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The printer is an absolutely essential part of any home office. Whether it’s for work, school, a creative project, or something in-between, a good printer that suits your needs is a great way to leave a lasting impression. Shopping for a printer can be a challenge, but there are more choices, options, and cool features than ever – so it’s hard to go wrong if you know what you’re looking for. That’s where this guide comes in; it’s written to help demystify some of the technical jargon used, so you know exactly what you need.
Consumer-level printers fall into two major categories: inkjet and laser. First we’ll take a look at how these are different, and which is likely the correct printing solution for you. It’s important to keep in mind that while inkjet and laser printers have their individual strengths, recent advancements in printing technology have really levelled the playing field, and many of the differences between the two are not nearly as drastic as they once were.
Ink based printers offer low initial cost and the flexibility of colour and a variety of paper types. Inkjet printers use heat or pressure to direct ink onto the page in extremely fine, small dots. Available with many different features, inkjet printers are great for producing documents at home, for school, or any time you want high quality prints, but don’t need the ultra-professional-looking veneer.
Laser printers use a laser to fuse toner to the page (the toner adheres to the paper using static electricity in a process that's interesting but a bit lengthy to explain here!) Laser printers typically offer a high degree of efficiency and a crisp, professional-looking print. Lasers are most-often found in offices or a freelance professional’s work environment, where high speed and higher-quality printing results are absolutely essential.
Single Function vs. Multi Function
True to their namesakes, single-function printers are designed solely to print, while multi-functions (also called All-In-One printers) add copying, scanning, and faxing to that list. If you only print the odd document, a single function printer is probably a good quick, inexpensive solution. But if you want to get more out of your printer, multi-function is the way to go—even if you don’t use every single feature on it.
If you’re into photography and printing your work to share, the photo printer is for you. Typically an inkjet-type printer, these machines are designed to bring out the best in your pictures with a glossy finish and support for thicker photo paper stock that tends to withstand age better than a traditional printer.
Like anything that involves technology, printers have seen some pretty cool advancement in the last while. While, ultimately, they serve their purpose in much the same way, it’s how they work, and the ways in which we work with them that have gotten better. Here’s a look at what’s new.
For those of you unfamiliar with the term ‘cloud’ as it relates to the digital world, it essentially moves a function that would happen locally (on your computer or other device) to the internet (aka cloud). By storing content on the cloud, you can access it from anywhere you have an internet connection. How does that relate to printing? Quite simply, Cloud Printing lets you send documents and images you want to print to your printer, from anywhere you have internet access – and that includes your smartphone, whether you’re sitting on your couch or at Everest Base Camp.
Cloud printing is still a relatively new technology, but already a handful of manufacturers and internet companies have embraced it, including HP (ePrint), Epson (Connect), Canon (PIXMA Cloud Link), Google (Cloud Print), and others. With cloud printing, all you have to do is send an email to your network-connected computer, and it’ll be ready and waiting for you when you get home.
AirPrint is a technology that was developed by Apple, and is found on a growing list of printer brands and models. AirPrint lets you print directly from your Apple iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch over your home’s WiFi network. This effectively eliminates the need to transfer or even view content on your computer in order to print. AirPrint does it all from the comfort of your Apple iOS device, anywhere in your home. It’s the fastest, easiest way to print from your iPod touch/iPhone/iPad.
So we’ve covered the major stuff like printer types and what the latest technology available is. What else is there to consider?
How quickly a printer can churn out a page or two usually isn’t that important of a consideration. However, how quickly it can print 20 copies of a 50-page report is. If you need high output, print speed will definitely be high on your list of considerations. Laser printers typically excel in this area, but a high end inkjet might meet those needs, too.
Print resolution, measured in dpi (dots per inch), defines the quality of the print – so the higher the resolution, the better the quality of printing. This is especially true for printing images.
If you have more than one computer in your home or office – or even a single laptop that you use in multiple locations – a networked printer is a must. With a simple connection to your wired or wireless router, you can share all of your printer’s functions across every computer in your home. More recently, WiFi-enabled printers have become quite popular, and enable easy printing within your home network, from any wireless computer in your home.
With multi-function printers gaining in popularity, and in many cases, replacing the traditional single function printers, you can do a whole lot more with your printer – scanning included. The scan resolution dictates how much detail the scanner can pull from old images or documents you want to digitize. The higher the resolution of the scanner, the higher the quality of your digital copy.
Like scanners, copiers are often found in multi-function printers, and are a really convenient feature to have if you need to make a handful of quick copies on the go. Having the ability to make copies quickly is a great bonus, but bear in mind that copy speed is most often dictated by print speed, as they use the same mechanisms to create the documents.
For the most part, faxing has been replaced by email. But, as a fax machine is essentially the amalgamation of a printer, copier, scanner, and modem, why not just include the inexpensive addition of a modem into the multi-function? Furthermore, many government agencies still require hard-copy documentation. And, faxing documents is still faster than snail mail.
Bluetooth is a quick and convenient way to print from your Bluetooth-enabled device without wires. Operating within a 30-foot range, you can wirelessly print documents or pictures from your laptop, netbook, MP3 player, smartphone, or any other device that can print via Bluetooth. (Please note that not all devices that have Bluetooth can print via Bluetooth.)
The benefits of an integrated LCD display are two-fold. The first is the obvious advantage of being able to navigate menu functions with a clear, comprehensive on-screen guide. Second, LCDs are also found on all PC-free printers (that is, printers that don’t require a PC to print from), letting you print from a variety of different sources with the ability to preview the image or document on the screen beforehand.
Memory Card Slots
Again, found on most printers that allow for PC-free printing, memory card slots let you slide in a memory card of a supporting format, and print – no PC required. This feature is especially convenient, because it removes the sometimes tedious steps of turning on the computer, connecting your digital camera, transferring your pictures, and then loading any other software required to view the images.
On-Board Image Editing Tools
They won’t replace dedicated computer image editing software, but on-board editing tools offer a quick way to get rid of red-eye and correct colours or hues – especially when you’re printing without a PC.
Here are a few extra things you may want to consider alongside of your printer.
It's best to have at least two sets of replacement cartridges on-hand. The first rule of printing is that you'll always run out of ink/toner when it's least convenient (the night before the essay is due, on a long weekend when you're printing wedding invitations, or 6 pages into an 18 page contract). So consider the purchase of that extra ink or toner cartridge as a means of disaster prevention! When picking up extra printer ink or toner, make sure that it’s compatible with your printer.
Some printers do come with a cable in the box, but they're the exception not the rule. Pick a high quality cable (whether you're using USB or Ethernet). Even if your printer is Wi-Fi capable you may want to purchase a cable in case of emergencies (this is a corollary of the first rule of printing).
Pretty simple: you need something to print on. Pick the appropriate type of paper for your printer. Look for a heavier weight and a higher brightness for prints that look good and feel better. Remember to keep more than just plain paper on hand. Depending on what your printer is capable of, you’ll also want to keep a selection of photo & specialty papers nearby so you are all set for any printing needs that may arise.
High Capacity Paper Trays
Large capacity trays can be obtained for some printers, allowing you to print larger quantities without having to constantly feed more paper into the tray.
Now you've got the knowledge that you need in order to make a smart buying decision for the printer for you. Choosing ink or laser, single or multi-function will depend on your printing needs. Evaluate your printing requirements and use this guide to help make the right call for you. Take a look at our selection of online printers, or visit a Future Shop near you and speak with a Product Expert.
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