Buying Printers

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Buying a printer is more complicated these days than it used to be just a few years ago. Huge choice and prices ranging from 2 digits to 4 digits are to blame. Many consumers simply assume that all printers are the same but this is not true. You need to make an informed selection and this article will assist you in doing so.

There is no single perfect printer which can do everything so you must carefully consider your needs before making a purchase. Not all printers are the same and they all do not use the same technology to print. In the old days, ribbons were the primary technology used in printers. Nowadays the following three technologies are prevalent:

Dot matrix
Ink Jet

Dot Matrix Printers
Dot matrix printers are usually seen in commercial enterprises that need to print papers with several carbon copies. Several credit card machines use dot matrix printers. You sign the receipt, merchant keeps the main copy and you get to keep the carbon copy of the receipt. Dot matrix stamps hundreds of tiny dots on the paper to print. Since it is stamping, the characters could be printed on several carbon copy pages. Other technologies do not stamp on the paper and therefore are unsuitable for use on carbon copy papers.

Ink Jet Printers
The two most common type of ink jet printers are 4-color printer and photo ink jet printer.

4-color ink jet printers
Four color ink jet printers are the most commonly used printers in the household. They are usually small, compact, and seem inexpensive. The typical models hold 2 cartridges: black and color. The color cartridge contains three colors. Some models hold 4 cartridges.

Before buying an ink jet printer, find out which cartridges your printer would require and how much these cartridges cost. You might be surprised to see that the cartridges at times cost more than the printers themselves! I once saw an interview of the CEO of a leading manufacturer of printers. He was referring to the printers business as cartridges business. The printer manufacturers are actually giving away the printers to be able to sell you the cartridges.

Having realized that cartridges would be a bigger expense than the printers, we should find out what to watch out for when buying cartridges. Each cartridge that you buy indicates how much ink it contains. Usually between 17ml. and 40ml. Don’t expect to print more than 100 pages of plain text with 15ml. of ink. If you buy a tricolor cartridge and your blue finishes before other colors, all your subsequent documents will print without blue. In other words, you would seriously consider replacing it which of course means that you are throwing away precious ink of other colors that is still left in the cartridge. Cartridge manufacturers are happy that you are buying ink that you will not be able to use. If you buy a 4 cartridge model, you would only need to replace the color that is finished because there is a separate cartridge for each color.

Fake Cartridges
There is a growing black market in ink jet printer cartridges. We all know that there are fake Rado watches, fake perfumes, and just about fakes of any brand name products; then why not cartridges. With the average price of a black cartridge costing about $40, consumers are eagerly looking for bargain prices. This would explain the explosion of spam promising cheaper cartridges for your printer. The fakes usually do not produce brilliant results and some will even leak and leave a huge mess in the printer. It is quite difficult to spot a fake especially if all you see it the box the cartridge is packed in. Your chances of coming across a fake cartridge range from very low to very high depending on where you buy the cartridge. I tend to stay away from unverifiable online vendors.

Cost-reduction Solutions
Cartridges are so expensive that several businesses have sprung up all around to offer cost reduction solutions such as generic cartridges and cartridge refills. Generic cartridges are usually cheaper and almost as good as the brand name cartridges. Several vendors which offer cartridge refill services. Do bear in mind that a cartridge can only be refilled so many times and do keep an eyes on the milliliters of ink filled into you cartridge. Ask for a sample print from your cartridge before you pay for the refill. A dried cartridge often becomes useless even after refill.

I have tried many of these refills. I usually ended up making my cartridge unusable, wasting lot of ink, and spending half and hour trying to get the ink of my hands. In shopping malls all across Western Canada, kiosks called Island Inkjet can be seen. They refill the cartridge for half the price of a new cartridge. The refill is perfect and the print results are excellent. I decided to be clever and asked the salesman at the kiosk to show me how he refills my cartridge. He showed me how it is done and then he sold me the refill kit. The next time around, I refilled the cartridge myself. It worked but the print quality was compromised. I tried several times and always encountered the same problem. I guess filling cartridges requires a bit more expertise. The vendor told me that he took one month training before working there since different cartridges are refilled differently.

Photo Printers
Now that almost everyone already has a digital camera or wants one, the need for printing your favorite photos in high resolution has become a reality. Photo printers are the newest generation of printers built to fulfill this market. The quality of the print may surprise you.

Photo printers are usually expensive and their cartridges are also very expensive. The first thing to look at before buying a one is the resolution. Resolution is defined in dpi (dots per inch). A 2400 dpi is better than a 1200 dpi. The higher the dpi, the higher the resolution.

Your digital camera would most likely have a memory stick. Several photo printers now have slots to plug in those memory sticks and even small LCD screens to view your photos. These printers allow you to print you photos without have to connect to your computer. If such a printer interests you, do make sure that it has a slot for your memory stick.

A printer cannot print a photo with a higher resolution than the actual photo. In other words, if your photo is 1 megapixel, then the printed result cannot be any better. At such high resolutions, the quality of the paper becomes very important. Even the best photo printer would not be able to print a high quality photo on a cheap recycled paper. High resolution prints require photo papers.

The best way to choose a printer is to see the actual results. Several vendors have sample prints of their printers. When looking at the prints, pay special attention to the hair, smoke, leaves, and other fine patterns in the photo. For example, if you are shown a photo of a girl with her dog, you should pay attention to her hair and the dog’s fur. The best printers offer more details.

Laser Printers
Laser printers are traditionally used by enterprises who print hundred or thousands of pages per week. Laser printers were traditionally somewhat expensive but the prices have been climbing down since several years. Now, even color laser printers have become affordable to ordinary consumers. Laser printers were usually bulky but several newer versions are quite compact.

Businesses use laser printers because their toners (ink jets have cartridges and laser printers have toners) last for a very long time and are relatively inexpensive. A typical toner can print about 4500 pages and costs about twice as much as an inkjet cartridge that prints about 250 pages.

Laser printer prints are inferior in quality to inkjet prints but you would hardly notice the difference in a text document. These printers are fast, make very little noise, and have room for lots of papers. Paper jams are much more difficult to clear. I tend to stick to HP printers which I believe have the least number of paper jams. A new laser printer emits a horrible yet bearable smell when it prints but the smell goes away after a few days. I never understood why and couldn’t find any information on the Internet explaining this phenomenon.

Color laser jet printers are very bulky. They require four or more toners. Stay clear of the laser color printer which do not have multiple toners. Color laser printers are good for simple advertisements, color publications, manuals, etc. They are not very suitable for printing high quality photos.

I left out
In this article, I have not talked about the difference between single-pass and four-pass color laser printers. I have not mentioned the role of the photosensitive drum, laser light source, LED, or LCD. I have not delved into the inner working of printers either. It was never my intention to introduce gruesome vocabulary or talk about the technical details that an average printer buyer doesn’t need to know. You don’t need to know the technical details of a transmission to choose the best car to buy.
Please feel free to publish this article, free of charge, as long as this resource box is visibly published. Copyright Nazim Rahman (c) --------------

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