Printers are among the most popular of computer accessories, but many consumers are content to accept any printer that is packaged with their computer. It is important to note that different printer types offer very different results, and you may be better served making your own choice. When deciding what type of printer to purchase, you will first have to ask yourself the question, 'What type of printing will I be doing – mostly text, graphics, or photos?' With the answer to this question in hand, you will be ready to make a decision.
InkJet: InkJet Printers utilize ink cartridges for printing, usually a single black cartridge and a combination cyan/magenta/yellow cartridge for colors. The emphasis is on picture quality, and InkJet Printers are generally relatively slow (15-25 pages per minute). InkJet Printers are the preferred choice for printing photos, and better models can achieve almost true photographic quality.
Laser: Laser Printers offer one clear advantage over InkJet Printers: speed. Print speeds of 30+ pages per minute are standard, and the fastest models may exceed 50 pages per minute. The vast majority of laser printers are monochrome (black and white), they generally offer improved clarity and crisper edges when printing text and simple graphics, and a relatively low cost per page. Until recently color laser printers were too expensive for individuals or small businesses, but there are now several models for less than $500.
Multifunction Printers: Both InkJet and Laser Printers offer a number of models that are true 'Multifunction Printers' and can operate as a printer, scanner, copier, and fax machine. Multifunction printers are available with either laser printers for speedy text and occasional graphics, or inkjet printers for vibrant photos. The only disadvantage to these printers is that they are larger than standalone printers, and require additional desk space. Prices for Multifunction Printers have come down to such an extent that there is really no other reason anymore to choose a standalone printer – you're almost always better off going with the versatility of a multifunction model.
Resolution: Measured in dots per inch, resolution is usually the most important factor for consumers. 600dpi is the low end of the scale, 1200dpi has become the standard, and pricier models feature 2400dpi. Advanced models may offer 'edge enhancement', a feature that improves resolution by filling in the gaps between dots on the edges of text and graphics. Regardless of dpi count, InkJets remain better at printing photos, and Lasers are superior for text and graphics.
Speed: As noted above, Laser Printers offer a clear advantage in speed, but there are notable differences within the types. High volume printing, especially in a professional or office setting, demands a faster printer. The high end for speed is measured for black & white printing – color printing is slower no matter what the model.
Connectivity: Wireless connectivity (Ethernet, Bluetooth or Wi-Fi) is the preferred choice for most users, due to the popularity of laptop computers. A USB connection has become the secondary standard, and many new printers do not offer the old-style parallel connection. If you have an older computer, make sure you can connect to any printer you are looking to buy.
HP still dominates the market for printers, and they offer a wide selection of all types. Canon has concentrated its offerings at either end of the market – pricy models for high-end users, as well as bargain models. Lexmark and Brother are known for their bargain models, but have also introduced some upscale platforms recently.