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Printer Buying Guuide
When it comes to transferring that digital information into some...
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Printer Buying Guuide

When it comes to transferring that digital information into something you can actually hold onto, printing it out is one of the only ways to go. It’s not uncommon to see computer printers ranging from merely $20 up to several hundred dollars. The thing that isn’t always clearly outlined with these prices is what the difference is between them all!

There are two primary mainstream printer types; inkjet and laser. Although only two categories themselves, there are tons of variations on each type when it comes to
features, ability and design itself.

Laser Printers
The first category we’ll look at is the laser printer. A laser printer works by using a laser beam to output an image of what you’re printing onto a drum. The drum then turns
through a toner reservoir which gets picked up on the charged image on the drum and then transferred onto the paper by means of pressure and heat. You’ll often see heat
warning stickers and a fan on the inside of a laser printer because they can get quite hot during operation.

Laser printers themselves can be broken down into two sub-categories; monochrome and colour. Monochrome lasers are still the more common of the two because it’s just been in the past year or so where colour laser printers have really started to shine. If you invest in a quality one, a colour laser printer can now match the image output quality of an average consumer grade colour inkjet printer. Going with either option will still leave you with print speeds much faster than their inkjet counterparts. I rarely see any new laser printers with print speeds rated under 18 pages per minute, with most monochrome ones now in the 25+ PPM ratings! Colour laser printers will still have the slower print speeds among the two laser categories. This is because it takes longer to draw the image on the drum, with each colour having to be drawn as opposed to a single monochrome image. Some colour laser printers use a four-pass method, where each colour layer is printed individually and the paper passes through the drum four times to complete the full image.

Although their upfront investment is often worth more, a laser printer will actually help you or your business save money in the long run. A toner cartridge can run you anywhere from $30 up to several hundred depending on the printer. Those more expensive cartridges are often large-scale business laser printers that are almost in the photocopier category. For an average home-level laser, expect to pay $30-$100 for toner. Here’s the great part, the average toner cartridge yield is 2000+ pages per cartridge. Some hi-output cartridges can exceed 4000 pages per cartridge. If your printer offers a “toner saver” function, this will help to extend that life even further by not printing as dark when it's enabled. When you’re reading the page yield ranking, make sure you also check out the coverage percent that it’s rated at. Most toner cartridges are ranked at, say, 2500 pages with 90% coverage per page (which would be an average document text page).

Inkjet Printers
Inkjet printers are often the more common of the two categories because of their ability to print high quality colour pictures as well as often being a cheaper upfront investment. Also, since they don't use a toner cartridge and a drum unit, inkjet printers come in some surprisingly small sizes as well.

Although you used to be able to find both black and white and colour variants of inkjet printers, colour has become the more common these days. It's often just as price efficient to buy a monochrome laser printer if you're looking for good black and white performance. Since inkjet printers use an ink nozzle and print heads to print their image, they have vastly slower print times than their laser siblings. The average inkjet printer will vary between 6 and 20 pages per minute in full-colour. This speed varies because you can choose many different quality levels with most colour printers (some are fast “drafts” and others are full “photo quality” prints). Instead of a single toner unit, the amount of ink cartridges in an inkjet printer can vary. Some models use only two cartridges, a black one and a colour one that's divided up, sometimes called a tri-colour cartridge. Other, and more efficient models use four individual ink cartridges; black and the three separate colour cartridges. Models like this are often more efficient when it comes time to replace the cartridges because if only one colour runs out, then you can replace only that colour. That as opposed to having to replace an entire tri-colour cartridge just because one of the colours inside has run out. Depending on the type of printer, the ink nozzles and print heads may be either built into the printer or built into each separate cartridge. Being built into the printer means that you only replace the print heads when they wear out, instead of having to replace them every time when they are part of the ink cartridge (which leads to that style of cartridge being more expensive for that reason). Also keep in mind that in the models where you only replace the ink, when the time comes that you need to replace the print heads of the printer it can often cost more than the printer is worth. If you use the printer a lot then even though it might cost a little more to replace the type of ink cartridges with the built in print head, in the long run it might be cheaper if you get to continue using that printer for many years.

As mentioned earlier, the upfront investment of an inkjet printer is far lower than that of a laser. It's not uncommon to find lower end inkjet printers for around $20 with starter ink cartridges included! When it comes to printers of this price, most can argue that it'll be cheaper to replace the entire printer when the ink runs out instead of buying the more expensive replacement ink cartridges. However, with a lower price comes a lower quality. Inkjet printers come in a few variants; there's the popular multi-function ones which will scan and copy, there's the all-around ones which work great for text and images with affordable ink refills and there's also the photo printer category which can print photos in comparable quality to that of some photo development printers. The photo printers often use slightly more expensive ink which will commonly have elements in it to prevent fading and add other enhancements and protection to your photo. However, this "do it at home" method will often still leave you with some change in your pocket as
opposed to having your photos professionally developed. If you're looking for an inkjet printer, it's often a good idea to sit back and look at just what you'll be using it to print, and what sort of quality you want to achieve with those prints. From there, find a few models that interest you and look into what sort of replacement ink cartridges they use and how much it will cost you to replace those cartridges when the time comes.

Extra Printer Features
In addition to the basic features I've covered here on the two common printer types, there's many other features still available on printers that will interest certain people.

Network printers are printers that don't connect directly to a computer, but rather connect to your router. This allows every computer on your network to be able to install and access the printer without relying on a central computer to be powered on when you need to print. The network printer category can then be narrowed down even further to wired network, wireless network or one that has both interfaces. Wireless printers will give you the freedom of locating the printer anywhere you want and not having to be tied down be placing it near your network router or switch. Dual interface models will often allow you to connect the printer to two networks, a wired and wireless one. Although not quite as useful at home this is a great feature for businesses.

With the price of good printers dropping, we're starting to see a lot more MFP's (multi-function printers) coming to the market. Not only do these units take care of your
printing needs, but they also have integrated scanners which allow you to scan and photocopy your documents. A lot of these MFP's also offer fax functionality. This is sometimes taken care of through software using your computer's internal modem or for the extra price you can get a MFP with an integrated modem to handle this ability. A lot of these units will run your faxing and photocopying jobs in standalone mode without the need of the computer/network they're connected with to even be turned on.

To Conclude
There's a lot more to buying a good printer than just buying the one that will look best on your desk or in your office. If you take the time to look into a few small features beforehand you'll buy yourself not only a great looking printer but also a printer with features that best fit you. By taking care of this, you can hopefully find a printer that will be the most cost-efficient to run for your application. What would be the point in buying an expensive photo printer if you just want to print black and white text documents that a laser printer could do cheaper? Happy printing!

Written for TestFreaks By Steve Blackwell of www.dreamwarecomputers.com

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