Even though we have moved to online media for all practical purposes, the attraction of viewing words and images in print has never drawn to a close! Nothing more suited for such purpose than a computer printer. Computer printers currently, are deployed for a wide range of functions – from printing of bills, receipts, and invoices to heavy text content like documents; from printing on T-shirts and other similar clothing apparel, printing images to fabricating posters or labels, etc.
Thus, before making a purchase decision, one must identify the kind of usage the printer will be subjected. Then comes deciding on the essential characteristics needed in the printer, the print mechanism best suited for the said usage, and lastly the pricing, service support along with warranty preferences. Additionally, it is critical that while deciding on the major cost determinants of a printer, the recurring expenses of consumables such as toner inks and paper supplies are also considered.
This guide provides you with all the necessary information regarding printers enabling you to make a wise decision when it comes to purchasing printers, so read on!
There are different types of printers available in the market. These include:1.1 Dot Matrix Printer Dot matrix printers are among the oldest type and can be dated back to the time when the modern printing technology came in existence. They are also known as impact printers, since characters and designs are produced on paper by impacting striking pins onto an ink-filled ribbon. The performance of a dot matrix printer can be measured on two aspects – the print quality and the final output time i.e. the print speed. The print quality relies on the number of pins in the print head. In a dot matrix printer, the number of these pins lies between 9 and 24. A 24-pin dot matrix printer produces a better quality print output compared to a 9-pin dot matrix printer. The speed of a dot matrix printer is evaluated in characters per sec (cps). It usually lies between 50cps and over 500 cps.
Application: Dot Matrix printers are used for a wide range of corporate or business printing applications like billing, invoicing, purchase-order and printing checks.1.2 Ink-Jet Printer
An ink-jet printer works by spraying miniscule droplets of ink directly onto paper. This is done with the help of pressurized ink cartridges that hold the ink and squeeze it out when the printing begins. Ink-jet printers vary from one another in terms of the size of the ink droplet that is squeezed out onto the paper sheet. The quality of text and images relies on the ink droplet size, and the mechanism with which it is applied on the paper. A normal ink-jet printer provides a resolution of 600 dots per inch (dpi). However, technological advancements have resulted in latest models offering high resolutions of 1200 dpi or more. Ink-jet printers are economical, and a bit slower as compared to laser printers. Also they work on ink tank cartridges instead of toner cartridges.
Mostly, ink-jet printers can print three colors cyan, magenta, and yellow (CMY) since the ink-jet color cartridge contains only these three colors. With a unique four-color cartridge that comprises CMY and black (K) or CMYK cartridge, one can print black only pages as this cartridge includes a separate black ink section.
Application: Such printers are often used for printing greeting cards, engineering drawings, banners, posters, and so on.1.3 Laser Printer
A laser printer, as the name suggests, has a laser beam that generates an electrically charged image onto a ‘photographic print drum’, which is then rolled over a large reservoir of toner. This charged drum picks up the toner which is then transplanted onto the paper after a heated laser beam is applied on the paper’s surface. These laser printers are expensive as compared to the dot matrix printers and ink-jet printers. However, these provide better quality prints. Mostly, laser printers are monochrome (read black color only) as they are best suited for printing text and basic graphics. These days color laser printers that deliver high quality graphics printouts are also available, though these are very expensive compared to the monochrome laser printers.
Application: Printing large volumes of text-only prints.1.4 Multi-function Printer
A multi-function printing machine is a device, which integrates printing, copying, and scanning, and in some cases facsimile or Fax, all into one single unit. These all-in-one printers provide greater convenience by saving on desk or floor space, and are practical for both home offices and small businesses.
A multifunction printer with fax capability makes use of your telephone line as it has a built-in modem that allows sending faxes even when your computer is powered off. These multifunction devices offer more cost-effective solutions to your office needs as compared to buying standalone devices i.e. a scanner, a printer, a copier, and a fax machine. Also the all-in-one printers generally require a single connector cable and a power outlet for functioning and are simple to install, configure and use. Wireless printers are also available; these are able to wirelessly connect with an existing network to provide you with the ability to print any documents over the network. Before choosing a multi-function printer, ascertain which functions you will be using the maximum. This will help to choose the correct model.
Application: Printing, Scanning, Copying, Faxing etc.1.5 Photo Printers
Photo Printers, often casually called as dye-sublimation printers, use a dye sublimation mechanism for printing. In dye-sublimation, solid inks are heated until it turns into gas after which it diffuses onto the printing media and then is cooled down immediately to solidify. As such printers can alter the temperature of the thermal elements in ink heads of each color to 256 different degrees, which results in the generation of 256 different shades from each of the CMY color panels. Therefore, the photo printers can easily print superior range of colors, and thus high quality graphics.
Application: Lab quality photos, Greeting Cards, Post Cards, Banners, Posters etc.1.6 Portable Printers
Those often on the move usually require portable printers that are lightweight and compact. Such portable printers deploy the same ink-jet printing mechanism, and present flexibility and dependability anywhere you travel. Few such printers offer running on battery power, others need to be connected to an AC power adaptor that can be plugged into an AC power outlet. Portable printers are best suited for use with your laptop, while you are travelling.
Application: Engineering Drawings, Greeting Cards, Post Cards, Banners, Posters etc.2 Critical Features to Look For
Compatibility means the capability of any printer in communicating with the PC’s operating system for producing the best results without any errors. You must look at the specifications of the printer to confirm its compatibility with your existing computer system and its operating system.2.2 Interface
Interface is the way the device connects to your computer system. Since last few years, the USB 2.0 or USB 1.1 port has become the de facto port via which all of the latest printers connect as it offers high data transfer rates during printing. Certain network-enabled printers offer connectivity to an existing network connection, to function as network printers for saving on costs and acting as a shared resource for printing jobs across your organization.2.3 Paper Handling Capacity
The paper-handling capacity of a printer covers aspects such as size and thickness of stock (paper) that the printer can handle (print on). Though most printers can work with ordinary stock, some color printers require specialized stock for optimal results. Laser and Ink-jet printers are capable of handling letter and legal sizes. However printers that can handle tabloid size paper will cost more. Some printers are also capable of printing labels, envelopes and transparencies.2.4 Speed & Duty Cycle
A printer’s speed is indicated in the number of pages that it prints per minute and is listed as by pages per minute (ppm). A high-speed printer is recommended for printing huge volumes of data. Laser printers are the best choice as their higher print speeds compared to those of dot matrix and ink-jet printers enable them to print large number of pages in lesser time without loss in quality. A typical ink-jet printer usually prints at a maximum speed of 60 ppm (black) and 15 ppm (color) pages, whereas a laser printer delivers up to 75 ppm (black) and 20 ppm (color) pages.
The maximum number of pages a printer prints in a period of 30 days at its default quality settings is called the Duty Cycle. The Duty Cycle is indicated as a ratio or as a percentage. Printer manufacturers recommend that a particular duty cycle for a printer must be followed for optimal print results, maintaining the longevity of the printer, and saving on costs.2.5 Resolution
In printers, the resolution is the maximum number of dots a printer produces on the surface of the paper, both horizontally as well as vertically. A high-resolution printer produces superb quality prints, be it text or graphics. Most printers today offer at least a standard resolution of 1200 x 1200 dpi (dots per inch) and above. Printers with higher resolutions of 2400 dpi deliver photographic quality prints of images or pictures. An ink-jet printer’s maximum resolution is 1200 x 2400 dpi (black) and 2400 x 4800 dpi (color). Whereas a laser printer has 1200 by 2400 dpi (black) and 1200 by 2400 dpi (color).2.6 Memory
The internal memory of a printer is the regulating factor of the speed at which a printer can print. Additionally, it is also the document (or file) holding capacity of that printer. Any network printer, having multiple users across a network, for printing large number of files or huge-sized files, like high-resolution photos requires extra internal memory. Usually memory on laser printers lies between 32MB to 128 MB. Few printers, however, offer upgrading it to a maximum of 1024 MB.3 Printer Consumables
The most primary consumables of printers, — be it dot matrix, ink-jet or laser — are dot matrix ribbons, inkjet cartridges, toner cartridges respectively, along with special quality paper or each of the types and kind of print output desired. These consumables form the major cost expense when using a printer. Laser printers require replacement of their toner or drum cartridges. Inkjet printers need replacement of ink tank cartridges. Inkjet cartridges are less expensive, and offer color printing at economical rates. Different manufacturers deploy different combinations of ink cartridges for printing color or black pages.
Cartridges used in laser printers, called as Toners, use special ink enclosed in a metal container. This ink is a dry powder that sticks to the paper when charged using a laser. Though, various types of cartridges and toners are widely available in the market, you must ensure its compatibility with the printer model you to use it with. Dot matrix ribbons are specially meant for use in dot matrix printers only. Using the consumables as recommended or those manufactured by the manufacturer ensures optimum results. Be it ink ribbons, ink cartridges, toners, or even specialty papers for your printer.
It is important to first understand your printing needs before you go on to compare different options available. There are plenty of options to choose from including HP printers, Epson printers, Lexmark printers, Canon printers, and Kodak printers. Do remember to check out the warranty and after-sale services offered as well.
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