Printers have become an essential part of everyday computer usage. Once upon a time there were few options causing the decision process involved with printer purchases to be quite simple. Now too many features, options, and brands exist to remember. Printers can be much more than just printers. Though this is the case, there are easy-to-remember basics you need to know when shopping for a printer:
Printers are best understood when split up into categories by function.
Ink Jets (sometimes known as desk jets) are probably the most common type of printer used in the home. They are the cheapest usually starting at close to $50 while rarely being more than a couple hundred dollars. Ink jets do both black and white and color printing reasonably well. Pros include the price, ease of use and installation, and size (usually much smaller than other printers). Cons include the following: Ink jets require ink to be replaced much more frequently. This can be quite costly, as ink can be more than $50 for the necessary cartridges. Thus, you may pay little upfront but you’ll end up paying more over time.
Laser printers use a different technology allowing toner (ink) to last much longer. As such, laser printers usually have less of an ongoing expense, though they can be quite a bit more expensive upfront (from at least $200 to thousands of dollars). Laser printers are generally designed for black and white printing, though the more expensive models also handle color. Laser printers print much faster than ink jets and have a higher quality output.
Multi-Function Printers (MFPs)
MFP printers combine two or more features into a single unit. For example, a “3 in 1” usually refers to a unit that prints, copies, and scans while a “4 in 1” usually refers to a unit that prints, copies, scans, and faxes. These units can be either ink jet based or laser based. All the same pros and cons of ink jets and lasers apply to this category. Other pros that MFP specific printers have include the obvious ability of one unit able to do everything. This can be much less expensive than buying separate units for each function. It also saves quite a bit of space. Cons include the fact that it creates a single point of failure. If something causes your MFP to malfunction, not only can you not print, many times you also can’t scan, copy, or fax. Also, the quality of each function can be somewhat compromised when compared to a unit dedicated to that function. In other words, the fax machine built into a MFP may not have nearly as many options as a stand alone fax machine.
Photo printers usually start around $100 and allow you to print professional photos in your home. These printers work well for photos, though they are usually not designed for other printing needs. There are photo printers that claim to be both photo printers and “all purpose,” though like the MFP, quality is usually compromised when one unit claims to handle multiple tasks.
Outside of these four categories, some other basics you should know are Pages Per Minute (PPM – how fast the printer prints) and DPI (Dots Per Inch, the resolution or quality of printing). Some printers – mostly the photo and ink jet printers – come with slots for memory sticks. So if you use a digital camera with memory cards, rather than downloading your pictures to the computer and then printing, you can insert your memory card directly into the printer bypassing the computer.