Tips for Finding the Proper Printer For Your Home or Office

By: Larry Denton

The early 1960's brought the next major printing improvement with the use of cathode ray tubes (CRT) being used for photocomposition. Today, most functions in advanced composition systems--justification of lines, hyphenation of words, and calculations of page depths--are handled by computer.

With the computer age came dot-matrix printers, first for the office and then becoming affordable for home use. Now, affordable, high-quality digital printers have become available, at reasonable prices, for use in the home or office. We have certainly come a long way with printing devices over the centuries. Today, a printer is one of the essential peripherals you will need for your computer. The difficulty in buying the right one is complicated by the fact that are so many types, models and features from which to choose.

The best approach when buying any major item is to educate yourself. Start slowly, you don't need to become a Canon or an HP expert. You simply need to know some of the terminology so you do not feel overwhelmed by the meaningless technical jargon used by some salesmen who are more concerned about a commission than your personal needs as a customer.

Some important terms to know include: inkjet, laser, dpi, cpi (characters per inch), impact printers, optical density, nozzle, cartridge, cpp (cost per page), cps (characters per second), and toner.

Three different technologies dominate in the field of personal printers: inkjet, laser, and to a lesser extent, LED (light-emitting diode).

Using replaceable cartridges that spray fine droplets of ink, personal inkjet are the least expensive, but print slowly. Laser printers use a process similar to that of a photocopier: a light-sensitive drum rolls charged black toner onto the paper. This produces crisp, fast printouts, but the machines are more expensive to purchase.

Before comparing prices of specific brand or models, first decide whether you want ink jet or laser. Your choice should be determined by the jobs you plan to send to the printer. Lasers still win the speed contest, while ink jets offer an important advantage of color printing. In the past, the choice was fairly consistent: lasers were used in the office, while inkjets were purchased for home use. Fortunately, with the rapidly changing technology, prices for both types of printers have been reduced enough to make it possible to purchase one of each, if you absolutely need both color and high-quality text.

Another decision to be made before shopping would be your resolution needs. Resolution--the sharpness or the clearness of the image--is measured in Dots Per Inch (dpi). A basic definition required for different uses is as follows: general-purpose txt: 300 dpi; higher quality text and graphics: 600 dpi; photo-quality images: 1,200 dpi; professional quality photos: 2,400 dpi. Be aware that resolution rating do not tell the whole story. Most vendors design their own techniques for enhancing resolutions through software algorithms. Consequently, some 600 dpi printers will produce images equal to a 1,200 dpi printer.

Other important considerations should be speed--pages per minute (ppm); ink/toner configuration; paper capacity and handling; the connection type (will it interface with your computer); driver software; media (can it handle glossary photo paper, card stock and envelopes); construction; the amount of space it takes at your work space; and certainly, price. Surprisingly, printers are now available under $70. Whatever your budget, with a little comparison shopping, you can find the printer that is right for your particular situation at an affordable price.

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