Three things you didn’t know about printers

by Reads (7,377)

When it comes to buying a new printer, it’s not exactly rocket science, or so it would seem.   Find out if it’s laser or inkjet, how fast it prints, how much it costs, if it prints in color, etc.  I mean a printer is a printer, right? 

Wrong.  With every new release, printer technology gets more complicated and the specifications list lengthens.  Gone are the days of a simple printer.  Today, we’ll point out three areas in printing that consumers tend to overlook or are overshadowed by clever marketing.

1. Not all features are the same
When a vendor mentions that a particular unit offers two sided printing (duplexing) and then moves on to the next ‘fabulous’ feature, be wary.   Manufacturers see advantages in offering duplexing because it’s considered an eco-friendly feature (conserving paper) as well as business savvy (saving money) so many offer it as a manual feature.  The printer will print the first half of the job and then the user will manually flip the document and load it back in the paper tray so the other half of the job can print.

But with automatic or built-in duplexing, the printer does all the work printing the entire document double sided.   So whether making a purchase at a store or online, find out if the duplexing feature is manual or automatic.  It makes a big difference.

And it’s not just duplexing that manufacturers use to fool customers.  Print speeds are another tricky area.  Almost all inkjet manufacturers list two sets of print speeds these days:  a top speed, usually in the 30 pages per minute (ppm) range, and a “laser quality” speed that is in the mid to low teens.  What they fail to mention (or do so in the fine print) is that the top speeds are draft print speeds meaning the quality is lower.  And honestly, even in draft mode, most inkjet printers do not print 30 ppm.  

So if you are looking for business printers that can truly print “laser quality” prints at speeds up to 30 ppm or higher, buy a laser printer.   There is no true comparison on the market today.

2. The paper path is important
When it comes to printers, there are several ways for the paper to make its way to the output tray.  Often on inkjets, the printer will have a rear feeding tray which features a direct paper path (no bending or folding necessary).  The nice thing about a direct paper path is paper jams are rare and I find it is easier to make sure the media is inserted the correct way.   The downside is that often with rear trays you don’t get the paper capacity a paper tray/cassette can offer.

Paper trays are common on laser printers and often feature a standard capacity around 250 sheets or more.  But now that manufacturers are starting to focus on the small and medium sized business (SMB) market, paper trays are much more common on inkjet models.   They usually can’t meet the capacity of a laser printer (offering customers multiple large cassettes) but they often double, if not triple, the capacity of a rear tray.  The downside is that I’ve found that inkjet models with less direct paper paths are more susceptible to paper jams and misprints.  I’ve also had the misfortune of printing a forty page text document on 8.5 x 11 inch photo paper because I didn’t check inside the tray.

Personally, I would stick with an inkjet printer that at least offers a direct paper path (such as Canon’s Pixma MX870 that has both a paper tray and rear feeding tray option).  If I was looking for an office printer for more than a small group (five people or less), I’d probably go with the laser printer since they can handle larger paper capacity and larger workloads.

If you do buy an all-in-one (AIO) inkjet with a paper tray, try to look for one with a separate photo tray and/or an automated paper sensor (like the HP Photosmart Premium or Premium Fax).   This will help keep users from wasting photo paper, ink, and time.

3. The many faces of networking
For most homes and offices, a network is standard practice.  Whether it is wired or wireless, a network is important for setting up many devices to be accessed by a group.  What many people don’t consider when purchasing a printer is exactly what kind of connection they need. 

When using a single function desktop printer, most users only need the simple USB port to act as the connection between the computer and printer.  Why run a long (and possibly expensive) Ethernet cable to a router across the room when a USB cable can do the trick?    Or pay for a wireless connection when it’s not being shared among a large group of people.  I know the idea of cordless environment is wonderful, but it might be cheaper and more effective to run a simple USB cord.

For workgroups and homes with multiple computers, it’s common sense to share a printer instead of having one at each desk.   Connecting the printer to a router via an Ethernet cable can allow all users on the network to print  while keeping the printer stationary allowing laptops (and desktops) to print without the cord (granted they have correct drivers on their printer).  And thanks to new tech, like Dell’s Proximity Print Solution, medium to large businesses can allow employees to print to any computer on the network (even in different buildings) without having to download multiple print drivers.

Of course, a wireless option on a printer has its perks.   For instance, users can set up the printer anywhere in the building (as long as it has access to the network’s signal), no cords or accessories necessary expect the power plug, and thanks to new print applications, users can print wirelessly from handheld devices. 

In fact, manufacturers have now come out with printers that access the internet directly without the need of a PC or handheld device.  Inkjet printers, like the Lexmark Prestige, use applications to let users print photos, Google Calendars, and stamps directly from the internet.  Laser printers, like the Dell 3335dn, can allow employees print forms on demand from sites like the IRS, or send information directly to a pharmacy at a touch of a button.

Get more help with purchasing decisions by reading our Printer Buying Guide or checking out our Laser Printers in Focus feature.

On your way to the store?  Print out the Buyer’s Checklist.



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