Microsoft Word version of this article
Printers are important – whether you want to print off letters, labels or even photographs. Inkjet or laser printers today are generally versatile, high-quality and good value. This printer guide can help you understand the different kinds of machine, and what to look for when buying a new printer.
Which type of printer?
There are four main types of printer – inkjet, photo, all-in-one and laser. Inkjet printers are the most popular printers for the home office, offering an excellent standard at a low cost. Some are capable of producing photo-quality prints, while most will handle a variety of tasks. Laser printers are designed for businesses that turn out numerous documents. Photo printers are ideal for digital camera enthusiasts. Print sizes up to A3 are now easily available and wireless options offer more flexibility than ever before.
Factors to consider
Whether you are a small home-based business, or you’re responsible for purchases within a large company with many departments and workgroups, there are constant choices to be made on the acquisition of office equipment. One of the most important amongst these is choosing the appropriate print technology for the business. There are a several considerations that need to be made when purchasing a printer, for example monthly print cycle or workgroup size.
- Duplex printing. Reduces the amount of paper used within the office by 33% with two-sided printing.
- Consolidate devices. If you have managed multiple printers, scanners, copiers and fax machines, you’ll know that consolidating these services on a Multifunction Peripheral (MFP) can save valuable time, resources and office space.
When purchasing a printer, consumers tend to look at the price tag in front of them and do not consider other variables that accumulate during the life of the printer such as consumables.
Reduce the total costs of ownership by choosing the right printer from the start. Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is a method of calculating both the direct and the hidden costs of an equipment purchase.
Often over looked is the ‘total cost of ownership’, printers are now averaging three to five year lifecycles, which could mean consumers and businesses may be wasting money and not even know it because they haven’t factored in the lifetime costs of running a printer.
You can calculate a printer’s total cost of ownership (TCO) by combining the purchase price, toner costs (cost per page) reliability, and support. Different printers will excel in one or more areas but all must be considered when defining TCO.
The general rule of thumb is the more expensive the printer, the cheaper it will be to run. This is not necessarily the truth there are many other factors that need to be considered. But one thing that I have found over the years a low-cost printer doesn’t stay low-cost for long.
Depending on monthly print usage on an average low-cost printer will be as twice as expensive to run in an 18 month period, than a mid-range device. It is acknowledged industry wide that laser printers are cheaper to run than inkjets but there are new Inkjet printers being launched which claim to print black at 1p per page (See Lexmark Inkjet printers).
When calculating the total cost of ownership (TCO) both the direct and the hidden costs of a printer purchase is vital. ’ Hidden costs are additional expenses that are usually attributed to running costs of your device like paper and consumables. Many are unaware that as well as toner or ink some printers will need drums, fuser units, transfer belts and maintenance kits.
Although these are not cost you will incur on a monthly basis, they also need to factor into the TCO. Some manufacturers have online TCO calculators to help you choose a printer but there may be a tendency to be slightly biased.
Reduce costs by choosing the right print technology from the start. With a wide range of printers now available it should be easier to find the device that fits your print requirements and fulfils all cost expectations effectively. Choose wisely and experience these benefits:
Spend less on consumables. Laser print technology, high yield toners and ‘Toner Save’ modes will improve cost versus output ratio.
Improve printer connectivity. Choose printers that have network connectivity to create a shared network increasing print options and efficiency.
What should you consider when buying a printer?
The first thing you need to decide is what kinds of things you are likely to print. Will you be printing lots of word-processed documents, invoices and letters? Or will you be printing images and photos? You may want a machine that handles both functions – and in colour and black and white. Here are some of the features you should check before buying:
- Printer speed: measured in ppm (pages per minute), printer speed determines how quickly your print job can be completed. Colour documents take longer than black and white sheets. 22ppm is around average for most printers.
- Resolution: resolution refers to the number of dots per square inch (dpi) and helps determines the print quality. Even the cheapest printers are able to print in 1200 x 4800 dpi, which produces high quality documents and lab quality photos.
- Connectivity: check which connector ports your PC has to make sure it is compatible with your new printer. Most printers connect via a USB cable (not included unless needed to set up a wireless printer).
- Ink/Toner: with all printers you will have to replace the ink/toner when they run out. Some ink cartridges are all in one, offering both colour and black and white printing. If you expect to print lots of B&W sheets, you should try and make sure you have a separate black printer cartridge.
- Control panel: depending on the type of printer, there may be a control pad on the machine face. It is now common for printers to have LCD displays allowing viewing of what you are about to print and progress reports.
- Media handling and paper input: most printers can handle a variety of different paper sizes and types of media. As well as the way paper is loaded, front or rear could make all the difference as to where you would position your printer i.e. front loading printers might sit nicely in an alcove or cupboard where rear loading printers would need to go on a shelf or desktop, memory card slots are included on a lot of the latest printers allowing your digital camera or phone memory card to be inserted for direct printing.
- Bluetooth is also available on some printers to let you print directly from your phone without wires.
Software packages now allow quick and effective editing of your photographs and documents.
Printers – the four main options
Inkjet printers are a favourite for home computing as they offer relatively high quality at low prices. They work by spattering the page with thousands of small dots of ink. The more dots there are per inch, commonly expressed as dpi, the higher the quality.
An inkjet printer would be a good option for someone wanting to print out documents and photographs at home, but they can be a little slow.
Perfect for high-volume printing, laser printers are often favoured by businesses who deal with lots of paperwork. Although they can be more costly than inkjets to buy, laser printers create high-quality copies quickly – and smudged pages will be a thing of the past.
They work by drawing toner to the page using a laser beam and are very cheap to run. They perform best when printing text, but don’t expect the best results with images unless you purchase high end laser printer.
Bringing together a printer with a scanner and a photocopier, these compact and multi-functional devices are perfect for small businesses and home offices. Some also incorporate a fax machine. Although relatively expensive, their flexibility makes them great value for money. Many of the latest all-in-one models embrace cutting-edge web technology which allows you to print web-pages directly from the printer.
These are perfect for digital camera users who want to print their images at home. Many photo-specific models allow you to plug your camera straight in and print from there, without the need to go via your computer or laptop. To work out if your printer and camera are compatible, look for the PictBridge logo.
Some top-end photo printers feature multiple memory card slots – just take your memory card out and stick it straight in to print the images you want. Printers with card slots will also have an LCD screen on which you will be able to select and edit your images without firing up your computer.
Features and functions
Resolution refers to the level of detail a printer can create. Depending on price, this can range from average to outstanding, so knowing a model’s resolution will help you understand just how good its results will be. Manufacturers tell you this by giving you a dots-per-inch (dpi) figure for all printers. A dpi of 300 x 300 is perfectly acceptable for text documents, while people wanting to print good-quality photos shouldn’t go below 1440 x 720.
A printer’s speed is given in pages-per-minute (ppm). This represents your printer’s top speed when printing a simple, black and white page of text. Expect any printer to take a little longer than this in everyday use and even more so when it comes to photos.
There are a number of ways of connecting your printer and computer – via USB (Universal Serial Bus) or Ethernet or wireless or an old-fashioned parallel cable (rare these days). Most printers utilise the USB method, which helps print your documents faster by transferring data between the computer and printer at a greater speed. If you’ve already got lots of USB devices hooked up to your computer, make sure you have a spare USB port or invest in an external USB hub.
Recommendation Ethernet is best for networking the technology is robust and fast. Ethernet printer connected to a server or router can print from user PC, tablet etc. wired of wirelessly.
Set me free – go wireless
Buy a wireless printer and configure it to your existing wireless network to see it work in harmony with your computer and broadband router. Once up and running you will be able to print from anywhere in your home, with no annoying wires trailing across your living room floor and tripping people up.
Wireless printing will also allow you to put your printer out of sight – say in the cupboard or under the stairs – letting you decide where your printer will go rather than its cable length making the choice. And with wireless, one printer will cover the entire household whether you have one PC or 10.
Wireless printing – what you’ll need
Before you print wirelessly at home or in the office, you will need to get your network set up. For this you will need a broadband internet connection, a wireless router and a wireless printer. The router is the hub of the network – the device which enables the computer and printer to communicate with the internet. Also, remember to connect your PC to your router before you plug your printer into the network.
E printers follow on from wireless models, taking the technology even further. One of the main benefits of one of these is that it comes with its own email address, allowing you to email your documents direct to the printer and doing away with the need for an attached computer. This is great for gadget lovers who are using a number of different web-enabled devices such as smartphones, laptops and netbooks.
Anyone who runs a business will tell you that the humble fax machine is still a vital tool. Luckily quite a few all-in-one printers still offer a fax function – and many offer back-up memory for those times when the paper runs out just as that crucial document comes through.
Printers with scanning capabilities will generally allow you to scan directly to email or to a PDF file – great for emailing invoices to clients. You will also be able to scan in your old, dog-eared family photos and print them off on glossy new photo paper for a home-based restoration project.
Really keen photographers who still dabble with 35mm film photography have not been left out in the cold, as some top-of-the-range printers come with a function to scan negatives.
Feed me – documents
If you are running a business from home or looking for a printer for the work office, an auto-document feeder (ADF) could be useful. These are great for when you’ve got reams of photocopying or faxing to do but little time to do it – the ADF allows you to load your documents into the feeder and leave it to get on with the job.
Borderless printing does exactly that: prints without borders. This allows you to fill a whole page with an image rather than being presented with annoying white space around the edge of the page.
A scanner is a quick, easy and high-quality way to get words and pictures into your computer. From digitising old photos to carrying out a range of vital office functions, you’re never stuck when you have a scanner. They come in two main types: flatbed and film. A flatbed scanner offers more options and uses whereas a film scanner is great for detail. Also, many modern models now include a whole raft of extra features to keep you busy such as image-editing software and optical recognition.
Choose a more versatile flatbed model and you will be able to scan in both photos and documents. However, quality could be an issue here as the resolution on these models differs greatly. Flatbeds use a CFC (Cold Cathode Fluorescent) lamp to scan, which are known to produce relatively stable colour accuracy. LED light sources are also being used in some of the latest scanners – these are quicker to heat up than CFC but achieve the same quality.
With a film scanner you will be able to scan in negatives, slides and camera film. But if you want to scan APS film you may need to buy a separate adaptor. Film scanners can offer excellent resolution and quality depending on how much you are willing to spend. But remember – they can only scan negatives.
The best of both worlds: Some flatbed scanners come with accessories that allow you to turn them into a film scanner. This is done by fitting a photo lid to the top of the scanner. Although these will scan film and negatives, the results will only be as good as with the flatbed.
Things to look out for
Resolution is measured in dots-per-inch (dpi) which indicates how detailed a reproduction of the original document a scanner can make. As with printers, the higher the dpi, the better quality the scanned image will be. Generally speaking, 1,200 dpi is fine for everyday tasks. But if you’re scanning film then 2,400 dpi will be more like what you’re looking for.
Optical Character Recognition (OCR): This software allows a scanner to ‘read’ text and turn it into an editable word-processing document without losing the formatting of the original. If you have a stack of old letters or documents that you want to convert into digital files, this is the way to do it.
Image-editing software: The image-editing software provided with many scanners is often based on expensive, established programs which have long been used across the design industry. You will be able to use the software to carry out editing tasks such as altering the colour of a poster or carrying out basic restoration on an old photo.
Bit-depth is a good indicator of how detailed and colourful your scans will be. For instance, a scanner with a high bit-depth will be capable of picking up more colours and detail than one with a low depth. Each pixel needs 24-bit to create true colour. Most scanners are now 48-bit which is easily good enough to meet most people’s needs. Bit is short for binary digit. It has a single binary value of 0 or 1.
Before buying your scanner, ensure you know what interface system it operates for plugging other devices in. So, if your computer has a USB port, it’s no good buying a scanner with a Small Computer System Interface (SCSI) and so on. The SCSI connects your computer to other devices and is factory fitted with most PCs.
Awaken the senses
Scanners use three types of sensors: Contact Image Sensor (CIS); Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS) or Charged Coupling Device (CCD). A popular choice for flatbed scanners is CCD, which is similar to the sensor used in digital cameras. Scanners using this type of sensor are fast, but can be expensive. The CIS option sees the sensor sit close to whatever is being scanned for a good quality finish; whereas CMOS is known for being affordable.
Whether your printer is stationed in the spare room of a busy home or in the corner of an office, it’s going to need ink to keep it working. Sounds simple, but there are many options available and prices vary greatly. Here are a few tips to help you make the right choice.First, if you think you’ve saved money by buying a cheap printer think again as replacement ink cartridges for these models are generally among the most expensive. Although initially more expensive, a higher-end model may well be cheaper to operate in the long-run.
These are either the official replacement cartridges made by your printer’s manufacturer; unofficial cartridges made by third-party companies or recycled cartridges – basically old cartridges refilled with more ink. Not only do the recycled cartridges save you money, they’re also better for the environment but quality can be an issue.
This part of the printer filters the ink through to the paper. Part of the print head can be attached to the ink cartridge. When these heads get blocked your printing can become streaky.
Continuous ink system
Under this system various colours of ink are fed into the printer cartridge continuously. This is a relatively cheap option and reduces the chance of you running out of ink without realising.
This is the powdered ink used by laser printers to print words and images on documents. The substance sticks to the paper and comes in a cartridge much like that which carries your replacement ink. When this is empty it can either be replaced or refilled. Toner is mostly used in laser printers and is suited to high-volume, black and white printing.