How to Choose Laser Printers

While laser printers create an image and throw powdered ink (toner) to paper that passes over an electrically charged drum, an inkjet printer sprays tiny dots of ink onto the page to create the image. A laser printer is standard equipment in offices around the world. These workhorses of the business world offer users the best quality and speed for the price. Even if you're a home user or student, a laser printer is your best option if you frequently print a lot of text-based documents. If your printing needs lean more toward graphics or photographs with only the occasional document, you're better off purchasing an inkjet printer.

You'll also want to consider how frequently you'll be printing. If you'll be printing a lot of documents, what you'll spend on cartridges for an inkjet will far exceed the cost of toner over the lifetime of a laser printer. A laser printer also generally offers more features than an inkjet, including larger paper tray capacity and password-protected printing.

Printing Needs Best Printer Reasons
Text Only Monochrome Laser Printing speed; low cost per page
Mostly Text, some Color Charts, Graphics, Presentations Color Laser Printing speed, adequate print quality for plain-paper documents that mix text, graphics and photos
Photos Only Inkjet Top quality prints
Mostly Graphics and Photos, some Text Inkjet Reasonable balance between quality and speed

Monochrome or Color?
You can get a monochrome laser printer for as little as $150. These personal laser printers are affordable and less expensive to maintain than inkjet printers. A color laser printer is considerably more expensive, and it's here that you may be tempted to choose an inkjet printer instead. Keep in mind that the initial investment for color toner cartridges increases the upfront cost of a color laser printer, but color printing will ultimately cost less per page than inkjet printers. While some color laser printers are capable of printing photos, the quality is noticeably poorer than inkjet printers. If photo printing is your motivation for considering a color laser printer, you should choose an inkjet printer instead.

Interestingly enough, PC World reports that, in general, color laser printers can print all documents, whether black-and-white or color, faster than monochrome laser printers. If speed is a key consideration, a color laser printer may be worth the investment. If you're not a graphic artist but simply want the option to print color, purchase an inkjet as an auxiliary printer. There is nothing wrong with owning two printers. You could easily follow the strategy of owning a monochrome laser printer for your day to day needs for black and white, and an inkjet for the occasional color print job.

Print Quality
A laser printer will produce sharp text and crisp output of simple graphics (black or grayscale) but that doesn't mean you should ignore resolution specifications altogether. Printer resolution is measured in dots per inch (dpi). The more dots per inch, the sharper the print job. That is, more detail is visible to the naked eye. This is worth considering if you'll be printing graphics. Monochrome laser printer resolution maxes out at 1200 x 1200 or 600 x 600, but these scales are more than adequate for printing text and graphics. Color laser printer resolution can be as high as 2400 x 1200, which enhances the quality of the color print.

Memory determines how quickly a laser printer prints and the quality of the prints it produces. Printers store documents in memory. More memory allows you to print a higher resolution at faster speeds. If you send a high-resolution job to your laser printer but don't have the memory to handle it, the printer automatically adjusts the job's resolution to match the printer's capabilities.

Memory upgrades are fairly inexpensive, so if you choose a lower-end laser printer with less memory, look for one that can accept memory upgrades, especially important if you'll be networking the printer for multiple users in a small office. Most high-end laser printers come with at least 64MB of memory. If you're buying for a busy office, choose a laser printer that can be upgraded to 128MB. Again, if speed is key, consider purchasing the model with extra memory if possible.

Output Capacity
Laser printer trays can hold anywhere from 150 to 500 sheets of paper. Laser printers designed for corporate use fall on the high end of this range. Most laser printers provide users with the option of adding extra trays, which makes using multiple types of paper more convenient. Multiple paper trays also make it easy to re-use printed pages and save on paper costs. A laser printer with duplexing or double-sided printing capabilities will achieve the same goal.

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