Buying a printer requires a bit of technical knowledge. For example if you are evaluating two laser printers, wouldn’t it be nice to know what duplex printing is? Below you will find a list of commonly used printer terms that you should be familiar with, when it comes to researching printers to buy.
Printer Term Glossary
Printer Term Definitions
Connections – A USB or parallel port is all that home users need to connect a printer to a single PC. Business users or those with home networks will want an ethernet port so more than one user can share the printer. Some high-end business models have an infrared (IrDA) port option, which allows notebook or PDA users to print by pointing their infrared ports at the printer.
There are several ways in which a printer can connect to a computer or to a network. In order to connect the printer to the computer, both devices must support the same connectivity interface. They are as follows:
Parallel: A channel that is capable of transferring more than one bit of information at once. Because the communication is in two directions, these printers can tell you when there is an error in the printing.
Serial: A serial interface is capable of transmitting one bit at a time. Information is only transmitted in one direction but can send data over great distances.
USB (Universal Serial Bus): USB interfaces can support data transfer at the speed of 12 megabits per second. USB is steadily replacing parallel and serial interfaces, as every computer now comes standard with at least 4 USB ports.
Infrared: Infrared interfaces enable communication to the printer without cords or wires. To use the infrared port, both the printer and the computer/PDA must point their ports at each other and can transfer data as long as there is an unblocked view.
Coverage – Coverage is the percentage at which text and/or graphics will cover the page when printed. This is used in determining how long an ink or toner cartridge will last and how much consumables will cost over time.
Document Feeder – A device that feeds the document into the printer, fax machine, scanner or copier with no manual assistance. If not included with the printer, a document feeder is often available as an add-on accessory.
Duplex Printing – Duplex printing is printing on both sides of the page. Printers that have a model number containing a “D” are featured with a duplexer. If you are interested in the duplex feature, make sure to check if it is automatic or manual. An auto-duplexer contains an accessory inside the printer that flips the page automatically and requires no manual assistance.
Duty Cycle – Duty cycle is the maximum usage level of a printer, the number of prints it can reliably produce, on a monthly basis. This also takes paper-handling capacity and ink/toner replacement into consideration. To maximize the life of the printer, you should choose one with a higher duty cycle than you need. This will also limit cartridge replacements and equipment malfunctions.
Ink Cartridge – An ink cartridge is a replaceable piece of an inkjet printer that contains the ink for printing. Some ink technologies now contain the print-head on the ink cartridge itself, so that it is replaced with the cartridge and does not have to be replaced in the printer. A typical color ink cartridge contains cyan, magenta and yellow inks in one.
Inkjet Printers – The slowest but most affordable type of printers, inkjets shoot tiny sprays of colored ink through microscopic holes in a printhead onto a page, one printhead-height row at a time. Most inkjet printers offer resolutions of up to 4800 by 1200 dots per inch, which makes them suitable for printing high-quality graphics and photos, though typically more slowly than a monochrome or color laser printer would.
Inkjet printers are inexpensive printers for the masses, designed for home users, students, or anyone who isn’t concerned about the highest text quality. However, a high price does not necessarily indicate excellent graphics and photo prints. The real cost of an inkjet printer comes not from the price of the unit itself, but from the ongoing cost of replacing ink cartridges. Printer manufacturers use a business model similar to that of razor makers: You can buy a great razor for very little money, but you spend a lot replacing the blades.
In the past, almost all inkjets offered the same features: one paper tray for 100 or 150 sheets and 10 envelopes, minimal buffer memory, and no networking option. However, vendors these days are increasingly using features such as larger displays or touch screens, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and increased paper management options to differentiate their products. Makers of business-oriented inkjets are also offering higher capacities, optional paper trays, ethernet network connectivity, and more memory.
Inkjet Printers spray fast-drying ink onto paper to create text and images. Most companies manufacture both general-purpose inkjets and photo-printing inkjets. Photo-printing inkjets print all sizes of photos, so be careful not to confuse them with photo printers that only print 4 x 6 photos. If you’re a homeowner or small business that doesn’t have a heavy volume of printing, or someone that prints high quality photos and images, an inkjet printer is the way to go. Business-oriented inkjets are also an option, with more memory, optional paper trays and Ethernet network connectivity.
Laser Printers – Laser printers are often chosen for businesses because they offer a balance between fast speed and high text quality. They also cost less per page. Personal laser printers have become more accessible, and are ideal for those who print large amounts of text documents. Laser printers come in monochrome and color models.
Media Card Slots – Found in many inkjet printers, a media slot allows you to print directly from the memory card. It also lets you transfer the images to your computer. An LCD screen enables previews before printing. It is important to make sure the printer supports the media card you use before buying.
Memory – Printers queue documents in memory and store TrueType fonts locally to produce the best output. More memory lets you print more documents more quickly, or upload more fonts for higher-quality text. Most high-end lasers include at least 64MB of RAM, with expansion options permitting a few hundred megabytes of memory for queuing multiple print jobs at once (for a busy office, equip your laser with at least 64MB to 128MB).
Memory is RAM built into a printer to increase the print speed and process larger print documents. Memory also allows the printer to store TrueType fonts for high quality text. When a printer is connected to a network, memory in the printer can process several documents sent at once.
Multifunction (MFP) / All-in-One – Multifunction printers combine printer, copier, fax machine and scanning abilities into one machine. They are also referred to as All-in-One printers. Multifunction devices are available with either inkjet or laser printers. With multifunction printers it is possible to get quality prints and scans from the same unit, and the devices usually work better together than separately.
Input Capacity – The input capacity is the number of sheets of standard paper that can be stored in the input trays to be fed through the printer. A large input capacity tray is essential for larger businesses because the paper does not have to be refilled that often.
Output Capacity – The output capacity is the number of sheets of standard paper that can be held in the output tray of the printer, for sheets that have already printed. If you will be printing large documents, it is important to have a high output capacity.
PictBridge – Many mainstream photo-oriented inkjets include a feature called PictBridge, which is a dedicated USB port for connecting your digital camera directly to the printer. Most also have built-in media card slots that let you plug in a storage card and press a button for instant prints, as well as an LCD menu for selecting prints; each of these options means you don’t have to go through a PC to output images. These printers such as the Canon PIXMA IP3600 can produce beautiful color photographs. If you change the settings in the driver to “Best” or “Photo” mode and use premium photo paper, many inexpensive, sub-$100 printers can generate high-quality photo prints.
A few lasers, such as the HP Color LaserJet 2605dtn and Konica Minolta Magicolor 2430DL, have media slots or a PictBridge port for printing from a digital camera.
Many inkjet printers are now featured with PictBridge technology in which the printer can connect to PictBridge-enabled cameras. This allows the user to print directly from the camera, bypassing the need for a computer. Settings such as layout and print size are done right from the camera.
Printhead – The print head is the part of the printer that applies the ink to the paper. To reduce costs, some companies have begun placing the printhead on the ink cartridge. Because the printhead is an important part of the printer and wears quickly, replacing it with each cartridge increases the life of the printer and lowers maintenance costs for the user.
Print Quality – Print quality is the overall excellence of the printed product. Text should be sharp and legible. Graphics and images should look natural and evenly shaded. Higher price does NOT always mean higher print quality, especially in inkjet printers.
Print Speed – Print speed is the speed at which the printer can output full pages. It is measured in page per minute, or PPM. Color laser and inkjet printers are measured in both text and color print speed; monochrome printers in text print speed.
Resolution – Resolution refers to the number of dots in a square inch that the printer can output. More dots provide a finer level of detail, which is especially important with graphics. Monochrome lasers usually have a maximum resolution of either 1200 by 1200 or 600 by 600 dpi. Even these fairly modest resolutions for lasers suffice for printing sharp text and simple grayscale graphics.
Resolution is the overall sharpness of images and text on paper, measured in the number of dots per square inch that a printer puts on each sheet of paper. A high number of dots mean a finer level of detail, which is important when printing photos and graphics. The dots are measured horizontally by vertically. Most inkjet printers have a maximum color resolution of 4800 by 1200 dots per inch.
Toner Cartridge – A toner cartridge contains a powder made of pigment and plastic. The pigment is used to fill the colors needed and then mixed into plastic particles. When the heat fuser hits, the toner can melt as it passes through. This is an advantage when on paper because the plastic prevents text and images from smudging.