Windows XP / Beginners

Evaluating printers

Most modern printers come in one of two types:

  • Inkjet printers: These work by spraying tiny droplets of ink on paper. Inkjet printers tend to be small, light, and inexpensive. They make less noise than laser printers and consume far less power. Photo-quality printers need expensive paper, but they produce pictures that rival quickie photo labs.
  • Laser printers: These work by fusing powdered toner onto the paper, essentially the same way a photocopier works. Laser printers tend to be larger and heavier than their inkjet cousins, and they cost more too. On the other hand, laser printers tend to be faster than inkjet printers, and any laser printer worth its salt produces much sharper results than an inkjet, at least on normal paper.

Choosing between inkjet and laser would be a reasonably simple chore, if it weren't for one big, fat variable: the cost of consumables.

Remember Inkjet ink costs considerably more per page than laser toner does. This can make an inkjet printer cost more than a laser printer when you consider the cost of supplies over time.

Printing photos

Most modern inkjet printers can print images in full color. Most of them print photographs well, and some are designed specifically for that task. They're cheap to buy (but not so cheap to run - color ink cartridges cost a fortune!), and easy to use.

Color laser printers, on the other hand, are still expensive. The laser printing process does not deal well with areas of even tone or subtle variations in color. A few color laser printers claim to produce photo-quality output, but if you compare the results with that of an inkjet photo printer, you're bound to be disappointed. The majority of color lasers are intended only for printing documents with solid-color features such as headings and charts. Like other laser printers, color laser printers are faster than color inkjet printers and are cheaper to operate.

Dye sublimation printers produce the highest-quality photographic output, yielding results as good as a conventional photographic print or better. They are expensive, though, and they require special paper and dye/ink, both of which are also expensive. The materials for a single print can cost several dollars. For this reason, dye sublimation printers are generally suitable only for photo printing, or for low-production, high-quality brochures and the like, not for general printing.

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