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How to choose a printer

A cheap machine may not be the cheapest one to operate. You need to read between the lines to get the best deal.

india Updated: May 28, 2012 22:06 IST
Gagandeep Singh Sapra
Gagandeep Singh Sapra
Hindustan Times

Time was when homework meant foolscape sheets and handwritten assignments, and computers were meant only for the computer science lab in the school. Now, there may computers all over the house, and school assignments mean A4 printouts, even with spiral-binding. The future is here.

So the question arises: do you have a printer at home? Are you planning to buy one? Are you fully clued-in to the world of inkjets and lasers and copiers and scanners? Read on to pick your machine.

Identify your needs Before you go further, ask yourself some basic questions: How many prints would you take a month? How many would be in colour? Are you okay with getting printouts and photocopies from a shop? Do you have multiple PCs at home? Do you know that you can send an email to your printer, and it would print? Would you be printing your digital photographs? Get set for Step 2.

Inkjet printers

These are the most common printer family. It is difficult to compare various inkjet models but the moment you start looking at a printer that needs to print over 200 pages a month, specifications such as print speed and size of the paper tray become important.

Most inkjet printers are colour capable. But the thing that matters is how much will it cost to print a colour page. Work this out by dividing the cost of the cartridge with the number of pages one cartridge can handle -- about which the vendor would give you an idea. If the cartridge costs R 1,500 and it can print about 500 pages, the cost per page is R3. It is a good idea to double that as an estimate, because if a printer is not used for some time, the cartridge may dry up and need to be replaced. Some printouts may be graphic-heavy, consuming up a lot of the ink. Also check if it will print with black cartridge if the colour cartridge runs out. Some do, but may not work in black mode without other colours. In some printers the colour part is also subdivided, so they take four cartridges -- black, cyan, magenta and yellow. This may appear an expensive alternative, but you get the benefit of needing to change only the particular colour that has run out. If the vendor talks of refilling an ink cartridge, let that not be a deciding criterion. The overall economics is what really counts.

Even if you don't need colour printers, remember that it is difficult to come by monochrome printers off the shelf. In case photo-printing is important, inkjets fare better than laser printers, but with sites such as Snapfish that provide printing services, it works out better to get the job done professionally -- unless you want instant gratification.

Laser printers These need to be considered if high volumes are required. Print cartridges cost Rs 2,000-3,000 -- and usually are in the four-colour format. At one time they used to be very costly, but now an entry-level laser printer costs about Rs 6,000, and have begun to gain popularity. If your turnover is likely to be high, laser is a viable alternative, with the bonus that the ink will not dry up as it is in powder form!

The downside is that the laser printers are power hoggers.

USB, Ethernet or Wi-Fi?

If you plan to connect only one PC to the printer, a USB printer is a great option. If you want to use multiple computers on one printer, a networked printer is a better -- though costlier -- option. Iif you don't wish to run wires, wi-fi is the way to go. This writer prefers the wired route, personally.

To e-print, or not to e-print

Send a mail to your printer, and find your printout waiting for you. Sounds like a dream? Some printers do have this facility. This can work if have a networked printer with your home broadband working, and everything powered on. Of course, you may still get some nasty surprises when you get home: a paper jam, maybe, or no printout. Or worse, several sets of printouts.


Copier, scanner, fax. Why have seperate machines for each function when both inkjet and laser variants offer all functionalities? Even if you already have a scanner, it would not hurt you to have a backup device. Consider this option if you have an office-like need to communicate frequently in many forms.

Camera-friendly printers

Some printers sport a USB port that says "Picbridge" or "Camera-ready." This basically means you can hook up your camera directly to the printer via USB and print an image from the camera directly. This writer likes to get photos printed professionally, and is willing to lug a pen-drive or memory card to the photo-lab and wait for the printouts. But it depends upon your individual tastes and requirements.

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First Published: May 28, 2012 21:24 IST