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Guide to Buying a New printer

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Jason Marsh

One of the more perplexing decisions when faced with choosing a new printer is which print technology is going to suit you best. At the moment there are two main printing systems: the laser technology, using toner cartridges and a transfer drum assembly; and ink jets using ink tank cartridges and fine-spray nozzles. The method that will suit you best will depend largely on what you plan to print on your new printer, and cost factors that affect the costs of running it. Laser printers are possibly better for high-volume printing, with lower 'per page' costs and they better black intensity text than most ink jets. Laser printers tend to have a faster page rate but ink jets still offer the important advantages in affordable colour printing.

For home use, you'll probably want to print out digital photos or graphics, which makes colour a must. The traditional differentiation between lasers and ink jets has been office versus home use; however, colour offers obvious presentation advantages for business use as well. Fortunately, prices for both categories of printers have come down enough to make it practical to purchase both a laser and an ink jet if you absolutely need both colour and high-quality text.

The work you do

There are a number of different printer configurations available today, many of them quite specialised in the applications. There are specialised photo printers, direct disc CD printers, Multifunction printers, desktop ink jets and high-speed lasers.

If you want a printer that is specifically designed for printing photographs, you will most likely look for a colour ink-jet system that is a photo printer, allowing very high quality colour output and capable of printing all the way to the edge of the page. Recent releases by major brands now include all-in-one Multifunction devices that include scanning and printing capabilities. Many smaller units that are designed purely as a photo-printer to plug directly into your digital camera are also available. Much the same can be said for CD or DVD printing, with specialist printers available for printing directly onto discs, saving label application.

On the other hand if you are a small home-office worker, then your requirements may be more general, in which case you need to make a printer decision based on the types of documents your produce and how many. In general terms, ink-jet printers offer high-quality colour outputs at a low hardware cost, but high consumable cost. Lasers offer significantly higher speeds but at a much higher hardware cost. High volume usage, however, reduces the cost per page considerably.

Multifunction printers (MFP) are often ideal for home office or student needs because they combine multiple functions into one unit, usually a scanner, printer, copier fax machine, doing a little bit of everything, and saving considerable desk and office space in the bargain. Generally ink-jet style printers, some MFP may trade-off performance for price and convenience (e.g. lower resolution, slower print speed) than if you were to buy a printer and scanner individually.

You can buy Multifunction printers specially configured for printing photographs, with some machines providing the ability to scan directly from 35mm slides and store digital files and print them, which is ideal for archiving old photo libraries. However, the scanned images may not exhibit the same clarity and brightness of digitally captured photographs, or as the kind of quality that you can obtain from a dedicated scanner. Search PrinterCentral for the specifications you require and compare prices and performance between brands and technologies.

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Jason Marsh
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