Printers Buying Guide
At the most basic level, printers can be broken down into two main categories—home (mainly inkjet models) and office (mainly laser). That said, there are plenty of applications for an inkjet printer at the office, and home users craving speed or printing large amounts of text may require the use of a laser printer. Aside from the two main categories, there are photo, dot matrix and multifunction printers that all fulfill different needs. To make sense of all this, take a look below.
What are the types of printers?
Inkjet—These professional-quality printers give you incomparable resolution, vivid color, and sharp text. If you want to print out graphics in full, crisp color, an inkjet should do the trick. These are great for home use, and fairly compact and easy to transport. Inkjets produce anywhere from 2-15 pages per minute, depending on the resolution you’re using and whether you’re printing images or straight text.
Laser—Because of the high speed and capacity of these printers, lasers are great for the home office. They are well suited to printing out a lot of documentation—and they do so at a rate of between 6 and 40 pages per minute.
Photo—If you have a digital camera, you’re going to want to print your photos. A photo printer not only will help you produce high-quality images, but some even have an LCD screen to let you view the photos before you print, without the use of a computer! Photo printers are typically inkjet or dye sublimation, and photo inkjets are 6 color, as opposed to 4 color for regular inkjets.
Multifunction—These printers combine performance, connectivity, speed, and reliability at a price that certainly fits any budget. Aside from printing, you’ll find such features as faxing, copying, and scanning. If you run a business, this can be an economical and space-saving office solution.
Portable—If you travel on business, consider a portable printer. These generally produce high-quality prints from your laptop—wherever you are.
Dot Matrix—A dot matrix printer is perfect for the back office. With this machine, you’ll be able to print invoices, packing slips, and more. A real workhorse!
What features should I look for in a printer?
Resolution: The number of ink dots per inch (dpi) on the printed page. Resolution determines the quality of the printed word or image, although many printers have built-in software that further enhances print quality. Most printers produce a minimum 300 x 600 or 600 x 600 dpi resolution—good enough for most average print jobs. Deluxe models offer higher resolutions for professional image reproduction.
Ink Cartridges: The type of printer you get (laser vs. inkjet) will determine the basic type of cartridges, although color inkjets offer a variety of setups—some have separate wells for color and black, some have 4 or 6 separate cartridges, and some combine them all. Hint: A separate black cartridge saves the color ink for color jobs, and therefore saves you money. Pay attention to the type of cartridge the printer uses, and how much they cost to replace.
Speed: If you’ll be printing a lot of documents, you may want to avoid an inkjet that specializes in color prints—it will probably move a lot slower. Most printer descriptions give you the number of pages per minute—pay close attention.
What is resolution and why does it matter?
If you want crisp, vivid, and clearer images, pay close attention to resolution—the number of ink dots per inch (dpi) on the printed page. Resolution determines the quality of the printed word or image, although many printers have built-in software that further enhances print quality. Most printers produce a minimum 300 x 600 or 600 x 600 dpi resolution—good enough for most average print jobs. However, if you plan on printing images that need to look completely polished and professional, look for a printer with either a higher resolution, or good built-in software that further enhances print quality.
Will any printer work with my computer?
No, not all printer models work with all computer operating systems. Consult the printer product description and look under connectivity and/or software drivers.
What kinds of ink cartridges are available?
Printers get their ink from either a toner/drum cartridge or an ink tank cartridge. With laser printers, which use a toner/drum, you’ll have to replace the cartridge when the printer runs out of ink. With ink jets, which use ink tanks, you must replace or refill the tanks when they run dry. Both of these types of cartridges vary in number of pages they’ll produce, although you’ll generally get more mileage from a laser cartridge. Some ink jets use a single four-color cartridge that includes black, and some use a tricolor cartridge and a separate black one, and still others use totally separate tanks for each color. If you plan to print a lot of text documents on your ink jet, you should look for a printer that offers a separate black ink tank.
Do I need special paper to print photographs?
Not necessarily, but if you want prints that resemble professionally finished ones, you’ll probably want to pick up some photo paper. It’s available in various quantities, and your printer may come with software to help you economize (e.g., print out two photos on one sheet) and cut down on paper costs.
Will I receive anything extra with my printer? Is there something else I need?
You will often receive some type of software with your printer. You might receive a program that will allow you to create invitations, greeting cards, posters, and other printable material. Photo printers often include photo-editing software that allows you to manipulate your photos (e.g., changing colors or adding special effects). Take note! One necessary item you likely won’t receive: a printer cable. Make sure you buy that too, or you’ll be disappointed when you go to hook up your new printer. Pay close attention to the type you need, as they vary.