need 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 as soon as 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 something 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 smallest font sizes, the person letters should be clearly readable, and they should not bleed into one other. Medium-size fonts should have no fuzzy edges, and also the largest fonts -- especially bold ones -- ought to be filled with solid black, not really a muddy brown or bluish tone. Its 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 display some wicking on plain, 20-lb. paper, because the ink bleeds across the paper fibers.)

o Graphics: For printing in color, look for gradients -- or locations where a color goes from dark to light. Color should transition smoothly, and you need to not see any color banding, where distinct bands progress from dark to light. With a test page, you will likely see a gradient bar that goes from black to white through a series of progressively darker gray shades; the transition from shade to shade needs to be smooth without a noticeable line. Also, choose a nice balance of colours in color-graphic printing -- something that is not overly saturated nor flat and passed.

o Photo: The single best photo print should such as the original photo. Colors should be accurate and balanced, vivid and not oversaturated. Good detail must be present in all areas, without 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 another, but almost everyone can recognize a poor print when they see one. Trust the product in question. Printers