Printer Buying Guide

If you are choosing a printer for office, home office or personal use the chances are that you are facing a straight choice between two competing technologies, laser and inkjet. Both technologies are capable of producing high quality results, in black-and-white, or colour, but you should consider the type, and volume, of printing that you want to perform on a regular basis. These factors may, in turn, influence the speed of printing, and the accuracy of colour rendition, that you require, along with the longevity of the printer, itself, and the cost of replacement ink or toner cartridges – the latter probably being the most important part, but frequently the least considered.

Laser Printers

Laser printers essentially rely on static electricity for their operation. A laser beam is directed by a mirror, and a series of lenses, onto a revolving drum, or cylinder, known as a photoreceptor. Wherever the laser beams strikes the surface of the drum, the polarity of the electrostatic charge is reversed, so a negative image of whatever it is to be printed is constructed. The drum is rolled through a reservoir of toner and toner particles, being oppositely charged, cling to the drum, creating a positive image. Finally, the image is transferred to paper by a combination of pressure and heat, in much the same way as a photocopier operates.

Laser printers have always held an advantage over inkjet printers in terms of speed, and with many high-end workgroup laser printers capable of up to 36 pages, or more, per minute – in monochrome, or colour – nowadays, the situation is not vastly different. Speed does tend to be directly proportional to price, and colour laser printers are typically more expensive than monochrome laser printers, but it is, nevertheless, possible to purchase a colour laser printer, capable of 8 pages per minute, in either mode, for less than £40. There was a time when laser printers were considered too expensive for small business, or personal, use, but that is no longer the case; affordable colour laser printers are now viable alternatives to colour inkjet printers for sales brochures, leaflets, etc.

Laser printers may still be a little more expensive than comparable inkjet printers, initially, but do bear in mind that the cost of laser printer toner, per page, is far less than inkjet printer cartridges; the extra initial cost may be recouped in the cost of consumables in the longer term. Laser printers are also typically quieter and more robust – making them more suitable for high volume print runs – than inkjet printers, and their printer quality, particularly when it comes to black-and-white text and graphics, is noticeably crisper.

Inkjet Printers

Inkjet printers, on the other hand, are printers that place microscopic droplets of ink directly onto paper to create an image. The ink, itself, is delivered through high precision nozzles, typically just 10µm in diameter, and driven by heat, in the thermal bubble, or bubblejet method, or pressure, in the piezoelectric method. The droplets of ink can be applied to the paper very precisely, at resolutions of up to 1,440 x 720 dots per inch, and colours can be combined to produce images of photographic quality, on specialist paper. Indeed, the choice of media for inkjet printing is much wider than that for laser printing, and may include CD, or DVD, disks, white matte board for poster printing, canvas, polyester film, etc.

Inkjet printers are typically cheaper than laser printers – basic, desktop inkjet printers, capable of up to 12 pages per minute, in colour, are available for £20, or less – and their low cost, coupled with high print quality make them suitable for most everyday tasks. However, most inkjet printers are not designed for heavy duty, high volume business printing, the cost per page of printing is greater than that for laser printers, and the printing process is much slower. This means that, on the whole, inkjet printers are best suited to small business, or personal, use, where printing requirements are light and infrequent.

There are, of course, specialist photographic, business and large-format inkjet printers available, costing anywhere between £500 and £5,000 depending upon their image quality, paper handling and other features. Large-format inkjet printers, for example, are capable of producing 24″, 36″, or 44″ prints in colour or black-and-white at 2,400 x 1,200 dots per inch, and speeds of up to 2 pages per minute.