Buying Guide: Ink Jet Printers

Buying Guide: How to Buy an Inkjet Printer

It wasn’t long ago that a good inkjet printer cost well over $300. Now you can buy a high quality printer for under $100 – a printer no longer has to be a major investment. The market offers great products that produce quality output at low prices. Printer manufacturers are responding to consumer demand for affordable printers – both inkjet and laser. Entry-level inkjet printers start as low as $50, but there are some models available for as low as $30. Recently, the price has dropped substantially on laser printers as well. Some companies even include a printer with their basic systems. A popular choice is the copier-printer-fax combo system.

Printer features

System Compatibility: Some printers can handle both Windows and Mac operating systems. Before you even begin your search, you’ll have to make sure that it is compatible with your computer setup. The next thing you should look at is how it will connect to your PC. It is preferable to have a USB interface and you should certainly insist upon a USB 2.0-based printer. The difference will be visible when you print large files, as they would take significantly longer to be transferred to your printer over a Parallel or USB 1.1 port as compared to USB 2.0. Check for compatibility of printer’s software, which must be installed on your computer.

Cartridge Type: A good way to find out if a printer is really a photo printer or a normal color printer is to check for the number of cartridges it comes with. Regular color printers normally come with a black and a color cartridge whereas photo printers come with at least four cartridges (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black and is thus called CMYK) and a maximum of six cartridges. The additional two cartridges are for Light Cyan and Light Magenta. Together these 4/6 cartridges try to give you all the varied colors and shades in your document. Ideal systems feature separate ink tanks – one for each color. When one color runs out, you replace just that tank rather than the entire cartridge, helping you eliminate ink waste. Some printers feature a low-ink sensor that alerts you with an on-screen message when ink levels are low. You can avoid running out of ink in the middle of your print job.

Print Resolution: A printer’s resolution determines its print quality. Resolution refers to the number of dots per inch that appear on the page – usually represented as a horizontal and vertical measurement (for example, 600 x 300 dpi). Keep in mind that although some printers go as high as 1200 x 1200 dpi, the average human eye is not likely to notice any difference in quality with common print jobs once you go above 600 x 600 dpi resolution. If you plan to use your printer for photographic printing, you may want to consider a higher resolution printer.

Print Speed: The speed depends on the technology of printing, the size of the document, quality of the paper used, and the configuration of the PC. Printers also have a speed rating, indicated by the number of pages per minute (PPM). The higher the number, the faster the printer. Actual speed may be different based on the amount of graphics on each page. Because color images need more ink, they take longer to print than black and white images. If a printer is particularly slow its speed is measured in minutes per page (mpp). Be cautious of relying on manufacturer listings for print speed. If at all possible, speak to someone who has used the brand of printer you’ve chosen, or do a printer test in-store yourself as noted below.

Max Paper Width: This is the widest piece of paper that can be fed into the printer. Although most printers can print on paper 8.5″ wide, some allows to use even wider paper for posters and other printouts.

Paper and ink capacity: Check out the capacities for the consumables and replaced parts your printer uses. Then you’ll know how often you’ll need to change ink or toner cartridges or add paper. Keep in mind, that color printers have a different cartridge for each color and the cartridges will rarely run out at the same time.

The paper tray is important, as it would get irritating if you have to keep topping it up after every 50 printouts. Go for a printer with a higher tray capacity, say somewhere around 150 to 200 pages at least.

Additional Tray: Some of the printers will let you add an extra tray and some already come with two trays. These are better than those with single trays for two reasons. One is obvious in terms of increased paper capacity but the 2nd reason is just as important. If you do printing on different kinds of paper (say you take rough drafts on cost-effective quality paper and the final drafts on high quality paper) then you can keep these two separately in the two trays and simply change the input tray in the settings. This will lead to increased efficiency and will cut the need to manually put in the superior paper every time.

Paper handling: The Printer has to accommodate all of the paper sizes and types you’ll be using. If you need to print on heavy papers, make sure the printer is designed to handle the heaviest paper you use. The same for transparencies, card stock, and special glossy photo paper. In addition to standard 8.5-by-11-inch paper, you’ll probably want to print envelopes from time to time. If you’ll be switching between different kinds of papers on a regular basis, consider getting a printer with multiple paper drawers, preferably one that supports the ability to select the right paper size or type for each of your print jobs automatically.

Sound Emission: The less the better. Best printers have noise level less than 40dB.

Energy Star labeled printers can cut a printer’s electricity use by over 65%. These printers automatically power down to less than 10 to 100 watts, depending on the number of pages per minute produced and printer type (i.e., standard-sized, color, large/wide-format, and impact). This automatic “power-down” feature cuts the printer’s electricity use. Using the power management feature means your printer will produce less heat. This contributes to a cooler and more comfortable work space, and reduces air-conditioning costs. By generating less heat, your printer may last longer and be more reliable.

Duplex Printing: Duplex printing enables you to print on both sides of a page. There are two kinds of duplex printing: automatic and manual. In automatic duplex printing, the printer automatically prints on both sides of the page without any user intervention whereas in manual Duplex, it prints on one side and then waits for the user to pick the paper from the out tray and put it back in the input tray so it can print on the other side. Manual is very cumbersome as you will invariably get confused about which side should be up and it wont allow you to just hit print and then go about your business; you will have to stay there and manually change page after page after page.

Card Readers: An extension of the above feature is that quite a few printers now come with card readers – meaning you don’t even need to lug your camera around in order to read cards for images. Just carry your memory stick or SD card with you, insert it into the slot in the printer, and print to your heart’s desire.

Screens and Onboard Memory: The obvious limitation seen above is that what if I want to see the images, choose which ones I want to edit, fear not, they have thought of that as well and loads of printers now come with color screens that would put cell phones to shame.

Editing Options: Many printers will let you do basic editing on your images and then print them. This option is very helpful as it removes the need for using a PC if all you want to do is rotate a picture.

Buying Tips

* Base your printer choice on many specifications: text, graphics, and photos each put different demands on a printer.
* Make sure you evaluate a printer by the speed necessary for the quality level you want to use.
* Check the compatibility. If you have an old computer or operating system that doesn’t support USB, make sure a printer has a parallel port.
* If you have a network, make sure a printer has both: the right kind of network connection and software that will work with your network.
* Not all printers allow memory upgrades. Some need little or no memory because they use the computer to process a print job. If a printer allows memory upgrades, make sure it has enough memory for the kind of work you will be doing.
* Choose a printer that can hold enough paper and enough ink or toner. You don’t want to add or change them too often.
* Before buying a printer, check out its manufacturer’s information on the Internet to make sure the site provides driver updates and tech support information.
* When comparing printers, consider the real cost of use, not just the purchase price. This includes power, ink, and ease of use, which equals time better spent doing other things.
* When printing on thick forms or sheets, look for a printer with a very straight paper path to avoid jamming.
* If you plan to print a lot of black and white documents, you should look for a printer that offers a separate black ink tank. Some vendors even offer a high-capacity black cartridge for day-to-day monochrome printing. If you want to print black-and-white and color simultaneously, you’ll want a printer with dual ink cartridge capacity.

Carry a disk with some files with you for a printing test. Ideally, you should have the following documents:

1. A single page containing various font sizes to check the quality of text printing.

2. Another document filled with text to check for the printing speed.

3. Other documents should include graphs, text and images to test the printers capabilities printing business documents and presentations

4. Finally, choose a colorful photograph, which can tell you how adept that model is at printing high quality photographs.

If you are satisfied with the results from these tests, buy it. Normally, it should not take an inkjet more than 10 seconds to print a plain text document.

A final aspect of purchasing any piece of computer equipment is the warranty. It is always advisable to get the longest warranty, most preferably one given by the store itself, as that would ensure that you don’t have to put up with the hassle of shipping the printer to a distant repair center, a chore which can end up taking weeks, or even months.

Once you gone through the list, make sure you do general research by reading individual reviews and evaluations while making your final choice. Before you go shopping, make sure to check ads from your local stores to see if there are any specials available, or buy your printer online!

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