Printers

Buying Guide - Printers

Types

The laser printer type has been around for over 25 years, although the technology has advanced significantly during that time.  Laser printers work by projecting an image of the item to be printed onto an electrically charged drum, which electrostatically picks up dry ink (toner) particles onto the charged areas, and then fuses them to the paper using a warm roller.

printerYou can find both black and white and laser colour printer models, and the speed and crispness of picture will vary between models.

Inkjet types of printer work to create an image by sending a very precisely controlled stream of tiny ink drops onto the paper.  Today's inkjet printer models produce crisp images, both for text and pictures.  There are many general purpose and photo specific inkjet models of printer on the market, and different manufacturers use very slightly different techniques, so always ask to see a printout from the specific printer model you are interested in.

Inkjet printers are generally slower at printing than laser printers, although the finished product can be very high quality, so inkjet printers are usually more suited to home environments where they will not be printing numerous images on a daily basis.

If you are looking to use a printer to print digital photos from a digital camera, you may want to look at a dedicated photo printer.  These may be inkjet printers, but more often use a technique called dye-sublimation, which produces a picture by transferring ink in a continuous strip from a ribbon on to the paper using heat to lay each colour separately, finishing up with a clear laminate overlap on top.  This printer produces a clear, natural looking photo that is dry when it emerges from the printer.

Finally, it is possible to buy multifunctional or all-in-one printer models, which offer multiple printer capabilities in one machine, usually a printer, scanner, photocopier, and fax together.  These printer types will appeal to small and home business users particularly, as they are very space efficient.

Features

So which type of printer will suit your needs best?

The inkjet printer has the advantage that it is ready to use immediately with little or no warm-up needed, and produces pictures that are ready to handle.  Home and small business users often prefer inkjet printer models, as they are usually cheaper than laser printers, and produce excellent quality photographic images.  They normally produce something in the region of 10-20 pages per minute and can handle around 150 sheets of paper in the normal feeder tray at once.  For those on the move, small, light, and portable inkjet printer types are available too.

Professional users tend to prefer laser printers, as these are usually better and more cost-efficient for handling large quantities, and can be bought as large laser printer machines capable of producing hundreds of copies without refilling paper or ink.  Duplex printing (printing on both sides of the paper) is now a common feature on this type of printer, and can speed up printing time considerably.

Dye sublimation printers have the advantage that prints are dry and ready to handle when they emerge from the printer.  They also have fewer moving parts than inkjet printers, meaning they make a good choice for the home, as they are generally more reliable and are small.  However, you have to buy a special sort of paper for dye sublimation printers.

Dedicated photo printer models will often allow printing directly from the camera, either by plugging the camera into the printer via a cable or by docking the camera on top of the unit.  If all you wish to use a printer for is printing home photos, this type of printer would make a good choice.  Some are restricted to only printing photos in one size, say 6 inches by 4 inches, so bear this in mind when choosing.

The precise features of each model of printer will differ between manufacturers of course.

There are a couple of specifications you will see for pretty much all printer types, which give you an idea of the quality of the images produced and the robustness of the machine.

You will frequently see a resolution figure specified for a printer, usually in the form of something like 600x600dpi.  The "dpi" means dots per inch, and in this case would indicate a machine capable of producing a one-inch square of print with 600 dots across and 600 down.  Higher resolutions usually mean clearer, crisper, and more detailed images, and if you are looking to print photographs aim for the highest resolution, you can.

Print speeds are normally measured in pages per minute (or photos, for dedicated photo printer types) and will give you some idea of how quickly it will take you to print images.  Printing colour pages is likely to be slower than printing black and white ones.

Many inkjet and laser printer models today support wireless printing, though not all offer this feature, so do check if this is something that is important to you.  Otherwise, printer models usually connect with a standard USB port.  Check when you buy your printer that you have a suitable cable if required, as most printer types do not come with one as standard.

One other aspect you should consider is the planned location of your printer.  This may affect the paper input feed for the printer you need; for example, if it has to fit under low shelves, you will need a printer that has a front loading cartridge, as you will not be able to slot paper into the top of the printer easily.

Ink

Most common desktop inkjet printer models use what are known as aqueous (which means water based) inks, which are actually a mixture of water, glycol and colour dyes. These inks provide printer models with a wide variety of vivid colours. Printer types using aqueous inks will normally print a layer of laminate on top, as otherwise the ink is likely to run.

printerInkjet printers used in professional settings are more likely to use solvent inks, which allows for printing on many types of surface, including the boards and vinyls used to make, for example, stickers, billboards, and banners. Some professional inkjet printers use UV curable ink, which is cured (dried) by exposure to UV light. This produces an image that dries immediately and can by printed onto a wide range of uncoated surfaces, making them suitable for many industrial uses.

Inkjet printer ink is very easy to purchase, both from the manufacturer of the printer and also from third party manufacturers. Ink cartridges typically produce around 100-200 pages of printing before needing replacing, though this will vary between printer models.

Some printers require ink tanks, which are effectively just plastic cases full of ink, with more recent printer models taking one black tank alongside individual cartridges of the other main colours, which has the advantage of only replacing the colour that has run out. Other printer models may require you to buy a complete printhead ink cartridge, which replaces the printhead at the same time, with the idea of maintaining high print quality.

Laser printers take toner cartridges, and these normally last longer than ink ones, producing several thousand pages before needing to be replaced. Toner cartridges for a laser printer will have an expiration date, so ensure that they are used up before that date is reached.

Efficiency

The way a printer uses ink is often referred to as its efficiency.  When buying a printer, most users are interested in the associated costs that come with running one, such as buying the ink or toner cartridges and any special types of paper required.

The number of pages you will be able to print using one cartridge will vary between printer models, and will also depend on how you are using the printer - whether you are printing many pages at once, or one or two pages infrequently.

There are some things you can do to improve your printer's efficiency though; do not switch an inkjet printer off between printing, as each time it starts up the process uses some ink, and select the most appropriate print mode for whatever you are printing (many models now have an economy print mode).  You should also regularly clean your inkjet or laser printer and remove any build-up of dust, which can cause clogging or blockages.