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Linux Printing HOWTO
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5.4. How to buy a printer

5.4. How to buy a printer

It's a bit difficult to select a printer these days; there are many models to choose from. Here are some shopping tips:

Cost

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.

Inkjets

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.

Lasers

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.

Photography

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

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 fine.

Forms

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 fine.

Labels

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 printer.

Plotting

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.

Linux Printing HOWTO
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