Whether it's a color picture, a resume or a book report, we all want our stuff to look good on paper. We all know how wonderful images appear on our computer screens and once we print them out, they tend to look nothing like what was on our monitor.
The quality of what you print depends on what kind of printer you purchase. What makes one printer better than another is usually its resolution capability. Ink Jet printers have become the most popular for homes and home offices today. Laser printers are great for printing volume and usually work nicely for office environments.
A printer is an output device that connects to a computer and allows you to print hard-copy versions of documents, pictures, cards, awards and basically anything that goes onto paper.
Types of Printers
There are printers for all sorts of needs and places. In terms of technologies, there are Ink Jet and Laser printers. Printers can be used for personal use, small-business matters, workgroups and departments, for graphics professionals, printing photos. There are also portable and multifunction printers.
Photo Printers The rising popularity of digital cameras has prompted many printer manufacturers to add features that allow printing photos quickly, easily, and better than ever before. Some inkjet printers rival the quality from professional color labs.
Professionals and casual users want printers that are designed to faithfully produce photographs. The aim is output quality; speed is a lesser concern. Some printers are specifically dedicated to print photos but more general-purpose inkjet printers are also including ways to make printing pictures simpler and cheaper. In addition, printing paper and ink have been improved to allow better color saturation, rapid drying, and extremely sharp results.
Printing Without a Computer
These printers are also engineered to print pictures with or without connection to a computer. There are a number ways to do this.
Some printers have slots that accept popular digital camera memory storage cards. You can print images directly from those cards. Transfer is extremely fast. In some cases, a small LCD screen may be included (or available) permitting you to preview and select specific images that you'd like to print.
Certain brands offer the ability to print directly from a camera using a USB cord (or cradle). Canon and Hewlett-Packard, for example, have such arrangement for their cameras (Canon cameras can direct-print to Canon printers. Hewlett Packard cameras can direct-print to Hewlett Packard printers.)
PictBridge is similar to Canon direct-printing but allows different brand cameras to be directly connected with different brand printers. The only thing required is that both the camera and printer must be PictBridge compatible. Most current models are.
Printing With a Computer
Virtually all Photo Printers have a USB or High-speed USB port that allows compatibility for use with Windows PC and/or Macintosh computers.
While a computer isn't essential for printing photos, they're used for storing images, sending images over the Internet, and (with software) to edit and enhance photos and movies.
Once connected to a computer, most of these printers can be used for printing text and graphics from other software applications.
Printers that were originally designed for printing text might be used for printing images but they may be economically inefficient.
Many of the earlier color inkjet models used two cartridges - one was black, one was color. This was fine for text but, for printing more complex graphics, dividing cartridges into individual colors, delivered more accurate results.
Several printers today use 4 or more ink cartridges. The 4 essential colors are Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black (also known as CMYK). Top-line printers may use 6 colors - adding Light Cyan and Light Magenta. Canon is introducing a new printer that will have a capacity of 8 different colors - adding Red and Green. The reasons for adding these colors are:
Cameras with higher resolutions can produce pictures with close to a million color variations. To print all those subtle shades and depths faithfully, more colors are needed.
Practicality is very important too. Printing color photos, especially large pictures, uses up huge amounts of ink. It's more economical to replace individual color ink cartridges than one cartridge that integrates all the colors.
Printer manufacturers are also using richer pigments in their inks to accommodate the more critical needs of photographic printing.
For most situations, a 4"x6" picture is the most popular. It's similar in size to those that were processed in a lab. Many dedicated photo printers handle 4"x6" photos.
Among general-purpose photo printers, they can usually handle several sizes from 4"x6" up to 8-1/2" x 14". A few models can handle 13"x19" or larger.
The number of megapixels (resolution) of your camera helps determine the optimal size to choose. Higher resolution offers the ability to print larger size pictures. While all cameras can do 4"x6" really well, here's an approximate guide to help you determine the largest size for a satisfactory printed picture made by your camera (using megapixel ratings):
1.3 Megapixels - 4"x6"
2.0 Megapixels - 8"x10" or 8-1/2"x11"
3 to 4 Megapixels - 11"x14"
5 Megapixels and higher - 13" x19"
The most popular sizes are 4"x6" and 8-1/2"x11".
Heavy-stock paper offers greater abilities to capture more ink for large, rich, detailed images.
There are about 3 different paper finishes that you can choose from:
Glossy - Offers greatest sharpness and color depth. Surface is sensitive to smudges, especially fingerprints.
Matte - Dull finish offers less sharpness but very easy to handle.
Pearl - A semi-gloss finish that combines some of the properties of gloss and matte.
Paper Types There are three types of inkjet photo paper available for your printer: Resin Coated, Nanoporous and Cast-Coated.
Has a special polymer layer that coats the paper.
Fairly stable in many different lighting situations so images are less sensitive to fading over time.
Offers a real photo feel because it's very similar to traditional photo paper.
Polymer prevents rippling when wet and is resistant to tears and wrinkles.
Usually has gloss or high gloss finish
Can be handled immediately after printing.
High degree of water fastness.
High speed printing modes can be used.
High light stability if displayed in a frame
Usually has Matte or Smooth finish
Prints dry quickly as the ink is absorbed into the paper base.
May be used with a wide range of printers due to the minimal interaction between the ink and the receiving layer
The Inkjet Printer
Inkjet printers are the most common for homes and home-offices today. The term "Ink Jet" refers to how the ink is actually transferred to the paper. The ink in the cartridge is spayed onto paper through a series of holes. DPI or Dots Per Inch measures the resolution of printers. The more dots per inch, the better the quality. In general, stick with a resolution of 600x600 or more for black ink. Choose between a color or non-color Ink Jet printer. Printers also have a PPM or Paper Per Minute rate. These rates differ depending on whether it's color or black. Most Ink Jets range from 2.5PPM to 12 PPM. Some Ink Jets take more than just the standard size paper. Cartridges are about the size of a box of cigarettes and a little larger for color printers. Color Ink jet printers are very popular because they can print cards, graphics and photos.
The Laser Printer Laser printers are more common in offices than homes. In general, laser printers work better for heavy-duty printing loads. If you plan to use your printer everyday, laser printers are known to be better than ink jets at handling the volume. Laser printers use laser technology, very much like copier technology, to transfer toner onto paper. Most laser printers today print anywhere between 10 to 16 pages per minute. The resolution of laser printers ranges from 600 to 1200DPI (Dots Per Inch). Laser printer cartridges are a lot larger and more expensive than ink jet cartridges. Most laser printers print in monochrome, though there are a few models that can print in color.
DPI stands for Dots Per Inch. It describes how many dots are printed per inch on any page, which really indicates the quality of the resolution. The more dots per inch, the clearer the image the better the quality. It's also a good idea to get 600DPI or more. There are usually several resolution settings available with any printer. The rated resolution is considered the best.
PPM stands for pages per minute. The term is used to describe how many pages a printer is capable of producing within a one-minute time frame. How fast a printer can produce printed pages depends on a number of factors. A text page generally takes less time to print than a graphics-filled page. Also, when printing anything, especially graphics, you often have the choice to print it in high or low resolution from whatever program you are printing from. High-resolution output takes longer to print than low resolution pages. Rated speed is generally the maximum output speed using a monochrome text in low (draft) resolution. If speed is not a crucial factor, there are some great deals on ink jets that print 2.5PPM. The fastest is about 16PPM on a laser printer.
For ink jet printers, the average black-ink cartridge will print about 300-500 pages. Laser printer toner cartridges will print anywhere between 2,000 to 20,000 pages per cartridge. The rated output of a cartridge is based on an optimal condition - text (about 5% paper coverage, letter-size). Printing graphics more often will reduce the number of prints per cartridge. Many cartridges also have a limited life expectancy - the printing-agent may degrade within a certain time-frame. When buying a cartridge, see if there's an expiration date and try to use it up before it expires. Some Laser Printers use a 2 cartridge system, separating the ink from the (drum) fuser system (helps the ink bond to paper), while others combine the two into 1 cartridge. The system is usually manufacturer or model specific.
Many (though not all) new printers that have a USB interface support may work with both Windows-PC and Mac (but not all). Some that have a parallel port will work with Windows95, since USB was designed for Windows98 or later.
Inkjet printers for home use usually don't require lots of memory and usually function well with included memory (or buffer). Intensive graphic and production demands may require more memory capacity. If a printer is being used to serve a workgroup network, increased memory is usually advised. (Some inkjets designed for office use may have space for memory expansion).
Printers attach to PCs via a parallel port connection. For older model MAC users, printers are connected using a serial or SCSI port. Most current printers have Parallel and USB connectivity ports.
For PCs, there are two possible cable connections, either a standard parallel cable, or a USB cable. For Macs, a USB cable is more common, as the serial port is pretty much obsolete. Printer cables are usually sold separately.