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30 Jan 2016
Printer Buying Guide

Printers are crucial peripherals, performing a critical role as they render electronic information into tangible records or material output. You're not really using your computer for the fullest potential if you are not able to print reports, presentations, letters, photos, or what it is 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 take into consideration before you make that all-important purchase decision.


Printing Technologies

This can be the biggest decision to make before anything else. Your choice ought to be based on how you work and also the kind of output you'll be 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 bring printing text, however the print speed is simply too slow if the primary purpose of the printer is document printing. To obtain additional photo-realism, choose inkjets with an expanded variety of colors that includes light cyan and magenta in addition to the standard four-color CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black). The extra 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 with over one variation of black and white or with gray inks. Many photo printers use color inks to generate a composite black, providing a muddy tint. A second black-ink cartridge and different shades of gray help maintain a neutral tone, together with the gray ink making it possible for subtle shading and thus 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 can't seem to, making them ideal for more demanding graphic applications or color printing. Dye-sub prints are also less vulnerable to fading and distortion as time passes than dye-based ink prints. Moreover, many consumer-based dye-sublimation printers can print completely from digital cameras and also accept memory cards. They are, however, more limited inside the range and sized printing media you can use -- usually letter-size paper or smaller.

o Laser: Laser printers are the perfect choice if you want to print large amounts of text documents. They print faster than inkjets and have a lower cost of operation within 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 they are much more expensive and could be costly to maintain.

Printer Usage

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

o Photo: Invest the lots of pictures, consider getting a photo printer. Photo printers could 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 most snapshot photo printers that print 4x6-inch prints rely on dye-sublimation technology. Regardless of the type or technology that is used, the most important thing to look for inside a photo printer is photorealistic quality. Anything else is secondary.

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

o Multifunction: Multifunction printers (MFPs) combine in one device several functions including 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. In case you are strapped for budget or space, consider these all-in-one devices. Take note, however, that a malfunction with one component takes on the whole device, and individual components might not be upgradeable. MFPs are available with either laser printers to emphasize speedy text printing along with the occasional graphics output; or they come with inkjet printers for vibrant photo printing.

Environment and Applications

When purchasing a printer, think about how and where you plan to use it. The house user will have different printing needs from that of the office worker, photographer, or traveler.

o General/Basic your home kitchen: Versatile, affordable printers work most effectively choices here, and inkjets usually satisfy the printing needs of all home users seeking to output photos from their digital camera or for other light printing needs. Inkjet cartridges can be expensive, so look for inkjets with separate cartridges for each and every color. This way, you need not throw out entire cartridges -- mainly because one color was used up ahead of the others -- but replace exactly the ones that run out.

o Home business: An MFP may be a great device to have 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 permits 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 can be your main thing. Choose either small, snapshot photo printer that produces 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 permit room for registration marks.

o Text printing: If printing a lot of text is what you'll be doing most, monochrome standard laser printers are the best bet -- as they can prove page after page of crisp text fairly rapidly. These printers are best for printing black-and-white text and simple graphics, so you may need to get a separate inkjet or photo printer so that you can print color photos - until you wish to invest in the more costly color lasers that may print both black-and-white and color documents.

o Small network: A workgroup laser printer could be what you need if your home business or small office was made 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 for example larger trays, and may even offer duplex (double-sided) printing, sorting, and stapling. More costly than standard laser printers, many workgroup lasers are monochrome -- designed for printing text and straightforward graphics.

o Traveler: For your businessperson on the go and seeking to print, portable printers supply the solution with their compact size (small enough to fit into a briefcase), light weight (below 5 lbs.), and handy power (operates on batteries or which has a car charger). Newer models can print wirelessly -- rendering it a non-issue if you forget your USB cable in your own home. Some portables offer great extras say for example a sheet feeder for automatic page feeding, have the ability 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 right into a scanner. Portable printers are more expensive and print less quickly than standard printers, but convenience 's what you're paying for.

PC-free printing

With something called PictBridge support, photo printers don't need to be connected to PCs so that you can print photos. PictBridge is often a standard adopted by manufacturers of printers and video cameras for PC-free printing, allowing photos to be printed straight from the camera to the printer by simply connecting them by way of a USB cable -- as long as the printer and digital camera are compatible. An alternative to this idea could be the ability for printers to see memory cards straight from a digital camera and other image-storing device by simply inserting they into designated printer slots.

After the camera is associated with or the card is inserted in to the printer, photos might be reviewed in a number of ways, depending on the printer model. Some might feature a built-in LCD screen that enables shots to be reviewed, edits to make, and the ones to be printed chosen straight from the screen. Other models may let you create an index sheet -- such as a contact sheet in film printing -- so you can mark the ones you select for printing and rescan the sheet. Other printer models let you decide which shots you wish to print straight from the digital camera. Many types of memory cards are available on the market today, so guarantee the printer accepts the type used by your camera so that you can enjoy card-direct printing of photos.

Paper Handling

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

o When choosing a printer, make certain that it's equipped to accommodate 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 may 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 can help you have more flexible configurations for input and output trays.

o With all the correct type of paper will even make a difference to your printing. Inkjets can print over 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 example, matte papers are suitable for both pigment and dye-based inks, while luster finishes are generally more suitable for dye-based inks.

o In terms of size, most inkjets and lasers are equipped for printing of letter and legal sizes. If you need to print larger prints, however, consider a printer that can handle sizes like 11 by 17 inches. You can even 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're going to use third-party paper, make certain it works well with your printer. Before you buy a sizable quantity of third-party paper, get a few samples by printing the same photos on both the printer manufacturer's paper as well as 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 expertise in what each specification entails in line with the printing technology involved or for the type of usage planned for your printer.

o Resolution: For laser printers, 300 dpi is adequate if you simply need to print black-and-white text, but choose at least 1200 dpi for photorealistic grayscale or printing in color. For inkjets, choose one featuring 1200-dpi or more resolution with a droplet size 4 picoliters or smaller for sharp, clean output. With photo printers, resolution varies based on 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, and also the print speeds cited by manufacturers usually refer to printing in draft mode or at the deepest resolution. For laser printers, a far more accurate way of measuring actual print speed is to time just how long it will take from the minute you hit "Print" -- for the time that it takes the printer to warm-up, spool the job into the print queue, and for the printed output to finally appear. For inkjets, print speed is 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 to enable them to handle large graphics and documents with less effort. Check the maximum upgradeable memory allowed to your printer, if it comes with a hard drive with similarly upgradeable memory, if the printer may use generic memory or needs the manufacturer's brand. In the case of inkjets, memory is built-in rather than upgradeable, but this isn't an issue inasmuch as processing occurs assisting the computer -- so there's no need for large amounts of installed RAM firstly on inkjets.

o Connectivity: Most printers today no more 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 to be used on a network, it'll need to have an Ethernet port allow printer sharing. For additional flexible printing options, you might look for printers with infrared input/output ports that allow wireless printing from notebooks or any other devices with infrared ports. Of course, if high-speed or long-distance printing 's what you need, consider printers which has a FireWire port.

Consumables and cost per page

The value of the printer is just the beginning of its total price because over time, the hidden price of ink or toner, paper, and parts create up. These "hidden costs" include the consumables; dividing the total cost of consumables from the number of pages that could be produced from the consumables gives you the cost per page. Laser printers provide you with the lowest cost per page, using pretty cheap toner and normal-weight, uncoated paper. Alternatively, cost per page for inkjets may be four or five times the maximum amount of, 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 ought to be taken into consideration. Inkjets with a single cartridge for your colored inks will incur higher replacement costs since the cartridge must be replaced the moment one color expires -- even if the cartridge still contains lots of ink for the other colors. To save costs, get an inkjet with separate cartridges for black and every individual color.

Print Quality

All the specs and fancy features inside your printer won't mean a thing if you don't have good, solid top printing quality -- whether of text or photos -- to back it up.

o Text: Text ought to be smooth and crisp. At the cheapest font sizes, the average 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 -- needs to be filled with solid black, not only a muddy brown or bluish tone. Its 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 retiring too much ink. (Remember, however, that inkjet printers will display some wicking on plain, 20-lb. paper, as the ink bleeds down the paper fibers.)

o Graphics: For printing in color, look for gradients -- or areas where a color goes from dark to light. Color should transition smoothly, and you ought to not see any color banding, where distinct bands progress from dark to light. On a test page, you will probably see a gradient bar which 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 colors in color-graphic printing -- something that's not overly saturated nor flat and beaten up.

o Photo: A single photo print should like the original photo. Colors should be accurate and balanced, vivid but not oversaturated. Good detail needs to be present in all areas, without jagged lines or pixels or any other visual artifacts. Good contrast should exist between shadow and highlight areas -- not muddy or flat and clear. You may not always be able to identify the difference from one great print to an alternative, but almost everyone can recognize a poor print when they see one. Trust any particular item.



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