Inkjet and laser printers | A buyers guide.

inkjet printer image
The explosion in the use of digital photography over recent years has been the driving force behind the rapid development of the advanced personal inkjet printer. Ideal for use in the home or home office environment, fierce competition between manufactures has maintained low prices for these relatively sophisticated devices.
The struggle to better the competition has also meant that each generation of new models have more and more features added - resulting in a better range of facilities and a better quality of print - to the benefit of you, the consumer.

However, the list of specifications and features when looking to purchase a new printer can be bewildering.

In our printer buying guide we intend to give you that extra bit of knowledge that can help you make the right choice.

Is an inkjet or laser printer the right choice for me?

There are now two main technologies for computer printers. the inkjet and the laser.

The choice in general, will come down the quantity and type of work that you want to do - and obviously the purchase price of the equipment.

The price of a personal A4 Inkjet printer starts from under £30 ($45 USD apx) at entry level to around £90 ($135 USD apx) for the very best.

The cost of producing an A4 text page is around 8p ($0.12 USD apx) with a full colour A4 photograph at between 30p ($0.45 USD apx) and 50p ($0.75 USD apx) dependent on the printer.

The price of a personal A4 Laser starts at around £65 ($97.50 USD apx) for a monochrome (black & white) printer and between £190 ($285 USD apx) up to £400 ($600 USD apx) for a colour machine. The cost of producing an A4 text page is around 1p ($0.02 USD apx) with a combined colour graphics and text page at around 2p ($0.03 USD apx).

As you can see, the difference in purchase price is offset by the cost of each print - with the laser producing an A4 page at up to a tenth of the cost of an inkjet print.

Laser printers therefore are much cheaper to run than an inkjet, and will excel at the printing of text and solid colour graphics - reports with logo's and charts for example. However, the machines in the scope of this article can not output a photo realistic print to the same quality as an inkjet.

Inkjets are more expensive to run than a laser, but they produce high quality prints of all types. They can also be found in this price range with the ability to print on CD's and DVD's, to be networked to other computers, and to print directly from cameras, mobile phones and data cards without even having to turn on your PC.

If you want a good all round printer that will give you exceptional quality, and you do not produce large amount of prints then the inkjet is the right choice for you.

There are a few situations in which a home user may consider the purchase of a laser, maybe even as a compliment to a good inkjet photo printer - for example:

You are involved with a local society, sporting group or similar, and are tasked with sending out a monthly newsletter to the other sixty members. Or, you run a small business, and want to regularly send out mailers and information to the 500 customers in your database.

In both these cases a laser would make more sense in terms of the cost per newsletter or mailer. This type of publication would also allow the inclusion of lower quality photos that a laser would produce.

You love the quality of the photos produced by your inkjet, but you want to run off lots of prints - maybe of a holiday or event for friends and family. Batch printing on a personal inkjet printer is expensive. Consider using an online printing service. These will provide the same high quality prints at 6x4 inches at a fraction of the cost - and deliver overnight from your e-mailed files.

Are there any other choices for me?
There are other printer technologies in the marketplace but these all appear on the larger machines for office use. However, there is one more solution to consider. If you have limited space in your home 'office' - take a look at an 'All-in-One' device. For a small premium over the corresponding printer, these machines incorporate a printer and scanner in the same footprint - and offer the facilities of a Printer, Scanner, Photocopier and Fax. For the price these are really amazing value, and offer the home user a feature rich package in a compact unit.

Printer specifications and features

DPI - Dots Per Inch (Resolution)
This is a measurement commonly used to describe the quality of printers and it refers to how many pixels per square inch that it is able to print - the higher the DPI - the smoother the quality of the image. In the early days of the personal inkjet this used to be very important, but nowadays even the cheapest machines can work at very high DPI.

In fact, the highest resolutions are only used for producing photographs - and you will find settings in most printer software that enable you to lower the quality of the print, for say, producing a letter or homework report. Everyday tasks like these do not require the highest resolution settings of the modern printer to look good. REMEMBER - the higher the DPI setting, the more ink you are using!

PPM - Pages Per Minute
This describes how many pages the printer is capable of producing in one minute, this is normally quoted with separate figures for monochrome and colour pages.

USB - Universal Serial Bus
This refers to the interface (connection type) the printer uses to transfer data between it and the PC. USB is now the universal type of wired connection for personal printers, with the installation usually being a matter of simply plugging it in, inserting the manufacturer's disk and off you go.

Media Slots and TFT Screens
Many printers now offer built in media slots in which your camera data card can be inserted. The images can be viewed on a small integrated TFT screen which allows the facility to rotate and crop the image. Make your adjustments and press the print button - all without turning on your PC! Make sure the printer you choose has the correct slot for the media card your camera uses.

PictBridge Port
This port will allow a direct wired connection from a PictBridge compatible digital camera, and enable you to print directly from the image chosen on the camera's screen. Again your PC does not have to be turned on.

Ethernet port and wireless adapters
Many households now have more than one computer. These types of interfaces allow the sharing of one printer between two or more PC's - in the case of the Ethernet port by a wired connection to a home network 'hub' - or even better by a wireless adaptor which works in the same way as a wireless connection to the internet. Ethernet ports are usually built into the printer. Wireless adapters are usually an extra available at additional cost - if required, look for these on the specification when buying the printer.

Bluetooth & IrDA (Infra-red)
Look for these interfaces if you want to print photographs direct from your mobile phone embedded camera. The interface may be via an adapter available at extra cost.

Multiple (paper/media) input trays
These will allow the user to keep the printer loaded with the most commonly used paper types, for example - 6x4 inch glossy media for photographs and A4 plain paper for letters and reports. The input trays can be selected manually or be automatically engaged when the print settings are chosen by the user.

CD/DVD printing
Very useful if you like to produce CD's or DVD's, maybe containing photo's or movie footage for friends and family. The facility allows a CD/DVD to follow a straight path through the print platen of the computer and an image of your design can be applied to printable discs.

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