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Finding the Right Printer: Basic Features and Styles

By April Hussong

From simple projects to color-saturated photos, a printer opens a wide realm of publishing possibilities. You can share snapshots with family and friends, spruce up a report for school or compile a career-launching presentation. Whatever you have in mind, the right printer can make it happen.

But how do you find the "right" printer for you? The scope of printer technology has grown by leaps and bounds, but this streamlined information is here to help you identify the printer best suited to your needs.
Basic Features
Each type of printer has its own range of strengths and weaknesses, designed to cater to certain needs. However, there are a few features you should consider from the start:
  • Color output - Choose basic black-and-white printing, or step up to 4-color or even rich 6- or 8-color printing.
  • Speed - Measured in pages per minute (ppm), printer speeds indicate output quantity. Pages in black and white print considerably faster than pages in color (especially high-res, densely colored photos). (Keep in mind, though, print speeds will vary with use.)
  • Image resolution - Resolution determines the amount of detail the printer can reproduce; values range from barely adequate to printouts indistinguishable from processed photos.
  • Printer size - The size of the printer unit itself versus the amount of available space can be a big factor.
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Your Printer Personality
Before you buy, it's crucial to determine what you need and what you're looking for in a printer. Is speed important, or do you prefer quality over quantity? Will average image resolution pass muster, or do your printouts need to stand up to close scrutiny? Are you looking for more from a printer than just printing?

Here's a quick matchup between printer personalities and printers:
  • I need a basic color printer for home and school projects, but my desk is sandwiched in a corner. Any suggestions?
    A solid inkjet printer is probably your best bet. Perfect for most general printing needs, you get brilliant color for both images and text on top of standard black-and-white printing. Image resolution tends to be average, but still good enough for satisfactory photos. Plus, most inkjets have compact designs and require minimal desktop space.

  • I'm looking for a fast black-and-white printer that can handle a lot of pages at high speed. What have you got?
    laser printer should suit your hectic workday and keep your office humming. You get crisp black-and-white text, enough resolution to generate defined grayscale images and a high-volume printing capacity. However, be aware that laser printers typically require more desktop space.

  • I need a high-quality color printer for my digital photos. What type of printer should I consider?
    Sounds like a photo-quality printer would be right up your alley. High image resolution values produce outstanding, true-to-life prints, and some models are compatible with digital memory media from your digital camera, enabling direct photo downloads without a computer.

    For the most incredible realism and detail available, invest in a dye-sublimation photo printer, which produces prints that rival lab-processed photos, with added benefits such as enduring lightfastness and resistance to elemental exposure.

  • I run a small desktop publishing business, so my home office needs a super-fast, high-quality color printer. What's available?
    If your printing needs are a step beyond basic printing, consider a high-end color laser printer. They're more expensive, but definitely worth the price if you're doing high-end desktop publishing. They're built to handle big, complex print jobs quickly.

  • With my never-ending project cycle, I need a dependable printer, but my scanner, fax and copy machine already take up too much space. Is there help in sight?
    multifunction printer could very well be your ticket to sanity. Ready to be the hub of your communication world, this jack-of-all-trades gives you a little bit of everything, including printing, copying and scanning; some models are also capable of sending faxes. Better yet, all this productivity comes in one space-saving unit.

  • I don't fit into any one category. Any bright ideas?
    Don't despair; a number of printers bridge category boundaries. For instance, some models combine the speed of a laser with the all-hands-on-deck convenience of a multifunction printer, or bring photo-quality resolution to a modest inkjet. Or perhaps it's time to consider a combination of printers, especially if you're furnishing a small or home office; a high-speed laser printer with a photo-quality or inkjet printer on the side could be the best way to meet your specific needs.
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Helpful Accessories and Extras
Make the most of your new printer with these accessories:
  • A printer without paper is like a sundae without ice cream. Our wide variety of paper and print media can supply any project with the perfect flavor.
  • Guard against printer dehydration by keeping plenty of ink on hand. Browse our selection of ink and toner cartridges.
  • Cables are a must for connecting the printer to your computer. Most printers come with a cable, but be sure to check.
  • Surge protectors and UPS devices protect your printer and the rest of your computer equipment from damaging power fluctuations.

Ready to Buy?
Ready to put a printer to work for you? Visit's selection of inkjet,lasermultifunction and photo-quality printers.