Printers: Can't Live With Them, Can't Live Without Them (Part 2)

9/17/2012 9:01:28 AM

Inkjet printers are dirt cheap, low maintenance (if they break, you just replace them) and the ink doesn't cost a huge amount. They can be utilized for almost any purpose, as long as you're willing to wait for the output - printouts of high-detail images or a large number of pages can take far longer than it's convenient to wait around for. Even so, they can't be beaten on price and their versatility is hard to argue with.

Example Models: Epson Stylus S22 ($48), HP Deskjet 1000 ($52), Epson XP30 ($56)

Description: Epson Stylus S22

Fastest Printer

You want a printer that's going to chuck out a large number of pages in not much time at all. Perhaps you expect to print long projects and reports on a frequent basis, often to close deadlines. Maybe you want to share one printer between multiple people (in a student household, for example). Printing will occur at least once a week, if not more frequently, but you'll largely be printing text and greyscale diagrams - you certainly don't expect to be printing photos at any point!


Best Choice: Monochrome Laser

A monochrome laser will handle pages and pages of text without breaking a sweat. Toner might cost a bit more than the cartridges for an inkjet printer, but they'll last significantly longer. The only real problem here is with fragility. If a laser printer breaks, they're expensive enough to be worth repairing, but that can leave you without a printer for days while you wait for an engineer. The lack of color printing might be a sporadic irritation, but ultimately color capabilities would just be nice to have - they're not an essential requirement.

Example Models: Dell 113ON ($115), Samsung ML-21 60 ($121), HP LaserJet Pro P1102W ($144)

Description: Samsung ML-21 60

Laser printers: fast, and cheaper in the long run?

Most Versatile Printer

You're looking for a printer than can handle whatever you throw at it: low quality drafts, high quality images, small documents, long documents -everything from compilations of photos to example letters. Money isn't as much as a concern as having the capabilities there - as long as it does the job, you don't mind paying extra to make sure that it does it well. Performance, however, is important: not only do print-outs need to look good; they have to be produced quickly as well.


Printer Jargon

DPI / Resolution - Stands for 'dots-per-inch' and, in practical terms, describes the level of detail that a printer can reproduce. The higher the DPI, the better the image will be, and the more ink it'll use. DPI values higher than 600 are more than enough for photograph reproduction in a home setting (magazines, for example, are usually printed at 300 DPI) and even basic inkjets will go somewhere towards 1200 if pushed. Remember, though, that to get quality that high, you will need to use high-quality paper that can handle that level of output, otherwise the ink will bleed and run, reducing the quality and appearance of the printout.

Duplex - Printers with a duplex setting can automatically print on both sides of a sheet of paper, without intervention from the user. Great for saving paper, and an undeniable time-saver if you print a lot of booklets or handouts that need to use both sides of a page.

Inkjet - The current standard for home printers, 'inkjet1 refers to the method of image production, where fine droplets of ink are used to create high-quality images at low cost. Inkjet technology may also be called 'bubble jet' by printer manufacturer, Canon.

Laser - Laser printers offer substantially higher image quality and much faster speeds than inkjet ones, but at a much higher cost for toner. Usually reserved for business use where one printer will be expected to serve several people.

Description: HP LaserJet Pro P1102W

Multifunction / MFP - A multi-function printer usually comprises a printer, scanner, photocopier and fax machine rolled together into one hulking beast of a machine. MFPs are ideal for home and small offices where space is at a premium, and it can be simpler to deal with one accessory instead of several - though obviously, if it breaks down, things could grind to a halt.


Best Choice: Color Laser

Color laser printers are expensive enough to begin with, and that's before you consider how much the toner is going to cost when it runs out. Still, there's no denying that they'll handle any job you throw at them. A color laser printer will print everything you could possibly want without ever producing sub- standard results. Just be careful to maintain them properly if you're a heavy user - a complex set of internals means color laser printer failures are just waiting to turn up at the least opportune moment.

Example Models: Brother HL-3040CN ($204), HP LaserJet CP1 525N ($315), Lexmark C540n ($158)

Description: Brother HL-3040CN

Most Features

You don't just want a printer - you want a piece of home office equipment that's capable of acting as a photocopier and scanner, and maybe even fax machine. Why use separate devices when a few modifications can allow a printer to do all that they do, and probably more besides? You don't mind spending a little more than usual, safe in the knowledge that the price will justify itself in the long-term.


Best Choice: Multi-Function Printer

Under the right conditions, an all-in-one device can save you both money and desk space. Of course, even though they do save space overall, all-in-one printers are still fairly large and will require specific pride of place in order to have all their features accessible and working, so bear in mind that they are fairly demanding in that area. Perhaps the most valuable function of all-in-ones is their ability to act as a photocopier - a highly useful addition to a home office, as well as for education-focused tasks like revision and collation.

Example Models: Canon PIXMA MX435 ($95), HP Deskjet 2050A ($57), Epson Stylus Office BX62 5FWD ($140)

Description: Canon PIXMA MX435

High-End Printer

You want a top-of-the-line printer, and you don't care how much you spend to get one. You want it to do everything except the laundry, and you want it to do it without making you wait or delivering anything less than the highest standards. Photos, text, diagrams - everything you do have to be perfect first time.

Best Choice: Color Laser MFP

Multifunctional laser printers are incredibly expensive compared to their similarly capable Inkjet-based siblings, but there's no getting away from the fact that they also offer superior performance. Admittedly, laser all-in-one printers are so large that a home office or bedroom computer setup would struggle to house them conveniently, but price aside, that's the only area in which they're demonstrably worse than other devices. Before you buy a multifunction of any kind, you should probably consider how often you'd use it as a photocopier or fax machine - multi-function printers are often more expensive than a stand-alone scanner and color laser printer would be alone, so make sure you're only paying for the extra features if you plan to use them.

Example Models: HP Color LaserJet CP1 525N ($315), Epson CX16 ($398), Brother MFC-9120CN ($403).

Description: Epson CX16


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