You get what you pay for. Most printers under $200-300
can print reasonably well, but printing costs a lot per page.
For some printers, it only takes one or two cartridges to add
up to the cost of a new printer! This is specially true for cheap inkjets. Similarly, the cheapest
printers won't last very long. The least expensive printers,
for example, have a MTBF of about three months; obviously these are poorly suited
for heavy use.
Inkjet printheads will clog irreparably over time, so the
ability to replace the head somehow is a feature. Inkjet
printheads are expensive, with integrated head/ink cartridges
costing ten times (!) what ink-only cartridges go for, so the
ability to replace the head only when needed is a feature.
Epson Styluses tend to have fixed heads, and HP DeskJets tend
to have heads integrated into the cartridges. Canons have
three-part cartridges with independently replaceable ink
tanks; I like this design. OTOH, the HP cartridges aren't
enormously more expensive, and HP makes a better overall line;
Canon is often the third choice from the print quality
standpoint. Epson Styluses and HP inkjets are the best supported by
free software at the moment.
Laser printers consume a drum and toner, plus a little
toner wiping bar. The cheapest designs include toner and drum
together in a big cartridge; these designs cost the most to
run. The best designs for large volume take plain toner
powder or at least separate toner cartridges and drums.
The best color photograph output is from continuous tone
printers which use a silver halide plus lasers approach to
produce—surprise!—actual photographs. Since these
printers cost tens of thousands to buy, Ofoto.com offers
inexpensive print-by-print jobs. The results are stunning;
even the best inkjets don't compare.
The best affordable photo prints come from the dye-sublimation
devices like some members of the Alps series (thermal transfer
of dry ink or dye sublimation), or the few consumer-grade Sony
photo printers. Unfortunately the Alps devices have poor free
software support (the one report I have from a Alps user of
the Ghostscript driver speaks of banding and grainy pictures),
and even then it's unclear if the dye-sub option is supported.
I have no idea if the Sonys work at all.
The more common photo-specialized inkjets usually feature 6
color CMYKcm printing or even a 7 color CMYKcmy process. All
photo-specialized printers are expensive to run; either you
always run out of blue and have to replace the whole
cartridge, or the individual color refills for your high-end
photo printer cost an arm and a leg. Special papers cost a
bundle, too; you can expect top-quality photo inkjet output to
run over a US dollar per page. See also the section on
printing photographs later in this document, and the sections
on color tuning (such as it is) in Ghostscript.
Lately color lasers have been getting a lot cheaper, these devices may be interesting for color reports. Color lasers are a lot cheaper per page than inkjets. However they may still not be suited for photographs. One day color lasers may become common and replace those boring monochrome laser printers.
Speed is proportional to processing power, bandwidth, and
generally printer cost. The fastest printers will be networked
Postscript printers with powerful internal processors.
Consumer-grade printers will depend partly on Ghostscript's
rendering speed, which you can affect by having a reasonably
well-powered machine; full pages of color, in particular, can
consume large amounts of host memory. As long as you actuallyhave that memory, things should work out
If you want to print on multicopy forms, then you need an
impact printer; many companies still make dot matrix printers,
most of which emulate traditional Epson models and thus work
There are two supported lines of label printer; look for
the Dymo-Costar and the Seiko SLP models. Other models may or
may not work. Avery also makes various sizes of stick-on
labels in 8.5x11 format that you can run through a regular
Big drafting formats are usually supported these days by
monster inkjets; HP is a popular choice. Mid-sized (11x17)
inkjets are also commonly used for smaller prints. Much
plotting of this sort is done with the languages RTL, HP-GL,
and HP-GL/2, all of which are simple HP proprietary vector
languages usually generated directly by application software.