Most printers these days will do just fine if you’re looking to print web pages, word processor documents and school work for the kids. Cheaper printers tend to guzzle ink faster than their high-end counterparts. Find out how long the ink will last in order to figure out what the ink will cost in the long run.
Very recently, a client called to inform me that he wanted to print some photos that he and his wife had taken over the course of several excursions. According to him, they scooped up a “fantastic deal” at one of the big box stores, without first consulting their tech support go-to-guy, mainly me! They were extremely happy that they had found a brand-name printer for just $39.99! However, this impulsive purchase was going to cost them a lot more. I did a little research, only to find that the regular ink required for that model was going to cost close to $60.00, and over $70.00 for long-lasting pigment-based photo quality ink. Suddenly, the “fantastic deal” did not sound like much of a deal at all. To add insult to injury, the printer was, as expected, an ink guzzling, low-end model with sub-quality photo printing options.
All the top manufacturers make printers from entry level consumer models to high-end corporate models. Don’t buy the cheapest one you can find, unless it suits your needs and budget, but always factor in all the costs. Yes, $39.99 for an Epson printer at Bob’s House of Electronic Stuff sounds like a great deal, just remember to add ink and photo paper the cost. If you’re printing photos, remember that you will be printing your most valuable memories on a $39.99 possibly sub-par printer.
There several things to be aware of before you make your purchase. What will you be using it for? Do you have a preferred or recommended manufacturer? What’s the size of your budget? Will the printer connect directly to your computer, or are you planning on printing wirelessly? Are you a solo user, or do you plan to share the printer with others? Will it fit in the spot you have allocated for it? What size and type of paper are you going to require? Can it, and do you need it to print on both sides of the paper (duplex)? Does it offer full-bleed? How fast do you need it to print? What type of ink cartridge format does it use – combined colours or individual colour cartridges? How long will the image last until it starts to fade? What type and how long is the warranty? Does the manufacturer offer free technical support if you have installation or post-setup issues? What extra features does it offer that may be useful? Phew!
Before you compare any features or functions, make sure that the printer is compatible with your computer’s operating system, such as Windows 7 or MAC OS X.
When it comes to choosing a brand, you can always rely on a few things. If you have had success in the past with a particular manufacturer and like the features they offer, then that may be a good fit for you. When it comes to price, you can spend a little or a lot. At Future Shop, the Canon PIXMA Inkjet Photo Printer (IP2700) sells for $24.95, whereas the Canon PIXMA Photo Printer (Pro9000 MK II) sells for $499.00. It all comes down to features and print quality. Don’t spend more on a printer to get features you will never use. You may find it cost-effective buying a more expensive printer that uses cheaper consumables. Photo printers tend have very specific paper requirements because of the way the ink combines with the chemical treatment on the photo paper. You can’t take an HP printer and toss in some Canon photo paper and expect the same result as using HP paper specifically manufactured to work with that HP printer. For photo printing there is one thing that will set your printer apart from non-photo printers. This is the DPI (dots per inch). DPI represents the number of dots that will print in 1 square inch. 300 x 300 dpi means that the printer will print 300 rows and 300 columns of dots to create the image. Some, high-end consumer-based photo printers can print 4800 x 4800 DPI or higher. Therefore, printers that have high DPI settings should produce truer, more well-defined images. There are other factors that can affect this, but that would be an entire other article.
If you are buying a wireless printer, ensure your computer has a wireless network card, or is hooked up to a router that supports a wireless connection. Does the printer allow network sharing? Some don’t, so just check to make sure it does if you plan on sharing the printer over your home or work environment.
Take a measurement of the space where the printer will reside. If you plan to put the printer in an enclosed area or on a shelf, be aware of how much the paper sticks up from the top of the printer.
What size paper formats, minimum and maximum paper dimension can it handle? Will it print paper sizes, such as 4″ x 6″ or wide-format tabloid paper 11″ x 17″? What is the maximum thickness (stock weight) of paper can take? Regular inkjet and laser printer paper weights range between 20 to 24 lbs, while heavier card-stock paper may be around 120 lbs. Can it print to the very edge of the paper (full bleed), or does it stop short and leave a small white unprintable border? Does it support auto-duplex printing? This is the ability to print on both sides of the paper without having to turn the paper over and reinsert it, after it finishes printing on the first side. If you are printing photos, this feature won’t matter since you can only print on one side of photo paper.
The PPM (pages per minute) printing speeds that companies advertise are for basic black and colour printing, but not for PHOTO printing! Find out how long it takes to print a standard 4″ x 6″ photo. If you have 1000′s of photos to print, you may be sitting around for a very long time.
What type of ink cartridges does the printer use. Does it take 1 black ink and 1 combined colour cartridge of cyan (blue), yellow and magenta (red), or does it take 1 black and 3 to 9 individual colour cartridges? Generally, printers designed for photo printing will take individual colour cartridges. Most high-end photo printers take 1 black, and 6 or more colour cartridges. Better photo printers use light and dark versions of each colour. Even if you are not printing photos, always opt for separate ink cartridges, because you may end up using one colour more than another. Suppose you are printing a letterhead which happens to be mostly blue. You’ll end up running out of cyan faster than any other colour. If you purchase a printer that uses a combined colour cartridge, you will have to replace the entire cartridge even though the yellow and magenta may be full. The printer will not let you print once any one of the colours run out. Using separate cartridges allow you to replace any colour you have run out of.
The total number of pages you can print with a single cartridge is based on a 5% ink coverage per page. So don’t be surprised that after printing a few dozen photos that you are already running out of ink. IMPORTANT! Be careful if you decide to use ink sold under a generic company name. This ink was probably not made specifically for your printer and can block your print heads. I learned the hard way so you don’t have to! How many photos can you print? Did you buy a standard cartridge, or did you buy the high-yield one? Most companies sell both. The high-yield cartridge generally has twice the volume of ink, but only costs approximately 1/3 more. A standard 4″ x 6″ photo has a 26% page coverage. Photo printouts tend to use more ink than a regular colour page you print. A single photo will use over 5 times the pro-rated volume of ink!
Ensure that the manufacturer sells ink and paper that will last, as some ink can fade within a few years. Some companies such as HP (Hewlett Packard) have claimed that their special ink and paper will only start to fade after 115 years! Standardized testing has not been established, therefore each company reports its findings using their own testing methods. True testing for the longevity of images has not had the ability to stand the test of time since the reproduction of digital images has only been around since the 1970′s.
All printers have features of which you can make direct comparisons to, such as, physical size, dpi, ink format, paper formats and more. You should consider the following to help decide on which printer to purchase if you need a tie breaker: Things such as paper input and output tray capacity; warranty (most offer 1 year parts and labour); bundled photo editing software; optional connectivity such as Bluetooth and USB; decibel levels and other such specifications.
I bet you forgot all about my client’s “fantastic bargain”. Well, as the story goes, he returned the printer and replaced it with a much better one. By the way, the printer was $39.99, photo paper was $41.99 and the long lasting (black and combined 3-colour cartridge) pigment ink came to $73.99 for a grand total of $155.97 plus tax.
To summarize, if you’re buying a printer to print regular documents, then any one should be fine, but be aware of the ink consumption. For photo printing, buy one that has great and long lasting output that keeps your memories crisp and clear for years. Good luck with your purchase.