Choosing a printer is not an easy task because there are so many factors you must consider before you make your final decision. Depending on your needs and budget, your decision might be not so difficult because if you have a limited budget and you are not a very demanding user, then almost any low-end printer will be a solution for you. Also, if money is not an issue and you can afford to buy an expensive model with many extras, then the decision is also easy. But in all other cases, when you don’t have much to spend but you do require a quality printer, you will have to do some brainstorming before you reach a decision.
One issue that needs to be cleared in advance is that this article applies to choosing a new printer. Having in mind that printers are getting cheaper and cheaper, it is pointless to buy a used printer. Also, if you can’t really make up your mind about what printer you need most, you can always get one inkjet and one laser printer and enjoy them both. But if you can afford only one printer, here are some tips, which will help you decide which printer is best for you.
What You Need a Printer For
Your needs are the first factor you must take into account. You must know what kinds of tasks you will perform occasionally, frequently, and on a daily basis with your printer because this influences directly your options. As you will see next, both laser and ink printers are great choices but under different circumstances.
Home users are traditionally regarded as the least picky group of users but this is not necessarily so. Home users are usually not obsessed with printing quality but rather with cost. Still, there are exceptions. For instance, if you are a photo maniac, then you will most likely want a printer for printing photographs. If your are not very picky about the quality of the printing, even an average inkjet will do. But if you want really professional photos, a special photo printer is a better choice. And if you need really great quality, you might consider using the services of a printing house, rather than doing it on your own.
If you are like most home users, you will need a printer to occasionally print documents, books, papers and similar texts. In this case you will hardly need colour and your primary concern is that printing a 100-page report does not cost a fortune. Almost all personal laser jets can do the job. Additionally, the cost per copy is lower for laser printers and you will appreciate this if you print a lot. Laser printers are also (generally) faster than inkjets, so printing a 100-page report will not take you hours. However, in most cases speed is not an issue for home users because unlike companies, you will hardly print thousands of pages on a daily basis.
Home Office/Small Company
Unlike home users, small companies or individuals who need a printer for their home office, will hardly print photos. This does not mean that a colour printer is obsolete for you but since you will be printing more documents than images, then a laser printer will be much a better choice than a budget inkjet. Laser printers are faster and their consumables cost less in the long run. On the other hand, if you really think that colour is important for you, you can get a new colour laser jet for AUS $400-500. Another option that you might want to consider are small multifunctional devices. There are also portable printers that weigh from 2 to 5 pounds and if you travel a lot, you might consider getting one of these.
For large companies price comes second to speed and consumables cost. Workgroup printers cost over a thousand dollars but purchasing one of them is a wise decision because they are fast and can print many copies a minute, which is ideal, if you don’t want to see your employees queued up in front of the printer, waiting for their reports to come out. Large multifunctional devices are also a choice.
Types of Printers
We have mentioned up to here the two most popular types of printers: laser printers and inkjets. There is one more type of printers – the matrix printers – but since they are not in demand anymore, we’ll just mention them. Matrix printers could be good as your second or third printer but not as the only one. Matrix printers are more expensive than inkjets and laserjets but their big advantage is that practically you have no consumables to pay for because they use tapes, similar to those of typewriters. Well, their quality is also similar to that of a typewriter and because of this matrix printers are uses mainly where carbon copies are required – i.e. in banks or similar institutions. If you really insist on getting a matrix printer, take an Epson.
Inkjet printers are traditionally considered inferior to laser printers but this is not always so. Inkjets can deliver crisp copy and their unbeatable advantage is photo printing. Inkjets use tiny ink streams to apply small color droplets on the page and the printing quality varies largely among models and manufacturers. There are inkjets with one cartridge for all colours and with separate colour cartridges. Usually the different colour cartridges run out at different times and you can replace them one by one. In contrast, with one-cartridge models when one colour runs out, you must replace the whole cartridge and this costs more money in the long run.
Inkjets are cheap. You can get a new inkjet for under AUS$80 but the reasonable bottom price of an average inkjet is around AUS$150-200.
In addition to the not so great printing quality of low-end inkjets, another disadvantage is that they are much slower than a laser printer of the same class. But probably their biggest disadvantage is that their consumables are very expensive – a new printer can cost less than the price of changing the ink cartridge! As a result of this, inkjets are recommendable mainly for home users/small businesses, which do not demand quality and speed and above all – don’t print many pages a month.
Laser printers are similar to a photocopier because they use powder toner, which is applied to paper with the help of a photographic drum. Most laser printers are monochrome (or more precisely grayscale because they do print shades of gray in addition to black and white) but in recent years the prices of colour laser printers have dropped significantly and now it is possible to buy a new low-end colour laser printer for AUS$400-500. As with inkjets, the lower-end laser printers start under AUS$100 but if you need something better, spending AUS$200-300 for a personal laser printer is reasonable. If you need a laser printer for your office, you can get a network printer for AUS$1,000-2,000 but the really good models are over AUS$2,000.
Multifunctional devices, as their name implies, combine several functions in one physical device. Multifunctional devices can combine a printer, scanner, copier and fax. The printer in a multifunctional device can be either an ink jet, or a laser printer. One of the advantages is that a multifunctional device saves space and it can be much cheaper to get all in one instead of buying the items separately but if you want your printer, scanner, fax or copier to be of different brands, a multifunctional device is not for you. Depending on the technical parameter of the multifunctional, prices start at AUS$150 and the middle range is about AUS$400-500. Corporate multifunctionals are over $1,000.
Printer Technical Parameters to Consider
All printers, no matter if they are inkjets or laser printers, have some technical parameters, which you need to consider, when choosing the model to buy. Ink/toner consumption is one of the most important issues, especially with large volumes. Though you will rarely find an estimated cost per page, printer specifications often list how many pages (with 5% or other percentage density) can be printed with one cartridge. These parameters do make a difference because printing one page with an inkjet printer generally costs 40-50 cents, while the same page when printed on a laser printer is 15-20 cents.
Other common technical parameters that you need to consider are resolution, print speed, page size and memory. Resolution measures how many dots per inch (dpi) a printer can print. Generally, the higher the resolution, the more detailed the image but unless you need professional quality printouts, you won’t need resolutions of more than 600x600dpi.
Print speed is measured in copies per minute. While for home use even 10-12 pages per minute is acceptable, for corporate use 30 pages per minute is the minimum. Print speeds depend largely on what you print, so don’t be disappointed if your fast printer is slow with printing a very detailed image.
Page size is not that much of an issue because for many people a printer, capable of printing an A4 page is enough. There are printers, which can print larger documents but they are hardly the standard choice for companies and individuals. Still, if you need to print documents with nonstandard size, make sure that the printer you are to buy supports this.
Memory is an issue with laser printers because if the printer does not have enough memory (64MB RAM or more), then it will print large documents slowly.
In addition to resolution, print speed, page size and memory, there could be other technical parameters to consider, such as connectivity and drivers. Unless your computer is very unique and runs exotic operating systems, connectivity and drivers will hardly be an issue for you.