The printer market has developed rapidly in recent years with the increase of people using digital cameras, printer quality especially for photo quality is now of such a high standard everyone can produce good results quickly and easily themselves.
These are the most popular printer for home and small office use. Depending on the model you may have four cartridges or even six, six primarily feature in the photo and all-in-one versions but these can depend on the product and maker.
Many printers now include memory card reader and a small LCD screen. These allow you to view, crop and resize images and print directly from the memory card without the need of a PC.
The colours of Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow alongside a dedicated black cartridge are normally used in the majority or printer models to reproduce the colour spectrum. Depending on the model the three colours may either be in separate cartridges or combined into one. If separate this allows for just the one to be replaced rather than the whole cartridge. Many now include additional cartridges often six, which include additional colours to help reproduce quality image output.
This type of printing works by the print head marking dots of colour onto the page this pattern along with the other nozzles and colours combines to form the picture.
Laser printing has typically been limited to the office as the unit costs and ongoing costs of toners made it out of reach to the majority of other users. This is starting to change with makers now selling mono lasers for around £60.
Laser printers are still superior in terms to speed compared to the Inkjet, here the PPM is normally at least double the Inkjet at 20-30PPM. Instead of using Ink these printers coat toner powder onto a drum which has been charged with an electrical current and where the laser has marked points, effectively drawing the letters onto the drum, the toner is attracted to the discharged points then this is rolled onto a sheet of paper. Lasers are easily more cost efficient on a cost per page basis.
Colour laser printers are still very costly at several hundred pounds the output quality is very high most organisations either buy both and keep the Laser for text and use the Inkjet for images and graphics. Or if that is not practical stick with a quality Inkjet even though the text quality and speed performance will be lower.
Ideal for those who wish to have a dedicated photo printer, and the ability to be used without a PC makes them easily accessible to those put off printing pictures as it used to involve a PC. Of course they can also be connected to a PC.
These normally include both a memory card reader and a LCD screen to view images. Some include features to allow resizing and minor adjustments to improve the image prior to printing.
Printing your digital images means you either need to print them yourself which is fine. Although it can be time consuming if you do not have any software to help you resize the images to a standard format.
You could take your images to the high street, some print same day whilst others email them away and they are posted back to the store for you to collect. Either way this method is costly and is one reason why more people are using the online companies to reproduce their images. These companies often only charge 10p per image depending on the size of the image. Your prints will be sent to you, so you don't need to worry about the amount of your ink or paper. They will be sent professionally printed onto quality photo paper in hard backed packaging.
When choosing a printer you should not only take the price as the main factor, but look at the cost of buying replacement cartridges and any papers. If applicable try to estimate how much printing you are likely to require this The ongoing consumable costs is where the makers make most of their money and often take a loss on the main units themselves to compete with the competitive market.
It isn't unusual to see printers for sale for under £30 this may seem a good deal, but often the replacements inks will cost the same or more than the cost of the unit.
Borderless printing is worth having. With it you will not need to manually cut round the image.
Would an LCD screen, and card reader be of use? Ideal for those less PC savvy.
The Size (Footprint) the amount of space the printer takes up is also worth thinking about as the larger models and all-in-ones may not fit on your existing desk. Also remember to take into account additional room for trays and paper feeders.
Printer Resolution is measured in dots per inch (DPI) which is standard for all printer formats. DPI is the number of individual dots a printer can print next to each other on a line one inch long. The resolution is just one of the factors that determines how good a printers output is, the only real way to check is to visit stores and view test prints so your eye can see what the quality is like.
Branded Ink Cartridges are how the companies make most of their money as during the printer's lifetime they hope you will have purchased countless cartridges and thrown the empty ones away. However you could either re-use these empty cartridges by buying a refill kit which allows you to syringe amounts of ink back into the cartridge.
In my experience this process does work and can save you a small fortune however it can be messy. Results especially on images can sometimes be of a lower quality than a branded or cheaper compatible standard cartridge.
You can of course use the branded versions which for Inkjets can easily cost £20-£30 as you will typically need four or six cartridges, or you could use one of the compatible brands available. These are available at a much cheaper price often just one or two pounds per cartridge. Normally sites offer special deals which means for the cost of a branded set you could afford two or three compatible versions.
Again people's experiences will differ but I haven't noticed any problems with performance or results by using the cheaper compatible cartridges.
The speed of a printer is given in pages per minute (PPM). I have yet to come across a printer which has achieved the quoted PPM. So I would suggest you take this into account as the quoted speeds I would imagine when printing at a low resolution, when printing at high resolutions the time to print each page will ultimately take longer to print.
If you are new to printing then it is normal to think why would you pay extra for special papers. The reason is to print photos or at high resolutions you should use a quality paper or coated papers.
Cheap and standard papers often result in some bleeding of the inks and can make the output appear darker or dull. Most printers include a sample pack of different papers to try so you can experiment with what works for your images.
The most popular method of connecting the printer to your PC is USB. Although this is not the only way, some Inkjets still include an older Parallel Port connection which allows you to connect via a separate lead to your Parallel port on your PC.
Ethernet is also the main standard in many printers especially the models aimed for Business use as this allows you to easily connect the printer to your whole network.
Printer software now includes more than just the basic driver. Most include utilities to control the settings of the printer; you can often change the resolution and orientation and choose which tray to print from. Other tasks include indicating the ink level in a graphic form and of course telling you if any errors occur and maintenance tasks to keep the printer in good working order.
The bundled software which comes with the printer is often limited and some what basic but allows you to get a feel for the printer by starting to produce items such as posters and flyers. Some include a Photo suite so you can start manipulating the latest batch of photos before printing or emailing.
Whatever your budget is there is a printer that will fit your needs. As I have mentioned printers can start from as little as £30 and can go through the hundreds to thousands of pounds for a multifunction fast colour laser printer.
Inkjets are the most affordable to the masses and for around £100 you will be able to buy an easy to setup and maintain printer capable of printing quality text and photo images.
Lasers will cost several hundred for a colour model or for around £100 for a mono. They are faster and do provide a better output quality than Inkjets.
Where possible visit a store to view some example prints or view the press for regular roundups. It is very hard to find a printer that does perform badly most criticisms fall to the price for consumables or the lack of additional features as many include readers and screens.