Choosing a Printer
Most people are at least a little daunted by the sheer number of printer models now available. Trying to decide if a laser printer is the best choice, or if an inkjet printer is more suitable to your situation can be difficult. Most people work with printers frequently, either at home or at the office, but working with a printer doesn’t always equal understanding its capabilities. To select the printer best suited to your specific needs, you must first understand the difference between inkjet, laser, multifunction and dot matrix/impact printer technology.
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The number one factor that determines print quality across the various kinds of printers is resolution, or DPI (Dots Per Inch). DPI is the amount of ink a printer can place in a one-inch line of your print document. Print speed is a function of the type of documents you are printing, so a document that is graphically intensive will take longer to print than a single page letter. Network connectivity is another feature built-in to many printers. This allows multiple computer systems to use the same printer via a Cat-5 Ethernet cable or WIFI network connections. And, if you would like to print double sided documents be sure to look for a printer that can print duplex.
Types of Print Technology
A lot of different types of printers are available on the market today, and each has its own advantages and limitations. For the purpose of this article we will be working with the following general types of print technology:
• Inkjet Printers
• Laser Printers
• Multi-Function Printers
• Dot Matrix/Impact Printers
• Thermal Printers
Many of these basic print technologies have been specialized, and resized, for specific purposes. For example, a photo printer is typically a highly specialized inkjet designed to use high quality ink, and produce prints at the standard 4 x 6 photo size.
One of the most common types of printers in use today is the Inkjet Printer. Inkjet technology is used in everything from inexpensive printers for home use to professional wide-format printers used in sign shops and on-demand promotional printing. Inkjets typically print out an average of 13 to 15 Pages Per Minute (PPM) in black and 11 to 13 PPM in color, and some can print 30+ PPM in color and black. You’ll want to check the individual statistics of the model you’re interested in for exact specs. A huge assortment of printers of this kind are available from various manufacturers like Hewlett Packard, Epson, Cannon, Lexmark, and many more.
There are two main types of print heads used by inkjet printers—thermal and piezoelectric. The print head houses an array of microscopic nozzles used to fire drops of ink onto the page. In some printers, typically on the lower end, the print head is actually part of the ink cartridge. Thermal heads employ a small heater filament in each nozzle that heats ink to the boiling point to create a steam bubble. When the bubble bursts, ink shoots out one end of the nozzle onto the page while more ink is sucked into the other end. A piezoelectric head uses a crystal that, when given an electric charge, vibrates. These vibrations push ink out of the nozzles while bringing more ink in the other end. Most inkjet printers being sold today use piezoelectric print heads as they allow for higher resolution, and a greater range of usable inks.
Advantages to Inkjet Printing:
Cost and flexibility are the main advantages to inkjet printers. If you need something for your desktop that will be used for low volume printing of multiple types of documents including self-adhering labels, brochures, and even iron-on t-shirt designs an inkjet printer will work very well.
High quality, large format inkjet printers are also ideal for many industrial printing needs. Signs, packaging and even printing directly to products are often best handled by professional grade inkjet printers.
Laser printers are the work horse of the office world. High end laser printers can reach speeds of 200 monochrome (printed only with shades of black) PPM and 100 PPM in color. Laser printers are also typically quieter than many other types of printers, because they have few moving parts, no impact print head and don’t stop and start in the middle of printing a single page.
There are now low end consumer laser printers that will use the host computer’s memory and processor to generate the print image to send to the printer, but it is still best to look for a laser printer with onboard memory. A laser printer will print each page completely, without stopping, so it needs to be able store that page information for quick printing. A single sheet of 8.5 x 11 paper at 300 DPI (standard print quality) has a maximum of 7,560,000 possible printable dots if your margins are set at 0.25in. That 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper at 300 DPI requires a minimum of 1MB of memory to print.
A laser printer uses a high voltage wire, called a corona wire, to give the printer’s drum a positive static electric charge. In more recent printers the same thing is accomplished by a primary charge roller. The laser is then bounced off a moving mirror to put the image on the drum as negatively charged areas. Powdered ink, or toner, with a positive charge then coats the areas of the drum that are negatively charged.
The paper is also given a positive charge. And as it moves close to the drum the toner is transferred to the paper. Pass it through two hot rollers, the fuser, and the powdered ink is fused permanently to the paper’s fibers, and your print is done.
Advantages to Laser Printers:
Laser printers are great for high volume printing situations. While toner cartridges cost more than ink jet cartridges, you get a lot more mileage out of the toner for a lower overall cost. Newer, color laser printers are much less likely to have obvious registration errors (or very slight misalignment of color layers), and can offer higher end resolution prints as well. However, paper choices are a little more limited, because the paper must be heated when going through the fuser to make the ink stick.
Multifunction, or All-In-One printers, can copy, scan and fax. They are not just a printer, but also have a built-in scanner, and telephone keypad for faxing. Multifunction Printers come with either inkjet or laser printer technology, and print quality on most multifunction printers is similar to most inkjet or laser printers. For most users today, this is the perfect combinational product for their needs.
Advantages to Multifunction Printers:
Multifunction printers are the perfect solution to limited space, or infrequent need for a fax or scanner. They are a great all-inclusive device that can perform all of the functions of several office devices and fit conveniently on your desk.
Dot Matrix/Impact Printers
One of the oldest computer-based printing technologies is still around. Dot Matrix printers use an impact technology to fire a coarse wire at a ribbon to produce the image on the page by transferring ink from the ribbon onto the page. If you think even further back, this is how a typewriter works. And, in certain applications only a dot matrix printer will do, such as printing multi-part forms.
Advantages to Dot Matrix/Impact Printers:
Dot Matrix printers are the only type of printer that can produce continuous, or multi part forms. The auto dealership’s service shop isn’t behind the times, they have a real need to print forms with duplicates to be filed and given to customers. These printers, and their supplies, are still readily available.
Thermal printers use heat to produce an image on coated thermochromic paper. When the paper passes over the thermal print head the heat causes an image to appear in black, or if you invest in a two color thermal printer a second color (typically red) is achieved by heating to different temperatures for each specific color.
Advantages to Thermal Printers:
Thermal printers are quieter than dot matrix printers, and often quite a bit faster. Roll-based printers can be rapidly refilled, and thermal printers are smaller and use less energy. Many of the places that benefit from the use of thermal printers include gas station pumps, point of sale systems, information kiosks, print on demand labels for shipping and products, and for recording live rhythm strips on hospital cardiac monitors.
Keep in mind
When making a decision on printers for your organization you will want to keep in mind how the specifications of individual models fill your needs. It is also important to know whether the equipment is intended for light use or a constant heavy duty use cycle, what the manufacturer’s warranty period is, and whether or not the equipment is serviceable by a local service shop.