Printing technology has become sophisticated enough to give your library the power to publish high quality materials without ever having to visit your local Kinko's.
Purchasing a printer confronts you with an impressive array of acronyms and jargon. To simplify things, TechSoup gives you all the information you need to know in order to make an informed decision.
How to judge a printer
The days of the dot-matrix printer are over, and print quality has been advancing steadily throughout the last decade. The most common gauge of a printer's quality and detail is the resolution, measured in linear dots per inch (dpi). The higher the dpi (the more dots that a printer can fit within a square inch), the higher the resolution, and the better the print quality. A 300x300 dpi (commonly referred to as 300 dpi) printer prints 90,000 dots per square inch. Similarly, a 600 dpi printer prints 600x600, or 360,000 dots per square inch.
It used to be that laser printers consistently outpaced inkjets in print quality. Now, both types of printers have sufficient quality for most common printing tasks.
Minimizing the wait for a print job is integral for libraries, especially when multiple users share the printer. There are a number of issues that affect the overall speed of a printer:
A printer that fires out pages at blazing speed after warming up for a couple hours is not particularly impressive. It is always important to find out how long it takes a printer to start from a "sleeping" state.
Pages per minute (ppm)
The second speed concern is the number of pages per minute (ppm) that a printer can output. Laser printers are usually the leaders in speed. Most laser printers will print at between 6 and 24 ppm, while anything over 8 ppm gets expensive in the inkjet field.
It is important to consider that a printer's ppm rating is based on text documents. Sometimes, printers that perform far above average when printing black text do not do nearly as well when printing graphics. Graphics printing usually depends on the printer's memory, but there are a number of variables that play into this speed. When buying a printer it is always a good idea to try printing a number of different documents (graphics, text, and combination of the two) on it before making a purchase. A number of online publications (CNET, ZDNet, etc.) perform these tests for you if you are buying a printer online or through a catalog, and you do not have the option of playing with the printer before purchase.
Endurance and cost of ownership
Approaching a printer purchase can be very similar to buying a car. After getting over how impressive the speed, look (or resolution), and cost is, you need to start thinking about the endurance and the overall cost of ownership. A speedy Porsche may look good in the store, but what happens when you need to find a part in the middle of nowhere? Likewise, a Yugo's upfront cost may look great on paper, but how will it look in two years when it no longer runs?
The cost of printer ownership can be difficult to determine, but there are some important questions to consider that may help:
What is the printer's duty cycle?
Usually expressed in pages per month, the duty cycle is the workload that a printer has been designed to handle. A light-duty printer will not be able to handle the strain of working in an environment with heavy-duty needs. Many who purchase printers look for the cheap cost upfront, but the total savings may not be substantial if a replacement is required every year.
What is the cost of supplies?
Inkjet and laser cartridges can run anywhere from $20 to $200. It is important to consider how much new ink cartridges and drums will cost before purchasing a printer. Some manufacturers will lower a printer's cost by cutting corners that make supplies expensive. For example, color inkjets generally give you three separate ink cartridges: one for each color. That way, if one color runs out, you simply replace that color. However, some companies still make color printers with a single ink cartridge to hold all three or four colors. This forces the user to buy a new cartridge when one color has run out, even if all the other colors are full.
What is the availability of supplies?
A printer with no ink is not useful. Printer cartridges can be notoriously hard to find, and it is important to find out where supplies can be purchased when buying a printer. Some companies are better at this than others, and the best bet is to go with a company for which supplies are readily available at a reasonable price.
What is the printer's compatibility?
A printer should be adaptable to your library's needs. Availability of drivers, networkability, and cross-platform capability are important considerations for libraries. A lot of printers run extremely well on a Windows platform, but do not as well on a Macintosh. While many printers can handle multiple size papers, others do not handle anything other than a standard 81/2x11-inch sheet. If you print envelopes or use irregular sized paper, make sure that the printer can handle it.
Inkjet vs. laser
Competing for the library desktop are two different printing technologies: inkjet and laser. Below is a quick guide with the basic information on both types of printers:
Resolution: 300-1200 dpi
Speed: 4-8 ppm
Inkjet technology has been around since the early 1970s, and it is only now becoming a viable printing option. While there are many patented inkjet technologies, all inkjet printers operate by squeezing heated ink through a syringe-like needle on to the paper.
Inkjet printers have become the standard for color documents, brochures, and photographic reproductions. They can carry a high maintenance cost in libraries with high printing demands. The cartridges tend to need replacing more often than with laser printers, but this may not be a problem in a library with fewer printing needs, or when used on a standalone machine.
Resolution: 600-2400 dpi
Speed: 6-24 ppm
Laser printers have held on to the office market for the past couple decades because they produce high-quality documents quickly. Laser printing technology is similar to a photocopier's except that a laser is used to reproduce the images, as opposed to a light.
Laser printers still lead inkjets in the heavy-duty, black-and-white printing category. While they may be a more expensive initial investment, laser printers are designed to carry much lower maintenance costs over the lifetime of the printer. They usually print more pages per minute than their inkjet rivals, and they offer features (multiple paper feeders and output trays) that allow for high-volume printing. They are a necessity in a networked/shared library setting.
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