When you buy a new printer, make sure it’s going to last

Jack Dunning, publisher of ComputorEdge Magazine, has posted an opinion piece intended for those of you who may be in the market for a new printer. He offers some valid points to consider. I encourage you to read the full article before you buy your next printer. Consider your present and future needs and buy a printer that can accomplish the tasks you want to perform without offering you functions you don’t need or want.

Printer manufacturers are motivated to build cheap printers because of the follow-on sales of printer ink and toner. Each manufacturer has its own proprietary inking/toner system that keeps its customers coming back for more. There are alternatives for refilling ink and toner cartridges, but there are still enough people who prefer to buy the HP or Epson label that it keeps these companies doing very well in the sale of printer supplies. If it weren’t for the ink and toner sales, printer manufacturers would be hard-pressed to provide such sophisticated equipment for such a low price.

If you’re in the market for a new printer, it may be worth the time to evaluate what you need—although it’s hard to make that argument when you can always get another printer for next to nothing. When I buy a new printer, I want it to last a long time. There are some key issues involved in the printer decision.

Inkjet Versus Laser

There are two basic types of printers on today’s market: inkjet printers and laser printers. Inkjet printers use inks (at least four or more colors) to generate high-quality full-color output. They are generally less expensive and slower than laser printers, and not built for high quantities of printing. The quality and reasonable price make inkjet printers desirable for most home uses.

Unless you do a great deal of printing (usually in an office environment), you may be best off buying an inkjet printer. The inkjet will give you more quality options, such as printing high-resolution photo images. Color laser printers are available, but they are a little more expensive ($300 and up), and the print quality does not compete with inkjet printers.

Laser printers use toner (similar to copiers) rather than ink. There are two reasons to prefer the laser printer for volume work. The first is speed. Laser printers are capable of greater speed (15 to 20 pages per minute). Inkjet printers claim similar speeds, but the reality is that when better-quality work is produced, the inkjets slow to a crawl.

The second reason for preferring a laser printer is because the per-copy cost will be much lower than that of an inkjet. While laser printers are more expensive than inkjets, they are very economical for high-volume output. Although toner cartridges cost more than ink, the number of copies generated by one toner cartridge makes the per-copy cost much lower.

The real question to ask before deciding between inkjet and laser printers is, how much printing are you going to do and at what quality level? Many people need to print only the occasional document or make a copy. If this is the case, then an inkjet will certainly suffice while offering quality output.

Make It a Network Printer
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If you don’t have a network at home, then you will probably have no reason to network your printer. However, all you need is one more computer coming into your home (possibly a relative’s laptop), and you’ll find that they want to use your printer/scanner. You can share a printer attached to your computer over a network, but it’s much more convenient to share a network printer. As mentioned in network article “Cool Things to Do With Your Home Network,” you may suddenly find that you have a home network.

On a network, the printer can be used by any member of the network without a printer-host computer being powered up. The network printer can be placed anywhere in the house that’s convenient to the network. If you attach a printer to a computer with the USB port, your printer location will be limited by the USB cable length.

For these reasons, I look for a printer with network capabilities. Many printers come only with the USB port for hooking up directly to your computer. It’s true that if you hook up the printer directly to your computer you can share it over a network, but there may be a time in the future when an Ethernet (wired) or Wi-Fi (wireless) networked printer will come in handy. While printers with either the hardwired Ethernet connection and/or the 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi (wireless) may cost a little more, for me, the options are worth it.

People use their printers for a long time. The technology of scanning and printing does not change so rapidly that frequent replacement of printers is required. Spending a little more now to get either the Ethernet or Wi-Fi network capabilities (I would get both) could save you a couple of years down the road. Be sure to check the specifications on the printer. Many printers come only with a USB port for connecting to a computer. You should see the proper terminology for networking in the specification: Ethernet for cable connection and 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi for wireless.

If you decide to save a little money and get a USB-only printer, you can always add a print server (Ethernet or Wi-Fi) when you want to network the printer. A print server is a device that will make the printer network-capable.

When looking at printers, there are three major decisions and one option. Whether you pick an inkjet or laser printer depends on how much you will print and what quality output you need—inkjet for quality and laser for quantity. Getting a printer with a scanner is almost not a decision anymore, since most printers come with scanners—and they should. Even if you don’t need it now, I recommend that you get a printer that you can put on a network. A built-in fax machine is needed only if you interact with other fax machines on a daily basis. Otherwise, there are easier ways to send a fax without a fax machine.

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