Buyer's Guide: Printers

By SmallBusinessComputing Staff | Posted September 19, 2002
Wayne N. Kawamoto
Managing Editor, www.smallbusinesscomputing.com

Whether your office needs color from an ink-jet, or the crisp and clear, black and white output of a laser, there's a printer that will suit your business needs. Today, most business and personal printers rely on three different technologies: inkjet, laser, and LED (light-emitting diode). By far, inkjet and laser printers dominate the market.

Inkjet printers use replaceable cartridges that spray tiny drops of ink onto a page. While inkjet printers cost less than laser printers and output attractive color pages, some of which can rival photos, inkjets tend to be slow and cost more to operate, by the page.

Laser (and LED) printers rely on a technology that is similar to that used by photocopying machines. Here, the printers rely on a light-sensitive drum rolls that's electrostatically charged and attracts particles of toner, and then fuses the toner onto paper in the form of the original image. The result are fast and clear, and per page costs are less than those for inkjet printers.

Most businesses rely on laser printers because of their fast output; lower cost per page; and clear, attractive output. Laser printers output at 600 dots per inch (dpi), which results in crisp documents (the more dots per inch, the higher the resolution and the better the output). Some higher-priced laser printers output at resolutions of 1,200 or 2,400dpi.

Generally, if you want to print in color, buy an inkjet printer. While there are color lasers on the market that offer fast color printing, they tend to be very expensive. But if you will be printing large volumes of color documents, a color laser can be worth the investment.

Inkjet printers claim output resolutions of 1,200dpi or 2,400dpi, which initially sound high, but because of the inkjet process that relies on distributing drops of ink, the output is never as sharp as that of a laser printer. We recommend that you always evaluate the actual output from an inkjet printer before you buy it. Photo-quality inkjets are a type of inkjet printer that output better photographs, but are usually slower.

As mentioned earlier, inkjet printers cost less than laser printers, but are more expensive to operate. As a result, don't purchase an inkjet printer to save money. While the cost of an inkjet printer is lower, the cost of color cartridges quickly add up.

Printer memory is a consideration, particularly with laser printers. As with PCs, the more memory, the better. Laser and LED printers render entire pages in memory before they print. Many personal and lower-end business models cut costs by relying on the memory of a PC to manage their print jobs. Workgroup printers for offices and businesses often come with 32 or 128MB of memory, or more, and can hold multiple pages. In comparison, inkjet printers usually require only a small amount of memory.

Print speed is measured in pages per minute (ppm). The faster, the better, and the more expensive the printer. Laser printers are faster than inkjet printers. And keep in mind that customers rarely obtain the print speeds that are touted by the September 18, 2002manufacturers.

The monthly duty cycle is a specification that estimates the number of pages a printer can handle in a month. Most household won't print enough documents to get close to a printers' monthly duty cycle, but offices and businesses may.

Generally, if you will be outputting lots of documents, get a printer with a monthly duty cycle that's approximately four times the number of pages that your office or business will need to print in a month.

Another consideration for offices, while most printers connect to USB ports, most offices will probably want to purchase printers that connect directly to the network through an Ethernet port.

Other considerations. Be sure that you purchase a printer that works with your operating system. Also, most printers come with warranties that cover the device for one or two years. It's important to understand your options should something go wrong. And if you are running a printer in an office or business, an extended warranty may be worth considering.

Test Drive: Canon N1000 Office Color Printer

Test Drive: HP DeskJet 5550

Test Drive: Lexmark Z65 Inkjet Printer 

Test Drive: Linksys Instant Wireless PrintServer

Test Drive: Canon S820D Photo Printer

Test Drive: HP Officejet d145 All-in-one 

Lexmark Z53 Color Jetprinter

Brother HL-1440 Laser Printer


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