Whether youre printing out photos at home or important documents at the office, a reliable printer is a must-have. But with so many options on the market, how do you know which one is right for you?
From top-of-the-range models that are lightning fast and offer incredible print quality to simple, affordable options. Choice, functionality and quality is higher than ever before, whatever your budget.
There are four main types of printers on the market today - inkjet, photo, all-in-one and laser. And with plenty to choose from in each category, there is bound to be one thats right for you. Print sizes up to A3 are now easily available and wireless options offer more flexibility than ever before.
Printers the four main options
Inkjet printers are a favourite for home computing as they offer relatively high quality at low prices. They work by spattering the page with thousands of small dots of ink. The more dots there are per inch, commonly expressed as dpi, the higher the quality.
An inkjet printer would be a good option for someone wanting to print out documents and photographs at home, but they can be a little slow.
Perfect for high-volume printing, laser printers are often favoured by businesses who deal with lots of paperwork. Although they can be more costly than inkjets to buy, laser printers create high-quality copies quickly and smudged pages will be a thing of the past. They work by drawing toner to the page using a laser beam and are very cheap to run. They perform best when printing text, but dont expect the best results with images.
Bringing together a printer with a scanner and a photocopier, these compact and multi-functional devices are perfect for small businesses and home offices. Some also incorporate a fax machine. Although relatively expensive, their flexibility makes them great value for money. Many of the latest all-in-one models embrace cutting-edge web technology which allows you to print web-pages directly from the printer.
These are perfect for digital camera users who want to print their images at home. Many photo-specific models allow you to plug your camera straight in and print from there, without the need to go via your computer or laptop. To work out if your printer and camera are compatible, look for the PictBridge logo. Some top-end photo printers feature multiple memory card slots just take your memory card out and stick it straight in to print the images you want. Printers with card slots will also have an LCD screen on which you will be able to select and edit your images without firing up your computer.
Features and functions
Resolution refers to the level of detail a printer can create. Depending on price, this can range from average to outstanding, so knowing a models resolution will help you understand just how good its results will be. Manufacturers tell you this by giving you a dots-per-inch (dpi) figure for all printers. A dpi of 300 x 300 is perfectly acceptable for text documents, while people wanting to print good-quality photos shouldnt go below 1440 x 720.
A printers speed is given in pages-per-minute (ppm). This represents your printers top speed when printing a simple, black and white page of text. Expect any printer to take a little longer than this in everyday use and even more so when it comes to photos.
There are two ways of connecting your printer and computer via USB (Universal Serial Bus) or an old-fashioned parallel cable. Most printers these days utilise the USB method, which helps print your documents faster by transferring data between the computer and printer at a greater speed. If youve already got lots of USB devices hooked up to your computer, make sure you have a spare USB port or invest in an external USB hub.
Set me free go wireless
Buy a wireless printer and configure it to your existing wireless network to see it work in harmony with your computer and broadband router. Once up and running you will be able to print from anywhere in your home, with no annoying wires trailing across your living room floor and tripping people up. Wireless printing will also allow you to put your printer out of sight say in the cupboard or under the stairs letting you decide where your printer will go rather than its cable length making the choice. And with wireless, one printer will cover the entire household whether you have one PC or 10.
Wireless printing what youll need
Before you print wirelessly at home or in the office, you will need to get your network set up. For this you will need a broadband internet connection, a wireless router and a wireless printer. The router is the hub of the network the device which enables the computer and printer to communicate with the internet. Also, remember to connect your PC to your router before you plug your printer into the network.
E printers follow on from wireless models, taking the technology even further. One of the main benefits of one of these is that it comes with its own email address, allowing you to email your documents direct to the printer and doing away with the need for an attached computer. This is great for gadget lovers who are using a number of different web-enabled devices such as smartphones, laptops and netbooks.
Anyone who runs a business will tell you that the humble fax machine is still a vital tool. Luckily quite a few all-in-one printers still offer a fax function and many offer back-up memory for those times when the paper runs out just as that crucial document comes through.
Printers with scanning capabilities will generally allow you to scan directly to email or to a PDF file great for emailing invoices to clients. You will also be able to scan in your old, dog-eared family photos and print them off on glossy new photo paper for a home-based restoration project.
Really keen photographers who still dabble with 35mm film photography have not been left out in the cold, as some top-of-the-range printers come with a function to scan negatives.
Feed me documents
If you are running a business from home or looking for a printer for the work office, an auto-document feeder (ADF) could be useful. These are great for when youve got reams of photocopying or faxing to do but little time to do it - the ADF allows you to load your documents into the feeder and leave it to get on with the job.
Borderless printing does exactly that: prints without borders. This allows you to fill a whole page with an image rather than being presented with annoying white space around the edge of the page.