Buying a Printer
When buying a printer for home or small business there are so many different models to chose from that it can be quite confusing as to which choice you eventually make. First decision is to decide the main purpose that the printer will be used for. Most printers nowadays are known as MFP's (Multi Function Printers) or MFD's (Multi Function Devices). This basically means that they will do more than simply print. Most MFP's will print, scan, copy (same as a photocopier) and also have card readers for printing directly from your camera's memory card. First of all when buying a printer let's go through some of the basic specifications of a printer and what they all mean.
The speed at which the printer prints to a page will be listed under the term "pages per minute", or ppm. The top of the range Inkjet Printers will be rated at around 20ppm in black and white (draft quality), and 12ppm in colour, but if you're looking at a mid-range Inkjet Printer, expect to see figures from 8ppm to 16ppm in black and white, and 1.2ppm to 12ppm in colour (depending on print quality mode settings). Note: (for the average home user most modern printers print at an acceptable speed so ppm ratings are only relevant where large quantities of printing or high speed printing is a concern)
Update: There is now a new standard of measuring printer speed known as IPM or Images per Minute. This is a much better and more accurate way of measuring print speed as it takes into account a total of 3 different formats each consisting of 4 pages each. Each page contains at least one image as well as logos but predominantly text. By using this quite broad testing process manufacturers are able to give a more accurate figure of the actual real print page speed. There are two reasons for this. 1. The test is done over multiple pages and then averaged out. 2. The printing done more accurately represents what a real end user would typically print on an average printout rather than just fudging the test to make the printer speed seem more impressive than it actually is.
Resolution and print quality
The quality of the print from a printer is known as its resolution. Resolution is the number of "dots per square inch" or dpi. The higher the dpi means the better or finer the print quality will be. Inkjet Printers generally have a maximum colour resolution of 2400x1200dpi, with some of the more expensive printers quoting up to 4800x1200dpi. For the average full-colour 8x10in photograph, you're unlikely to see any significant improvement once you get above 1200x1200dpi.
Epson printers tend to print at very high resolutions due to the nature of the piezo printhead technology which they utilise. This results in very high quality images however it comes at a cost. As print resolutions increase the individual nozzles on the print head get smaller. Typically they are much smaller in diameter than a human hair which means that they are also more prone to clogging. Clogging can occur for many reasons such as poor ink quality, irregular printing and running cartridges for too long before changing them.
For the average home user who doesn't print often a printer with a thermal printhead is recommended. This is due to the fact that a thermal printhead ( used in all Canon printers ) are less susceptible to clogging. If you don't print at least several pages per week then avoid Epson printers as you are very likely to have problems.
Why does a Photo Printer produce better pictures ?
Generally the main difference with a photo printer is that many of them use additional printer ink cartridges to provide better "in between colours" . They usually employ the standard Black, Yellow, Cyan and Magenta ink cartridges but they also throw in a Light Magenta and a Light Cyan ink cartridge to provide a better overall photo quality. Epson commonly employ these extra cartridges in many of their printers.
Canon on the other hand utilise dual black cartridges and quite often a grey. The reason for the dual blacks is that one is pigment based for a darker and sharper quality text printout while the smaller dye based black is used in combination with the other dye based coloured inks to produce more vibrant image printouts. The grey cartridge used in some Canon models is also for improving image printout quality although I personally doubt that it makes any difference and believe that it is more likely just used to make more money back on cartridge sales.
Brother inkjet printers over the years have stuck to using the standard four colours, Black, Cyan, Magenta and Yellow. Although they only use the standard four colours the print quality of their images is still very close to the printers using the extra colours such as grey, light magenta and light cyan.
What other factors should I consider when buying a printer ?
One of the FIRST considerations before purchasing a printer should be the cost of replacing the ink cartridges. Many of the HP, Canon and Lexmark printers have the "Printer Head" (the part that actually prints the ink onto the paper) built into the ink cartridge. This makes replacing the cartridges very costly. Make sure that you price the ink cartridges before purchasing the printer. Often manufacturers will sell quality printers for very low prices knowing quite well that the first time the customer replaces the ink cartridges that they will redeem their money.
If print speed is an issue and you are planning to print large amounts of pages at a time then the average inkjet printer may not be for you. Laser printers are much faster doing up to 100 pages per minute while the average inkjet printer may do 20 pages per minute. If you are planning to print 100's of pages then a laser printer would be a must. The other benefit of a laser printer is that the printout is more resilient to water and other contaminants. This is due to the fact that a laser printer bakes the toner powder onto the paper at very high temperatures where as an inkjet printer simply spits the ink onto the paper surface.
Conclusion: what to buy ?
If you are simply after a CHEAP basic "MFD" Printer that will print, scan, photocopy and has a card reader (for digital cameras etc) it is very hard to beat the Brother Printers. They are inexpensive, reliable, produce a good quality print and the ink cartridges are reasonably priced. (in fact our Brother LC37,LC47 and LC57's are one of our biggest sellers). The only problem with Brother printers is that they have a habit of "Paper Jamming". For photographic printing you may like to look at the Canon printers. Remember the basic specifications wev'e looked at above and chose your printer according to the purpose you will most be using it for. As a final comment let me say that I strongly advise people against purchasing a Lexmark,HP or Epson printer. Although they are very good printers the price and availability of ink cartridges is a large deterrent.
Note: In our recent poll asking people which printer brand was the worst Epson won by a long shot.