Buying a Computer Printer

By Phillip P. Daniel

Letís face it, without printers, you would never be able to print out the latest script of your own Star Trek movie, that Photoshopped picture of you in the Captainís chair of the Star Ship Enterprise, or love letters that your internet girlfriend wrote you in Klingon. Yes printers are a very important peripheral for any modern compute-o-phile, and without them, your new set up in not complete. Yet not all printers are created equally, or for the same tasks for that matter. Below is a well written an easy to understand guide to buying a printer that covers all of the things that you should keep in mind when splurging for that new piece of hardware. If you are looking for a specific model feel free to skip to the indivdual reviews that are compiled at the bottom of the page.

Buying a Printer

by Jill Ehrenzweig (with some additions by P.P.D.)

-Issues to Consider-


The quality of printers is constantly improving. They are getting faster, quieter, and producing higher quality output. In order to make an informed decision when purchasing a printer, it is important to determine your need before you begin to evaluate the different models. Are you looking for equipment that can produce high quality, high quantity, or both? Some questions which are helpful to ask are: What kinds of documents will you be printing? Will they mostly be textual documents or will they include graphics and charts? What will you use these documents for (mailing labels, annual reports, camera ready copy, etc.)? Can you rely on black and white printing or do you need color? What quantity of printing will you be doing? Do you intend to network the printer? How much money to you plan to spend? And lastly, where will you house the printer? After you've determined the levels of quality and quantity you need, you can assess which type of printer is suitable for you.


Dot Matrix Printers: A dot matrix printer is the low cost, low end model of printer. It operates similarly to a typewriter. A print head contains various pins which strike against an ink ribbon, marking dots on a page to create characters. Nine-pin print heads are capable of producing low quality output, while printers with 24-pin print heads produce higher quality output. Because dot matrix printers function by the mechanical movement of pins striking against a roller, they are comparatively louder and slower than the other two types of printers, ink jets and lasers. But for those interested in printing large quantities of black and white pages at an inexpensive price, they're often a good option, and for those who need to use continuous feed paper, they're the only option. Both other types of printer only accommodate single sheets of paper.

Ink Jet Printers/Photo Printers: For better quality printouts than dot matrix and/or for printing in color, both the ink jet and laser printers offer good solutions. Ink Jet printers spray dots of ink onto a page, thereby creating characters. They require less mechanical movement than dot matrix printers, thus they're quieter, quicker, and produce a higher quality output than dot matrix printers. They're the mid-range printers, both for cost and for output, and they're suitable equipment for most offices or homes. However, because the ink spreads ever slightly when sprayed onto a page, it is not possible for ink jets to attain quite the same level of clarity as laser printers. High end ink jet printers can also be used for photo printing, allowing for levels of detail that can match those of any professional establishment. These printers tend to be more expensive, and have a much higher resolution then the traditional ink just printer. When looking to make a purchase, keep in mind that the higher the resolution, the better your photos will look.

Laser Printers: Laser printers are capable of producing the highest quality output of the three types of printers. The way they work is by directing high temperature beams into toner powder to fuse it onto paper. Though ink jet printers produce high enough quality to accommodate most office jobs, camera-ready output can only be achieved by a laser printer. With the complicated technology of laser printers, it's not surprising that they are the most expensive of the three models.


-What to Look For-

How fast does the printer work?

The rate of speed at which a printer works is measured in one of two ways, pages per minute (ppm) or characters per second (cps). When evaluating printer speed, it is important to realize that the advertised speed of a printer is the speed at which it is possible for the printer's engine to work. Oftentimes, a printer can only attain the advertised speed when it is printing large black and white text. If the text is small, the printing is in color, or if there are charts or graphics, the speed is significantly reduced. The only way to determine the speed a printer can generate dense pages is by testing them using several types of documents. Try printing a basic word processor document on different printers, then try printing a page with heavy graphics.

How sharp is the output?

Resolution is measured in dots per inch (dpi). Unlike speed which is measured in ppm's or cps's, resolution is only measured in dpi's. That should make things easy for the consumer; however, there are some unique exceptions to keep in mind. If an ink jet printer and a laser printer produce the same dpi, the laser printer's output will be sharper. A laser with a resolution enhancers will produce much crisper output than its advertised dpi. Also, if something is advertised as having a certain "class", it means that it has a lower dpi that produces output similar to the noted class. For example, if a printer has a 720-class, it may be a 600 dpi printer that produces output similar to a 720 dpi. Another thing to watch for is whether the output of an ink jet smudges on a newly printed page. Though smudging doesn't occur with many models, it is still something to test for.


How large is the paper tray, what size of paper can it hold, is it designed to guard against jamming, is it easy to remove jams, can you find and understand the function buttons, is it big, noisy, heavy, or does it vibrate excessively?


What components need to be replaced or maintained regularly? For printing, dot matrix printers use ribbons. Ribbons are less expensive and last longer than cartridges for ink jet printers. The toner cartridges for laser printers last the longest but are also the most costly. One specific thing to look into with color ink jet cartridges, is how the color black is made. Some models make black by spraying all other colors together. These models use up color cartridges quickly. For those which have a separate cartridge for black, check whether the black can be replaced independently of the other colors. Since black is used most, being able to replace it independently is efficient.

With paper, only dot matrix printers can accommodate continuous feed, while all can take typing bond and photocopier paper, typically 8.5" x 11", and a few can hold larger. Photocopy paper is the cheapest paper because of its low grade stock and the quantities it is ordered in. Continuous bond paper costs more. Sometime special costly paper and/or transparency film is needed with ink jet printers to prevent smudging. This is particularly common for printing graphics and colors.

As you cas see there are many intricate details to keep in mind when buying a new printer. Below is a list of individual models with reviews that can help make purchasing that new printer much less painful then watching Star Trek Generations (a low point of the series...i don't even consider it a real Star Trek film).

Computer Printer Reviews: