Printers – Buyer’s Practical Guide
Buying a printer can be a complicated business, there are more shapes, sizes and types of printers available to home users and small businesses than ever before. The printer also becomes specific for its intended purpose.
This is no longer the case for “printers are printers”. Printers are now designed to be good in certain fields rather than “Jack-of-all trade”, which will do everything.
A problem that is often overlooked, is a very serious consideration of ownership costs, which are all about how much it costs to keep your printer running (see below). So making a decision as to which printers can be used can be a very difficult task, especially if you want to buy a printer that is not only affordable to buy but also cheap to run.
So here’s the information you need to know and consider, but no one has told you! We haven’t expanded which printer is the best at any given time because the model is constantly changing and you can find that information in any glossy PC magazine at this time. Instead, here you will find the good, bad and ugly parts of the various types of printers available so you can make your own decisions.
Inkjet printers form images by spraying tiny droplets of ink liquid onto paper. The size and accuracy of the ink dots and the type and quality of the ink itself determine how good the print quality is. A high-quality inkjet printer can produce very high-quality images that are very close by using specialist photo-coated paper. Generally there are two types of inkjet printers, those that have printheads built into printers such as Epson, Brother etc. and those where the printheads are actually on ink cartridges such as HP and Lexmark. There are many arguments in favor of and against both of these technologies, but in our experience we found both to be very good, the main difference seems to be that the cost of running a printer using a “printhead” type of ink cartridge is usually higher.
Inkjet inks are specially formulated for certain printer models and their purpose, many technologies are involved in the development of these inks to improve print quality, longevity, drying speed and printing speed etc. Most inkjet inks are produced using dye-based inks that can flow easily through small printhead nozzles, this type of ink is good for photos and colors, but not so good for longevity or bright colors, just think of it as water color painting. In recent years pigment ink technology has advanced rapidly to enable use in inkjet printing. The previous ink pigment was too large and would block the nozzles. This type of ink is good for solid colors and long life, just think of it like oil paintings.
Manufacturers such as Epson, HP and Jet Tec are increasingly using a blend of pigmented and pigmented ink to create outstanding quality photo printing with bright colors and longevity as well.
Inkjet printers use anything between two and eight ink cartridges to do their work. In general, entry-level machines use two cartridges, both all round machines use four and specialist photo printers use six or more. The two cartridge system works well even though it might be a bit wasteful on color ink, so use a four-cartridge system if possible, especially if you are printing in color. Six or more cartridge systems produce great photos, but it can be expensive and difficult to keep changing cartridges (the printer doesn’t work if there is one empty cartridge).
Inkjet printers are the best solution for most people and are usually the most effective way to print – unless you are printing large volumes.
Portable Inkjet Printer
This printer is small, lightweight, and ideal for people who are on the go. Although printing high-quality photos is usually outside of this type of printer, basic color printing is of good quality and the quality of text printing is mostly outstanding considering the size of this small portable A4 printer. This printer is not suitable for high-volume printing.
The Inkjet Printer is the most commonly used type of printer among home and small business users. With excellent all round printing capabilities, from black & white text print and good colour prints through to very hi-resolution, high quality photographs using Inkjet Photo Printers. Inkjet printers are available from cheap entry level to high-end business use machines and can print from photo size prints to massive A2 and bigger sizes, there are models for occasional use and others for high volume print jobs too. One of the many great things about Inkjet printers is that you can use a wide variety of media to print on, including standard paper, photo paper, card, t-shirt transfers, canvas, projector film etc, achieving different looks and textures for your prints and print for different purposes. Most Inkjet printers are USB connections and not suitable for networks, although models are also available for networks and with parallel connections.
Multi-Function Inkjet Printers
Multi-Function Inkjet Printers have been built to meet the needs of home offices and small businesses. These excellent value machines provide multiple solutions in one compact and easy to use machine i.e. printing, scanning, copying and some also have built in fax machines too. Not only are these machines great for saving space on your desk, but they are also very good for printing too using the same technology as standard inkjet printers. The only thing you should be aware of is that you can only use one function at a time and if anything goes wrong with an “All-in-one” machine, you may lose the all the functions at once!
Laser printers work in a similar way to photocopiers, except they use a laser instead of a bright light to scan with. They work by creating an electrostatic image of the page onto a charged photoreceptor, which in turn attracts toner in the shape of an electrostatic charge. Toner is the material used to make the image (as ink is in an inkjet printer) and is a very fine powder, so laser printers use toner cartridges instead of ink cartridges.
Laser Printers have traditionally been the best printing solution for heavy office users as they produce a very high quality black text finish and offer relatively low running costs. However, laser printers have advanced a great deal recently and their prices have steadily dropped, as a result there are now compact laser printers, multi-function and colour laser printers all at very affordable prices. Laser printers make sense if you need to do a lot of high quality black or colour prints, not photos. The great thing about a colour laser printer is that they can print a very good quality colour image on standard copier paper, so you do not need to use expensive photo paper for large jobs. Do check the prices of the consumables before you buy the printer as these can be very expensive for colour laser printers.
Laser printers are the best solution for people who are printing in large volumes, that is, in 100’s of pages at a time or 1000’s of pages per month. Colour lasers also take quite a while to warm up, so are not ideal for printing single pages.
Solid Ink Printers
Solid ink printers use solid wax ink sticks in a “phase-change” process, they work by liquefying wax ink sticks into reservoirs and then squirting the ink onto a transfer drum from where it is cold-fused onto the paper in a single pass. Solid ink printers are marketed almost exclusively by Tektronix / Xerox and are aimed at larger businesses and high volume colour printing.
Solid ink printers used to be cheaper to purchase than similarly specified colour lasers and fairly economical to run owing to a low component usage, today it is not necessarily any cheaper than a colour laser printer. Output quality is good but generally not as good as the best colour lasers for text and graphics or the best inkjets for photographs. Print speeds are not as fast as most colour lasers.
Dye-Sublimation printers use hot dyes and solid colors to produce laboratory-quality photo images. Dye-Sub printers contain transparent film rolls consisting of page-sized color panels, with cyan, magenta, yellow, and black coloring embedded in the film. The print head heating element evaporates the ink, which adheres to specially coated paper, as the ink cools and freezes again on the paper. Color intensity is controlled by precise temperature variations.
Color sublimation printers put color in continuous tones one color at a time instead of ink dots such as inkjet, because color is absorbed into paper rather than sitting on the surface, outputs more realistic photos, is more durable and is more susceptible to fading than ink technology the other.
The disadvantage of Dye-Sub printers is that they are generally more expensive to buy and run, usually limited to photo-sized prints and can only print on one special type of paper and are also slow enough to print.
Dye-Sublimation printers are the best for those who want to connect their digital cameras to custom-made printers and print the best quality photos at home without hassles.
Dot Matrix Printer
Dot matrix printers are relatively old-fashioned technology today with poor print quality, slow output and very noisy. This type of printer is no longer used unless you want to create invoices using continuous paper with holes on both sides. The good thing is that they are very cheap to run!
Many printers today are very cheap to buy, but people are sometimes surprised to find the cost of replacing consumables (ink or laser cartridge, image drum, fuser, oil, specialist paper etc.). The cost of replacing ink can sometimes be more expensive than the printer itself! This is one of the most often overlooked factors when the printer is reviewed and is one of the most important things to consider before handing over your hard-earned cash. Which test was run in 2003 by Which? famous magazine compared to the cost of HP ink with vintage Per Domon 1985.
The Sheffield City Council Report aims to help schools decide to buy a printer with the best value, calculating the total cost of ownership over the life of the printer (not sure how long that is!). By adding all operating costs, ink or toner, paper, maintenance, and even electricity, SCC believes that the color inkjet costs around 38p per page to run compared to a color laser that costs around 7p per page. The Sheffield City Council informed its schools that if they printed more than three color pages a day (assuming a 40-week academic year) they had to buy a laser.
These figures cannot be taken hard and fast because of the many variables involved, but it is generally accepted that the cost per print of a laser printer is cheaper than an inkjet, which in turn is cheaper than a sub-dye printer. However, you have to do a large amount of color printing to take advantage of the economy offered by laser printers.
When buying a printer, first consider its use, is it mostly general printing or for photos, is it for occasional or high-volume use, is it a stand-alone device or is it connected to a network? Then by using the guideline information above you will be able to decide on the type of printer that is most suitable for you at that time.