Printers Product Guide

Printers

If you're planning on buying a new printer or need to know more about printers, this guide will explain just about everything you might consider. A printer is an essential computer peripheral that everyone needs to print out reports, greeting cards, emails or photos. You need a printer to print movie, theater, and airline tickets. You definitely want to print out copies of your online order forms, or financial records. A printer lets you get a hard, tangible copy of anything you did on your computer and want to keep.

Viewing photos and emails on the computer monitor is nice but printing out you favorite pictures or important letters feels more real once you hold it in your hand. Since digital cameras are so popular, getting a new printer is even more important today than ever since you want to produce sharper, more colorful photos. You can create photo albums, print out photos and frame them and place them on your desk or nightstand to remember those memorable moments.

Print out new cooking recipes if you don't have a computer in the kitchen, print out maps and get detailed directions to your destination, create home craft projects with the kids such as 3-D holiday tree ornaments, personalized birthday invitations, placemats, party hats or doll sized 3-D characters.

Because there is no such thing as a printer that can do it all, you must consider your printing needs: Do you print mostly text, graphics, or photos? Do you print only in black or color? Do you produce individual sheets or multiple reports? But most of all, you should understand at least a little about the strengths and weaknesses of the technologies available.



Printer Technologies


Laser

Most Laser printers print in black and white, but there are a few higher-end models that print in color. Lasers are primarily designed for office and creative text output, where speed and economy matter most. Some models have expandable paper capacities that can hold up to 500 sheets of paper or more.

Laser printers work with a laser beam charging the drum unit; an image or text creating a "glue" effect that attracts small black particles from the toner cartridge and then transfers those particles onto a piece of paper. This paper is then heated to seal the particles onto the paper.

Inkjet

While the laser printer is mainly geared for text, the Inkjet printer is designed for graphics as well as text. Inkjet printers can print in brilliant colors to create beautiful works of art or photos. Inkjets can also print text in black and in color. Besides just printing on paper you can print out labels, banners, greeting cards, forms, iron-on transfers, and a wide variety of other media. Some inkjet printers can print on printable CDs or DVDs. Professional artists and designers often use Inkjet printers. The inkjet's flexibility for carrying out many different things, they are found in most homes.

Typically, inkjet printing forms images by spraying tiny droplets of liquid ink onto paper. Small size and precision placement of the dots of ink produce high resolutions for text and images that are almost photo-quality. When used with special photo papers, you can produce photo prints that are comparable to lab quality. Two primary inkjet technologies are thermal or bubble jet and piezoelectric. The former uses heat to spray water-based inks with several different pigments. Piezoelectric uses a crystal and an electric charge to apply the ink. Thermal inkjet technology is used on most printers designed for home or small office use. Piezoelectric is designed for more commercial applications.

There is yet a third form of inkjet-like technology called Dye Sublimation. It uses high heat and solid dyes to produce photo lab-quality images. Dye-Sub printers contain a roll of transparent film made up of page-sized panels of color. Solid dyes in cyan, magenta, yellow, and black are embedded in the film. Print head heating elements vaporize the inks that adhere to a specially coated paper. Color intensity is controlled by precise variations in temperature. Most dedicated photo printers use this process that is not applicable for text and general graphics.



Inkjet vs. Laser


Why get an inkjet printer instead of a laser?

You print in color. High-quality photos are more important than high-quality text, graphics, and speed. You're more concerned with initial purchase price than speed or total costs over the unit's lifetime. You have light-duty (10 pages per print job, 10 times a day) printing needs.

Inkjet printers are cheaper and they all have the ability to print out in color, which makes it a perfect choice for home users. Prices for inkjet printers start at under $50. If you need to print high quality pictures inkjets are better because they have access to more color inks, color laser printers tend to use 4 different colors, where as inkjets can have up to 8 different colors, offering greater combinations. They also can print directly from digital cameras or media cards. Besides just printing out letters you can print greeting cards, posters, banners, and even directly on special printable CDs and DVDs.

A drawback on using an Inkjet printer is that the ink detailed images may make thin paper wet when printing. The price of ink may be higher (based on cost per copy) than laser toner.

Why get a laser printer instead of an inkjet?

You don't print in color (higher end models can print in color). Sharp quality text is important. Speed is essential. You are more concerned with total costs over the printer's lifetime than the initial purchase price. Your output volume is at least moderately heavy (50-200 pages per print job).

The main advantages of laser printers are speed and economy. A laser can move very quickly, so it can "write" with much greater speed than an ink jet. And because the laser beam has an unvarying diameter it can produce crisper lines and edges for text and graphics than inkjets, without spilling any excess ink.

In businesses and some homes you will find laser printers a better choice because they are more economical for larger workloads. Laser printers tend to be more expensive than inkjet printers, but it doesn't cost as much to keep them running. It all depends on how many pages you print daily and let me explain why. When you take the cost of a toner cartridge ($80) that gets about 3000 pages, it would cost you roughly 3 cents per page. If you take an inkjet cartridge ($30) and get 500 prints it will come out to 6 cents per page. So if your printing out 3000 pages a month you would be looking at $80 for laser printer whereas that same quantity would cost $180 when using an inkjet for black print output.



Types of Printers


Desktop

These are electric powered printers designed for home or office use. Printing is their only function. Available at a wide range of prices, using inkjet or laser, these represent the core of what printers are.

Multifunction

The Multi-function printer is also known as All-in-One (AIO) because it combines several different types of computer peripherals into one product. They offer lots of value considering they're not priced much higher than comparable desktop printers.

Multi-function printers can be either laser or inkjet depending on what you need. The most basic Multifunction can print, copy and scan, they have the same quality if you were to buy a separate scanner, copier and printer. Some other models will have the ability to connect to the phone jack to fax with or make calls also when a handset is present.

It is the perfect choice when you need to save space, or choose to just have one wire connecting to your computer rather than tangled mess of wires, a perfect choice in homes or businesses. The only problem in choosing a multifunction is if one part breaks you will not have access to the other features.

A feature you would only find on a Multifunction printer is the automatic document feeder. This feature normal holds about 10 to 30 letter or legal sized pages at one time and then feeds the paper one page at a time into the scanner, allowing the person to scan and thereby save, copy or fax multiple-page documents without having to manually replace each page.

Portable Printer

These pint-size printers are designed for life on the road. They weigh anywhere from 2 to 4 pounds and typically come with a power adapter, battery or a car charger for printing on the go. They are just large enough to print a standard 8.5-inch-wide sheet of paper and have support for printing wirelessly from a cell phone. Portable printers use the inkjet printing technology described above. The print speeds and the image quality are top-notch, and you'll pay a premium for these travel partners, but if you really need to print on the go, or you have a limited amount of desk space, consider buying a mobile printer.

Photo Printer

Photo printers are exclusively designed to print photos with optimal color and brilliance. These printers are usually engineered to print pictures with or without connection to a computer.



Speed - PPM


Printer speed is measured in ppm or pages per minute. The term is used to describe how many pages a printer is capable of producing within a one-minute time frame. How fast a printer can produce printed pages depends on a number of factors. A text page generally takes less time to print than a graphics-filled page.

Every printer has one speed for printing in black and another speed in printing in color. Sometimes, where applicable, a third speed is indicated for printing 4 x 6 photos. So for example you would see a printer with up to 32ppm black, 24ppm color and photos in 26secs. Normally inkjet and laser printers have different levels of quality settings: draft, normal, best. The higher the quality, the lower the speed. While testing the speed, the manufacturers often print the basic text with lowest print quality and come up with such fast speeds. The real speed is likely to be nearly half the speed stated by the manufacturer if you use the normal printing quality. Laser printers for printing text is faster compared to inkjet printers, since a laser moves much faster, but the initial first page takes 30 seconds to print out since the laser print needs to warm up. Speed will especially be important for you if you intend to print graphics frequently with your inkjet or laser printer.

Actual print speeds vary based on the type of document being printed and how it's printed. So when a printer indicates up to 32ppm, black, it may mean text only at the economy (draft) mode. The same document at the best mode may actually print at about 16ppm.



Resolution - DPI


Resolution is measured as dpi (dots per inch) meaning the actual number of individual dots of ink a printer or toner can produce within a linear one-inch space. So 600 dpi meant 600 consecutive dots along a 1-inch line. With finer text and graphics, resolution was upgraded to include height and width. Resolution now appears as 600x600 or 600x600 dots per square inch. That's actually 360,000 dots per square inch! It is still expressed as dpi.

When it comes to printing text on standard bond paper, most printers print at 600x600 dots per inch. Some may do 600x1200 or even 1200x1200, especially when color is added. At either mode, black text would appear excellent. When color and graphics are concerned, print resolutions can go as high as 5760x1440 and you can find this resolution on desktop printers within the $100 range and above. Of course, printing at higher resolutions means that more ink is being used and special paper is recommended to help prevent bleeding.

These square resolutions are applicable for reproducing images and for printing photos from digital image files, measured in megapixels. A megapixel means a resolution of 1 million pixels (dots) per square inch or 1,000 x 1,000 dpi resolution. When printing photos as files from digital cameras, certain sizes are recommended based on megapixel (MP) size, using photo print paper:

Size (Megapixels)Resolution (DPI)Paper (Inches)
2 MP= 1600 x 1200= 4 x 6 prints
3 MP= 2048 x 1536= 5 x 7 prints
5 MP= 2560 x 2048= 8.5 x 11 prints
11 MP= 4200 x 2690= 11 x 17 prints


Ink Cartridges and Toner


Inkjet printers use small cartridges of ink. The most basic printers use one cartridge to deliver black and another cartridge to deliver colors. The colors are represented as Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow. When you see a connotation of CMYK, it means Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black. Higher end inkjets use 4 or more ink cartridges, separating each color for better maintenance and overall cost reduction when colors are used frequently. On deciding how many color inks the printer should have here's a rough guide: 4 ink cartridges are good for basic home photo printing such as color graphics and multi-colored/black text reports; 6 inks gives you a greater range of colors, deeper blacks, smoother color transitions, and sharper, virtually grain-free image quality; 8 ink systems help you achieve an even wider range of colors for photo-lab quality printing, create grain-free images with vibrant colors, more realistic flesh tones, and continuous tones. That also means truer shades of gray, vivid whites, and deeper, richer blacks for gallery-quality black-and-white photos.

For overall value, check how much capacity each ink cartridge holds, especially the black one. If you plan on printing text frequently, you don't really want to replace that cartridge frequently. Sometimes the subtle difference between a $60 and $90 printer is the ink cartridge capacity. For mere convenience and value, the larger capacity cartridge is wiser in the long run. Print capacities of inkjet cartridges are generally measured in the hundreds.

Laser printers use toner cartridges that are about 10 to12 inches long. Depending on the particular printer, a monochrome cartridge can deliver from 2,000 to 5,000 pages. On some printers, one cartridge is used. Others may uses two cartridges - a drum and a toner cartridge. The drum may need to be replaced after about 5 toner cartridges are fully used.

Color Laser printers use color toner cartridges and, because they follow the CMYK pattern with one cartridge per color, it adds to the overall size of the printer.

The rated output is based on an optimal condition - text (about 5% paper coverage, letter-size). Printing graphics more often will reduce the number of prints or pages per cartridge. Many cartridges also have a limited life expectancy - the printing-agent may degrade within a certain time-frame. When buying a cartridge, see if there's an expiration date and try to use it up before it expires.



Printer Memory


Memory is built into printers to boost printer performance. Simple projects like everyday correspondence, book reports and your vacation snapshots usually involve smaller file sizes and therefore require a small amount of memory. But if you're looking for a printer capable of comfortably handling more color, more graphics and larger file sizes you're going to need a printer with more built-in memory or one that lets you add more memory. Having more printer memory gives you the ability to process large print files, as well as several smaller jobs at the same time. It will prevent your printer and computer from slowing down while printing larger print projects and from running out of memory altogether in the middle of an important job.

Printers with 4MB to 16MB are more than adequate for most home use for printing school reports, greeting cards and photos. If your business needs printing of detailed color presentations, graphic-rich files, larger photo images or several copies of multipage documents, a printer with more standard memory 32MB to 64MB or a printer with expandable memory would be best.



Photo Paper


Paper Size

For most situations, a 4"x6" picture is the most popular. It's similar in size to those that were processed in a lab. Many dedicated photo printers handle 4"x6" photos.

Among general-purpose photo printers, they can usually handle several sizes from 4"x6" up to 8-1/2" x 14". A few models can handle 13"x19" or larger.

The most popular sizes are 4"x6" and 8-1/2"x11".

Heavy-stock paper offers greater abilities to capture more ink for large, rich, detailed images.

Paper Finish

There are about 3 different paper finishes that you can choose from:

  1. Glossy - Offers greatest sharpness and color depth. Surface is sensitive to smudges, especially fingerprints.
  2. Matte - Dull finish offers less sharpness but very easy to handle.
  3. Pearl - A semi-gloss finish that combines some of the properties of gloss and matte.

Paper Types

There are three types of inkjet photo paper available for your printer: Resin Coated, Nanoporous and Cast-Coated.

Resin Coated

  • Has a special polymer layer that coats the paper.
  • Fairly stable in many different lighting situations so images are less sensitive to fading over time.
  • Offers a real photo feel because it's very similar to traditional photo paper.
  • Polymer prevents rippling when wet and is resistant to tears and wrinkles.
  • Usually has gloss or high gloss finish

Nanoporous

  • Instant dry
  • Can be handled immediately after printing.
  • High degree of water fastness.
  • High speed printing modes can be used.
  • High light stability if displayed in a frame
  • Usually has Matte or Smooth finish

Cast-Coated

  • Prints dry quickly as the ink is absorbed into the paper base.
  • May be used with a wide range of printers due to the minimal interaction between the ink and the receiving layer


Features to Consider


Some built-in features printers can have are media card readers, small view screens, PictBridge compatibility, and wireless or wired network card. They can also print on different size paper such as 4 x 6 photos, A4, letter, legal and large poster or banner sizes. Also higher end printers can have multiple trays to hold different sized paper or duplex units that flips the paper automatically to print on both sides.

Memory Card Reader

With this feature you can print out photos without using a computer. A printer that has a memory card reader can read many different types of memory cards that come out from different digital cameras. Some of the different types of memory cards are SD, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro/Duo, Compact Flash, Multi-Media Card, xD.

PictBridge

PictBridge compatibility means you can print photos without necessarily going through a computer. Allow you to print directly from digital cameras to printer by connecting the two with a USB cable. You would have to make sure each product supports PictBridge and no other software or hardware is needed. You would view and select each image using the screen on the digital camera then send that image to the printer to be printed.

View Screen

They come in different sizes 2.4” to 3.5” measured diagonally. Some of them are even touch screens, you can choose to rotate, crop, choose a size, resolution, print multiple copies on one sheet, or enlarge. They will generally display how much ink is left in the cartridges; preview the image your printing or display system alerts when there is a problem.

Duplex

Be more “green” by not wasting paper while saving storage space. Mostly found in higher end printers or as an add-on later, this gives you the ability to print on both sides on the sheet of paper. Once you setup your printing preferences to print on both sides the printer does the rest. What happens is that once one side has been printed, the duplex unit automatically flips the paper on the other side to print on. All printers offer manual duplex, generally higher priced (and especially laser) offer automatic duplex.

Paper trays

If you'll be switching paper types on a regular basis, consider getting a printer with multiple trays, preferably a model that can select the right paper size or type for each of your print jobs automatically. Higher priced printers would have multiple paper trays where you can store different sized paper or you may add additional paper trays to the printer, which you can find on most laser printers. You have one tray for standard letter sized paper and another one where you can hold letter, legal or 4x6, 5x6 photo paper. The less often you have to add paper the better. If you print an average of 50 pages a day, and your printer holds only 50 sheets, you'll have to load paper every day. If your printer holds 250 sheets, you'll need to load paper about once every week.



Software Requirements


The only requirement you need to check for is to make sure your version of Windows or Mac OS is compatible with your printer.



Connectivity


The USB (Universal Serial Bus) is truly universal, all printers now have a USB 2.0 port. Check the connections. If you have an old computer or operating system that doesn't support USB, make sure the printer has a parallel port. If you need to print from more than one computer, consider connecting the printer to a network with either a wired or a wireless connection. For even better mobility, many models support printing wirelessly, using infrared, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi access points with built-in print servers.



Accessories


Paper

Paper is the most important accessory you can get for inkjet printers. Besides the different sizes there are many different finishes of paper, glossy (semi, high), matte (satin), canvas and more. Then there are different weights of paper, general the heavier the paper the thicker the page would be. Inkjet paper can also be double-sided or specially treated to prevent colors fading from age.

Ink/Toner

Always keep extra sets of toner and ink handy since you don't want to run out to buy supplies when you have a report or map to print out urgently. Most manufactures recommend purchasing their inks and not using refillable bottles since they can damage your printer and may not be the same quality inks.

Printer Cable

Many manufacturers don't include the printer cable, you can purchase one separately anywhere from $10 to $30. Be sure that you have the proper cable to connect your printer and computer and that it's long enough to suit your setup. For PCs, either a USB cable or for older PCs a standard parallel printer cable. For Macs, a USB cable is most common, but for some older model MAC users, printers are connected using a serial or SCSI cable.



Summary


Printer technology remains fairly stable so you are likely to change or upgrade your computer before your printer. Just get a printer that fits your expected use.

If the number of pages you print is large enough to be a concern, a good rule of thumb is to pick a printer with a monthly duty cycle that's about four times the number of pages you expect to print each month. Most manufacture's warranty service would require you to ship the printer back to a depot when the printer needs repair. Proper cleaning is best to prolong the life of your printer and print quality, you can use an air can to clean out toner dust inside laser printers and with inkjets you can use special cleaning sheets. The difference between the brands of printers depends on what features you are looking for. HP does a great job when your printing out text documents using inkjet technology. Epson has the largest selection of models to choose from when you need to print on printable DVDs/CDs and Canon has individual ink tanks in most of their models.

In the area of laser printers, HP remains the most popular. Their models use a single cartridge toner system. Other good brands are Samsung or Brother. They tend to use the toner/drum system.

A printer is an essential part of any computer system. Carefully consider your needs and choose the right printer that best meets your needs. On the other hand, the convenience of USB connectivity lets you connect more than one printer to your desktop computer. With more than one, you can choose which printer you want to use for particular applications to deliver best results.





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