These days, buying a new printer can be a daunting task. You have so many options and lots of specs that make sense mostly for the uber-geeks. In this guide, we will try to explain for the average user the how-to’s in buying a printer. If you missed our previous buying guides, do check them now:
As in the laptop buying guide, the most important aspects in purchasing a printer are:
- What are you going to use the printer for?
- The available budget
- The features you need on your printer
Before hurrying to the electronics department, you should first understand what are the specs and features that makes one printer better than the other. Don’t be deceived by your local advertising because in most of the cases, local merchants and business will print upfront the main feature of their product, ignoring or hiding the defects. Be wise and instructed before making your decision. Here are the specs you will most likely find on a description of a printer:
- Manufacturer, there are lots of printer manufactures, such as HP, Cannon, Epson, Lexmark. You should always rely on the power of the brand but, if a better deal appears, with equal specs, from a lower-positioned brand and you are tight on the budget, don’t be afraid to try an alternative.
- Type, there are traditional printers, that have “old” methods of printing and there are modern solutions. The types are: Ink-Jet, Laser, Multifunctional, Photo Printer and Mobile Printer.
- Speed, this is measured in ppm (pages per minute), the higher the better. This is the speed at which your printer works. If you know you will use this printer only for yourself, you may not the fastest printer but if you’re going to open a small Xerox shop, you should opt for the fastest machine there is.
- Resolution, measured in dpi (dots per inch), it’s usually from 600×600 for plain text and it can go up to 720 or more. Again, more is better as it will make the printed image or text look more vivid but it will also consume more jet.
- Paper size and type, there are printers that use bigger paper sizes (A3, A2, A1), or they can use special photo paper(usually glossy or mate). If you can find one that can do more paper sizes, go for it. For a printer that can print photo paper, you will have to pay a lot more.
- Additional features, these features are not the most important but it’s good to know them in case you stumble across: duplex printing (automatically printing both faces of a page), scanner resolution, copy speed, wireless connection or network connection.
First of all, we’ll take a look on the available types of printers you might encounter in your search:
1. Ink-Jet Printers
These printers use an ink cartridge from which they propel a stream of ink droplets. This technology usually gives ink-jet printers the possibility of printing high-resolution pictures and graphics, but lacks the speed of laser printers. Also, these printers come in a numbers of models, with 2 to 4 ink cartridges (black and color cartridges or black and each color – magenta, yellow and cyan – in a separate cartridge), both being used by printer manufacturers.
Advantages/Disadvantages of Inkjet Printers
For the average home, a normal ink-jet printer is good enough. Although, the functionality of a multifunctional printer is better, offering scanner, copy machine, the possibility to print directly from your camera or SD card. The average speed of these printers is enough for the average household and being more compact and incorporating other devices, it saves space. These printers have lower prices than their laser counterparts and pack many features, but the drawback is the short life of the ink cartridge (up to 500 pages). Printers that come with separate cartridges for every color are better, because you can refill only the one that is empty, instead of buying a new cartridge just because you run out of one color.
2. All-in-One Ink-Jet Printers (Multifunctional)
In the last few years, gadgets have migrated towards more compact bodies and integrated functions, incorporating many of your office devices, such as fax machine, scanner and copy machine. In the past years, printers with integrated devices have come a long way: integrated scanners with high resolution and fast printers. The downside of these devices would be the dependence on every one of them (if it malfunctions, you lose more than your printer, but all the other devices it substitutes).
Advantages/Disadvantages of all-in-one Inkjet Printers
The fact that this is an all-in-one printer can be both a good and a bad thing. As I previously mentioned, it can be a bad thing because all your needs are embedded inside a single device and if the device gets broken, then all its functions are useless. If you’d have a separate scanner, you will still have the chance of using it. But, as technology evolves, more stable and sure multifunctional printers are made, just be careful with the brand and the price.
3. Laser Printers
These printers are more expensive than the usual Ink-Jet printers but have much higher printing speed and instead of an ink cartridge, it uses a toner and a rotating drum with a charged organic photoconductor that transfers on the page when the printer’s LED light or Laser strikes it. The toner usually lasts much longer than an ink cartridge (up to 1500 pages), thus reducing long term expenses. Multifunctional Laser printers are also available, incorporating all of the ink-jet’s features, but when it comes to laser, there are more choices to make. Laser printers come in monochrome (black and white) and color printing modes. Each of these are specific to some type of use.
Advantages/Disadvantages of Laser Printers
If you have extensive printing duty and your printer has to keep up with a huge workload, you may be better off with a laser printer. They are a little harder to chose, because they come in many types:
- laser monochrome, best for people who print mostly text. The high print speed and long lasting toner is a definite plus
- laser multifunctional monochrome
- color, good if you have to print many color pages, but the quality of the print is lower than the ink-jet
- multifunctional color
Laser printers are usually used by small to medium businesses for the high speed and possibility to share one printer to many workstations. Also, multifunctional laser printers are used mostly in businesses. In long term, these printers will save you money, mostly because of the long life of the toner, compared with the ink cartridge. These printers come in many shapes and sizes, some having dedicated processors and memory to handle the workload from many users, and have wireless or network capability.
4. Photo Printers
This type of printer is a ink-jet printer that uses thermal dye-transfer technology, a technology that heats ink until it fuses with the special photo paper used for printing photos. These printers have a slightly higher price than normal ink-jet printers, but if you are not a professional photographer, a normal multifunctional printer with photo printing will do just fine.
Advantages/Disadvantages of Photo Printers
If you are a digital photographer, it’s most likely you are looking for a photo printer that has both high print quality as features. These printers are usually ink-jet and can print very high resolution photos on special photo-paper. Some may incorporate SD card printing, PictureBridge or other technologies that allow you to print directly from your digital camera. Some have displays that allow you to edit your photos before printing.
5. Mobile Printers
These printers are especially designed to their job on the move. Some come with battery packs or even car charger. They are more compact than regular printers and dot have all the features of normal printers. This type of printer is targeted for those who are always on the run, going to meetings and flying all over the world. These printers come with batteries or chargers for your car, they are light weight and very compact. But the disadvantage is that they cannot handle a very large work load.
What’s Your Budget for a New Printer?
Another very important aspect to think about when buying a printer is the budget. Depending on what printer you need, there are lots of alternatives. For home or home office you can find printers ranging from $50-$200, the most expensive ones being the laser printers for those who have to print lots of pages in a short time. If you are looking for a multifunctional printer ink-jet or laser, prices can go up to $400, depending on what features the printer has.
For more advanced printers, used by large businesses who usually share printers by wireless connection or LAN, with lots of workstations connected to it, you need a pretty capable printer with integrated processor and memory and who can print really fast (definitely laser printer), than it could set you back anywhere from $2000-7000$ or even more.
The price is most likely based on the features it provides. Some multifunctional printers have FlatBed Scanners with really high resolution (more than 2400 pixels per inch), fax machine, color copy machine and many more. All you have to do is figure out exactly what you need your printer to do and you will definitely find something in your price range.