Need a new printer? Facing the immense product range available in shops both on- and offline, you’ll be spoilt for choice. From simple inkjet printers for less than £30 to multifunctional colour laser printers for more than £1,000, there’s a printer ideally suited for whatever your heart desires.
But remember to keep an eye on consequential costs when making your choice, as they can get quite high – especially with cheaper devices.
So, which printer is best for you?
What do you need your printer for?
Generally, you should follow some basic rules:
- If the printer’s primary use will be for professional purposes or if you’re searching for a suitable device for your office, a laser printer will be the best choice.
- If your printer will primarily be used at home or in a small office and if you’re planning to use it to print photos, you should look into inkjet printers, which are traditionally said to be better for photo printing.
- If your digital camera has become your constant companion, the purchase of a specials photo printer might be a wise move.
- If you use your printer not only for printing but also for scanning documents, a multifunctional device will certainly pay off.
Every device carries certain pros and cons which you need to consider in line with your individual requirements. There are some criteria, however, which you should take into account no matter what specific needs you have – these criteria include storage capacity, plug-ins and additional costs.Next
Inkjet, laser or multifunctional printer?
Inkjet printers are most common among end users. They are ideal for small offices or for printing at home, whether you’re looking at printing documents, envelopes or CD covers. Devices with four-colour printing are most suitable for classic black-and-white prints and simple images, but remember to ensure the device comes with a separate colour card. If there is none, black will be mixed out of the three primary colours, which takes much longer and results in a less intense black. You also need to use special paper to ensure the printer delivers the best possible colour quality, i.e. colour that does not fade over the years – this special type of paper easily is twice as expensive as ordinary sheets.
Inkjet printers are available from around £30, but you need to be aware of additional ongoing costs for expensive cartridge refills. Cartridges for inkjet printers usually last for an average of 500 colour or 100 black-and-white prints. In the lower price segment, the colour beam of an inkjet printer is also coarser than with a laser printer, which leads to a less professional standard of printed text. The size of the colour drops should be around 3 picoliters (Pl). The smaller the colour drop, the better the printing quality. Even official documents like job applications can then be produced in a high quality – pixels are invisible with the naked eye. With coarser colour beams, more ink is used, and the low initial purchasing costs are quickly outweighed by expensive refills.
Laser printers are traditionally developed for professional usage. They print fast, quietly and cost efficiently. One page of black-and-white print will cost around 2p as opposed to 6p with an inkjet printer.
Colour prints are usually twice as expensive, no matter which printing system is used. Laser printers are therefore best for office usage and people who need to print larger amounts. Most laser printers are equipped with more spacious paper trays, too, and are ready to process high printing volumes. They deliver high quality in-text printing and long-lasting colour brilliance, even over many years. The downside is that when printing photos, colours may look less natural. In addition laser printers are often quite heavy compared to inkjet printers, with even light-weight models reaching up to 14kg as opposed to 5kg for inkjet printers.
Prices for laser printers have decreased in the last years, but at a minimum price level of £50 they still come with black-and-white printing only. For the same price, you can invest in a mid-priced inkjet printer. Previous
More and more LED-printers are now also available for home purchase. They work like laser printers but are a little cheaper, starting at around £60. Instead of the laser, a little printer drum with light-emitting diodes moves over the paper on a bar. The resolution depends on the number of diodes: with 5,000 diodes a printer reaches 600 dots per inch (dpi). Higher resolutions do not really make sense with LED-printers and just increases the printing time, as an LED-printer prepares every page individually in the working memory. One DIN A4-page with 300 dpi takes 1 Megabyte (MB), 600 dpi already take 4MB.
LED-printers are most suitable for text and images. Costs per page in black-and-white are about 2p. In contrast to laser printers, they need less energy and are very reliable. They are also less sensitive and need to be repaired less often as they are built with fewer small parts. Still, some of the devices currently available in the market are not ideal for office environments, as colour LED-printers are bulky and quite expensive. Also, if one of the diodes in the printing drum fails, vertical stripes appear on the print – and a new printing drum easily costs £50.
Multifunctional printers are inkjet printers for private usage, which can be used not only for printing but also for scan, fax and copy features. An all-in-one device is usually cheaper than buying three individual devices, although the quality of prints, copies and scans are often poorer. Simple models are available from around £60.
For home use, there are very few reasons not to buy a multifunctional device. The print quality is about the same as the quality of an inkjet printer, with solid results for text and images. They can print photos (although special photo paper is recommended). If you are considering a multifunctional device with copy features, you should ensure it also works when the device is not plugged into a PC or the PC is switched off.
For professional use in offices, however, they are not ideal.
Attention! Beware of potential extra costs with a multifunctional device: if one element breaks, you will have to replace the entire device: substituting only a part of it - for example the scanner - is not possible.
Photo printers look like traditional printers. Additional cartridges, however, guarantee a better and more natural colour quality in various formats. They also feature slots for memory cards or plug-ins for cameras. With many models, small displays provide preview options and facilitate the selection photos. Some manufacturers even offer portable devices, which can be used directly from the camera – this, however, only makes sense when printing pictures in postcard format.
Resolution and memory
With all printers, the resolution is measured in dpi. The higher the resolution, the better the print quality. If you want to use your device for multiple purposes, (for example to print photos, text and images) a minimum resolution of 1400x1200 dpi is recommended. If you only plan to print text, lower resolutions will be sufficient, but you should not settle for less than 300 dpi.
Manufacturers of multifunctional devices often praise the high resolution of the integrated scanner. This does not often refer to the physical resolution of the scan unit, but to the digital resolution projected by the device. What really counts is the optical resolution: it gives information about the actually print quality and should definitely be taken into account when making a purchase decision.
The memory (or puffer) is measured in MB – as with other devices. The better the memory capacity, the faster the print. If there isn’t enough memory, the printing of larger files can be delayed by several minutes, as data needs to be uploaded gradually during the printing process. Sometimes in this situation the printer may skip a particularly elaborate image.
If you only wish to print a few pages or small files, it doesn’t matter whether the device provides 4 or 16 MB memory. With many printers, memory can even be enhanced post-purchase. The best way is to make judgement call on how big your average files are and how much time you have to print them. If you need to print many huge presentations, the printer should have a suitable memory capacity in terms of MB. As memory cards are fairly cheap at the moment, enhancing the existing smaller memory might be a good option – for example, 128 MB cards are available for around £10. Just make sure that the memory card is compatible with the device and the slot is easily accessible so that you can insert it without having to open the entire printer!
Paper and everything else you can print on
When printing longer texts, the speed of processing makes a real difference. A black-and-white print in good quality should not take longer than 40 seconds for ten pages. A colour print of the same length may take a minute.
The type of paper feed depends on what you prefer personally as well as what you need your printer for. A paper tray will allow you to easily print up to 200 pages in no time.
However, in open trays, a paper is exposed to dust; while a separate internal paper tray increases the size of the printer. A separate paper feed is useful when you use paper of varying weight for individual print orders.
For real copy shop quality, there are also devices which offer duplex printing, i.e. they print on both sides of the paper, but this is rarely needed for private use and can take rather a long time (2-4 minutes/page). However, duplex does minimise paper usage and to an extent, costs.
If printing DIN A4 is not enough, you should check what other formats and printable material are supported by your chosen printer. Some semi-professional devices will offer CD printing, transparencies and cardboard, in addition to the more standard envelopes, A3 sheets and CD covers.
Printers by Max Resolution
Plug-ins are important to make the best use of your printer.
Most devices can easily be connected with the PC via USB plugs. If the USB ports at your PC are already all taken, a USB hub or a slot card can help. Very few printers feature parallel ports. The latest trend is wireless connection via WLAN or Bluetooth, which delivers high printing speed as long as the transmission is not obstructed by thick walls.
Some printers can be used independently from the PC – so-called stand-alone devices. They feature special slots that can take memory cards or USB sticks and print off those directly. However, not every memory card fits in with every printer.
Attention: Many manufacturers don’t include all the necessary connection cables, especially with cheaper models. USB cables don’t cost a lot, but network cables start at about £10.
The use of recycled material is not yet very common in printer production. Remember that empty cartridges don’t belong into the bin; many can be refilled. If you really do need to dispose of them, recyclers and retailers will take them back.
Certainly, energy consumption increases in relation to performance, i.e. print quality or speed. While inkjet and laser printers need the same amount of energy when on stand-by, laser and LED-printers need twice as much when processing documents.
Generally speaking, as with all electrical, devices should be switched off overnight and when not in use. It also makes a difference if you avoid printing everything at the highest quality level.
Software and installation
Most printers will install themselves automatically once they’re plugged in, whatever the operating system. Nonetheless, every printer should come with an installation driver, printing software CD and a user manual. If these are missing, you can usually download them from the manufacturer’s website. Previous
Most printer come with a basic photo processing program for filing, editing and archiving pictures, although the quality of these programs can vary a lot. When printing photos a basic program for calibration will be extremely useful, as it improves colours and makes them look more natural. Editing software is also available for free on the Internet – often with a higher standard.
The size of printers is as diverse as the range of models. The capability of printing DIN A4 format determines the basic size. Inkjet printers and small photo printers start at 15x30x20 cm. Photo printers designed solely for postcard formats are available at a size of 12x18x15 cm. LED and laser printers start 20x35x40cm as the cartridges need a lot of space and laser printers in particular have spacious paper feeds and trays.
The biggest differences tend to be with multifunctional devices. The better the quality of the integrated scanner, printer or fax, the bigger the entire device. If you’re only looking at something to use at home, a multifunctional device will usually not be much bigger than a laser printer. If you’re looking at the highest end of the quality spectrum, size may as much as double. Previous
Simple inkjet printers for black-and-white prints are available from around £20. Black-and-white laser printers with 300dpi and LED printers with the same resolution start at about £60. Colour laser printers start at about £180. Photo printers are available from £30 and multifunctional devices from £40 onwards. If you are looking for more expensive models, roughly speaking, the sky is the limit! With that said, for private use, printers for more than £400 aren’t really recommended – after this point they’re more intended for professional users.
And remember; don’t save at the wrong end: irrespective of your final choice, you always need to consider additional costs, since low purchasing costs may lead to higher expenses for energy or cartridge refills. Make sure all necessary cables are included as well as a starter set of cartridges.
While inkjet printers can be purchased at reasonable prices and deliver good results both in black-and-white and in colour printing, laser and LED-printers at lower prices only deliver good prints in black-and-white. With both systems, you need to be aware of additional costs, for example special photo paper to ensure the good quality of inkjet colour prints. Also, prices for new black or colour cartridges for inkjet printers can easily exceed the initial purchasing price for the printer itself. Single cartridges start at around £15 and serve approximately 500 colour or 1,000 black-and-white prints.
Laser printers are different: the purchasing price for a cartridge seems comparatively high at first glance, but the cartridge lasts for ten times as many prints as with an inkjet printer. With LED printers the situation is similar.
Refillable cartridges from third party providers are viable alternatives, as they tend to be much cheaper. Just make sure they are compatible with your printer before buying them.
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