A Guide To Choosing
The Right Printer
To select the right printer for your specific needs, you need to
understand the difference between: inkjet, laser, color, photo, dot
matrix, bar code, label, and multifunction printers.
This guide will help you gain the knowledge to be able to choose
the right printer for your needs. This will help you decide which
printer is best for you.
Printers: What, How, and Why?
Most users are at least a little confused by the seemingly endless
array of printer models available. Trying to decide if a laser
printer is a worthy purchase for your home, or if an inkjet is
right, can be difficult. Most people work frequently
with a printer of some sort, either at home or at the office. But
does working with a printer mean that we understand what it is
capable of? This guide will help you understand the different
technologies used in printers. Combined with this knowledgeable
guide and an idea of the particular printing capability you want,
you will be able to make a much more informed purchase.
Today there are almost a dozen different printer types available,
and each has its advantages and solutions to your needs.
- Inkjet Printers
- Photo Printers
- B/W Laser Printers
- Color Laser Printers
- Dye Sublimation Printers
- Multi-Function Printers
- Large Format Printers
- Bar Code Printers
- Label Printers
- Dot Matrix/Impact Printers
- Thermal Printers
- Pen Plotters
- Check Printers
- Industrial Printer
- Badge & Card Printers
While some of these are for very specialized applications, we
will focus on the most common personal and business printers.
Inkjet Printers are probably the most common type of
printers used today. Inkjet technology is used in everything from
very inexpensive home printers to top of the line professional
quality wide format sign printers. Inkjet printers have come a long
way within the past 20 years. What was once extremely an expensive,
low quality, loud and slow printer is now quite the opposite.
Today's inkjet printer can print out an average of 13 to 15 Pages
Per Minute (PPM) in black and 11 to 13 PPM in color. Some inkjet
printers can print 30+ PPM (pages per minute) in color and black.
These print speeds are based on the type of documents you are
and resolution). You can find a huge assortment of printers to
choose from various manufacturers (such as Hewlett Packard, Lexmark,
Cannon, Epson, and many more).
An inkjet works by heating and jetting ink onto the page!
number one factor that determines the quality of a printer is the
printer's resolution or DPI (Dots Per Inch). DPI is the amount of
ink that an inkjet printer can place in a one-inch line of your
print document. Most inkjet printers produce documents at 600 x 600
DPI, though many now have much higher resolutions. This is the
principal quality measurement for most printers. Some printers have
the ability for you to increase the DPI to 4800 DPI to print various
documents. The majority of the inkjet printers on the market today
also print photographs with impressive quality.
Many of the inkjet printers on the market today will also
allow you to connect them to a home or small business network (via
CAT5 cable or wireless WiFi). This feature can provide a great cost
savings - allowing multiple computers to connect to one inkjet
printer. In addition to networkable printers, some inkjet printers
also feature memory card readers and LCD screens - allowing you
print without the need to use your computer, so you can see your
print job before you print it.
Advantages of Inkjet Printing
The most obvious advantage to inkjet printers is cost. These types
of printers range from very expensive to actually costing less than
the ink cartridges that they use inside. This is possible because
manufacturers are willing to slash the printer price to make their
profit from the cartridge and paper sales, rather than the printers
themselves. Because many inkjet printers use ink cartridges that
contain their own print heads, a well maintained inkjet could last
for an absurdly long time (the main limit on a printer's life span
is availability of the replaceable cartridges). Inkjets are also
capable of printing onto a large variety of print media. Some
Industrial Inkjets can print directly onto products or product
packaging. But ever home models are ideal for producing
self-adhering labels, brochures, and even iron-on t-shirt designs!
Color inkjet printers are much less expensive than even the most
basic color laser printers. A good quality inkjet can produce
stunning photo quality prints for a fraction of the price of laser
printing. Inkjet technology is still cheaper than dye-sublimation
printers capable of the same size paper and workloads, although that
technology is catching up quickly. While inkjets are subject
to drawbacks like ink cost, they are the most affordable and
versatile type of print technology. If you would like a high
quality, inexpensive color printer with the capability to produce
professional documents, color student projects, and high quality
photos - then an inkjet printer is for you.
Most inkjet printers can also print stunning color photos up to a
resolution of 4800 DPI or more. With this level of quality, it is
very difficult to determine the difference between a professionally
made photograph and a photograph printed on your inkjet printer.
Because of this, the difference between a regular Inkjet and a
"Photo" printers is sometimes a bit blurry, due to the fact that
Inkjet can print photos, and Photo printers use inkjet technology.
The main difference is feature set and media format.
A Photo printer typically has specially features to print from
camera memory cards/devices, may have a built-in LCD to preview
photos, and is designed for printing 4x6 prints. Photo
printers frequently have additional ink options that allow them to
produce superior images.
Ultimately, the value of a photo printer or a regular inkjet
depends on how you will use it. For general use, an inkjet
with good photo printing features is probably the best solution.
However, buying a dedicated photo printer may be the right choose if
you want to print more photos than a few per week. As with all
printers, ultimately, you should compare features to find the make
and model best for you use.
Normally laser printers are found in offices, however the cost
for laser printers has become so reasonable that it is possible to
own a professional quality laser printer in your own home. The
average resolution of today's laser printer is 1200 x 1200 DPI. This
resolution will give you very high quality document printouts. The
majority of laser printers on the market today can print an average
of 20 PPM (or more) in (black/monochrome). Color laser printers are
also available and most can produce color documents up to 2400 DPI
and a little less than 20 PPM (color). Color Laser printers are a
little more costly and if you want to print high quality photos, its
better to use an inkjet or photo printer for most users. The size of
laser printers have also decreased from the monstrous machines of
the 1980s and 1990s to about the same size as inkjet printers.
Another great feature of many laser printers is that they can be
connected to a network. Allowing multiple users to access one
printer instead of having multiple printers can provide a major cost
How Laser Printers Work
The science behind laser printers is fairly simple. A laser
prints the image of the document on a "photoreceptor" drum - causing
a static charge on that drum. Toner is released, and sticks
where there is a charge, and the excess is removed. It then
rolls this onto a page. The laser printer uses this static
electricity as a kind of temporary glue. The page with the toner
then runs under a "fusing" drum, that melts the toner onto the page.
Presto! You have a printed page!
If you work from home, multiple people printing out documents or
you seem to print out nearly everything you see on the Internet,
look into purchasing a laser printer.
Advantages of Laser Printing
Why buy a laser printer when there are much cheaper inkjet model
varieties on the market? The main advantage of laser printers is
speed and lower cost per printed page. Lasers (specifically
monochrome laser printers) make it possible to complete a large
volume of work in short periods of time. This is why many offices
and workspaces use at least one laser printer for large document
printing. Another advantage is cost. While inkjet printers are far
less expensive than the newest state of the art laser printers,
inkjet ink cartridges can run out fairly quickly, and depending on
the model, be expensive to replace. Laser printers use toner, which
has a much longer shelf life, and comes in much larger containers,
lasts a long time and costs less.
Color Laser Printers
Color laser printers use a variety of printing technologies.
Some use colored ribbons that have to be replaced. Other color
laser printers use a a bulk wax approach, using just the amount of
each color needed (like a monochrome laser printer). Color
laser printers are still expensive, both for the printer and the
cost per printed page. Choosing the right technology is critical to
meeting your needs and controlling the final cost. However as
newer technology is developed and prices continue to drop, watch for
high quality electrostatic printing to become more affordable.
Even though inkjet printers are available with extremely
high-resolution capabilities, these printers still have their
limits. Except for the highest-end printer models, the ink dots can
still be detected from a close distance. This can detract from the
vibrancy and realism of a digital print, photograph, or other image.
Unlike inkjet printing, Dye-sublimation printing does not print as
Instead of a toner or ink cartridges, a Dye-sub printer contains
a transparent film that resembles cellophane. This film is actually
four different transparencies, attached together at either end to
form a single ribbon. These four films each are a separate color:
Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and black. These four colors combine in
differing quantities to make up the millions of colors a printer is
capable of producing. This film is imbedded with dyes corresponding
to these four colors, which are then laid down to create the colors
you see on the printed page. Because this is based upon a dye
process, the colors intentionally bleed together (like a real
photograph) to produce a continuous color image.
Dye sublimation printers are recommended for graphics and design
professionals due to the cost per page, as well as the cost for the
printer itself. For most users, color inkjets produce
Multifunction, or All-In-One printers not only print, but they
can also copy, scan, fax - as they not only have a printer, but also
a built-in scanner. Multifunction printers are the perfect
solution to limited space, or infrequent need for a fax or scanner.
They are a great all-inclusive device that can perform all of the
functions of several office devices and fit conveniently on your
Multifunction Printers come with either inkjet or laser printer
technology. The print quality on most multifunction printers
is just the same print quality of most inkjet or laser printers. So
buying a Multifunction Printer means you give nothing up, and get
the scanning and faxing capabilities as well! For most users
today, this is the perfect combinational product for their needs.
Large Format Printers
Large format printers have emerged to become very popular and
useful in professional applications, such as artitecture, sign
printing, and graphics arts. Most large format printers (also
know as plotters) use inkjet technology just like smaller desktop
inkjets, though the mechanics and ink can be quite different.
While large format printers cost much more than their desktop
counterparts, the cost is justified by the need to print much larger
Bar Code Printers
Bar code printers are a specialized class of printers used
primarily to produce labels containing bar codes of one type or
another. You find these in shipping and warehousing
activities, to product shipping and inventory labels. Most of
today's Bar Code Printers use either thermal or inkjet technologies.
These printers tend to be much smaller than standard desktop
printers, and are designed to print on continuous roll label stock.
Label Printers, like Bar Code Printers are smaller purpose
designed printers, designed to print on roll label stock. The
main advantage of a label printer is ease of use - you don't
have to change paper in your printer, or worry about alignment,
print templates - you just print a perfect label on demand!
This is one of the few categories where it really justifies having a
second printer on your desk! If you have an inkjet or laser,
adding a label printer can truly improve office productivity, and
create a much more professional impression!
Dot Matrix / Impact Printers
of the oldest printing technologies is still alive and well, and
perhaps irreplaceable still! Dot Matrix printers use an impact
technology to fire a coarse wire at a ribbon, just like old-style
typewriters, to produce the image on the page, by transferring ink
from the ribbon onto the page. In certain applications, only a
dot matrix printer will do, such as printing multi-part forms.
Fortunately, this is a technology that is still with us, with small
and large footprint models readily available for producing those
seemingly never ending forms.
The Final Word
No matter what model, price range, and type of printmaking
technology you purchase, it is important to make sure you know what
you want to do with it first. You will naturally choose a different
printer for high-volume document printing than if you are trying to
print out just your digital pictures for a family photo album.
Likewise, you wouldn't choose the same printer to create brochures
as you would to make forge-proof I.D. cards for your small business
employees. Whether you would like to stick with ink or are
tamperproof toner, make sure that you've got the right printer (and
printer paper!) for the job.