New Printer Buyer’s Guide

While there can be literally dozens of technical considerations to buying a new printer, here are the more general ones to keep in mind as you shop.

There are two main types of printers: laser printers and inkjet printers. Laser printers are generally better for high-volume printing, as they have a lower per-page cost. However, they will cost more to buy than an inkjet printer. Inkjet printers have a lower hardware cost but higher consumables (inkjet cartridges) cost. This is one of the primary trade-offs.

If you print photos or graphics, you’ll for sure want a colour printer. Generally, inkjets produce better colour while lasers produce better text quality. But this differential is rapidly fading and either is acceptable for most uses. However, for photos, a colour inkjet still produces the highest quality colour.

You want to consider a multifunction printer, as they combine are capable of multiple functions, such as printing, scanning, copying and perhaps faxing. These are highly convenient devices and cheaper than buying separate hardware for each function. But that low price and convenience come as the expense of performance, such as lower resolution and slower print speeds (measured as ppm, or pages per minute). You’ll have to decide for yourself if this is an acceptable trade-off.

A common thing to consider with a new printer is the resolution, which is a primary determinant of print quality. Print images are made of small dots of ink (or toner for a laser printer) and resolution means the number of “dots per inch”, or “dpi”. The higher the number of dots per inch, the higher the quality of the printing, all other things being equal.

Most modern printers support 600.600 dpi, which gives acceptable quality for most uses. Except for printing photographs, resolution higher than 600.600 isn’t really noticeable and the higher the resolution the more ink you will use, so consider your needs carefully before buying a high-resolution printer. Unless you are printing lots of photos you will be just wasting money on ink, which is the most expensive cost for any printer in the long run.

Pay attention to what the ink cartridge arrangement is on a printer. With inkjet printers, some use separate cartridges for each colour, and some have all colours contained in one cartridge. Over time, separate tanks for each colour will be less expensive, as you only have to replace the one colour that runs out. With all colours in the same cartridge, you’ll have to replace the entire cartridge even though only one colour is used up.

Also, look at the path the paper travels in the printer. The more straight through the path, the less trouble you’ll have. This is especially important if you do a lot of printing on photo paper stock, envelopes, thick paper, or any other unusual materials.

Finally, consider the print drivers, which provide the software interface for your printer. This allows you to control things such as the number of copies, page size, orientation, etc. The best drivers will include more advanced features such as low ink level warnings. Also, stick with the major brands, such as HP, Epson and Canon.

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