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Computer Printer Shopping Guide

With dozens of computer printers on the market, shopping for the best price on a computer printer can be a daunting task. So, where do you even start?

To help ease the frustration that comes with purchasing new electronic devices, Dealio has composed an easy-to-use, step-by-step guide that breaks down all the important things you need to know before you make your final decision. From types of printers to all the different features, get the inside scoop on the best brands on the market.

Types of Printers

The type of printer you should buy depends on which model best fits your needs. Below are the types of computer printers available and the types of applications they serve best.

(1) Inkjet printers

Inkjet printers are excellent for printing color graphics and photos. While this process can produce quality black and white or color images, it lacks in printing text or sharp lines. Inkjet printers also have relatively slow print speeds, making them inappropriate for office use in situations where high turnout is required.

The most basic inkjets will have only three colors, which include cyan, magenta and yellow (CMY). These are combined to make black, and this type of setup can use up a lot of ink. When shopping for an inkjet printer, be on the lookout for a model that holds at least two cartridges: one for the CMY cartridge and another for just black (K).

Cost: Inkjet computers can cost as low as $100, while the higher end models can cost an upwards of $500.

(2) Color Laser & LCD/LED printers

If your printer will be for household or small business applications, a color laser printer is a great choice. Laser printers are excellent for printing text, color pictures and graphics. Laser printers can also print at significantly faster rates than inkjet printers, and the toner cartridges are less expensive than ink.

Cost: The biggest downside to a laser printer is the price. The lowest price computer printer in this category is around $300, while the higher end models can cost an upwards of $3,000.

(3) Dye Sublimation Printers

If you are a photographer or want to print mostly photo-quality prints or images, a dye sublimation printer is your best choice. This type of printer will help you make photo quality prints directly from your home, and is perfect for the hobbyist or experienced photographer alike. Keep in mind that most dye sublimation printers are capable of printing 4x6 photos only, and are not capable of printing text documents.

Cost: The lowest price computer printer in this category is $150, while higher end models can cost up to $500.

(4) Multifunction device printers

If your printer will be primarily for small to medium size business applications, a multifunction device (MFD) is your best choice. MFDs combine printing capability with other office necessities, including a copier, scanner and fax machine. A distinct disadvantage to the MFD is reliability. If one component of the system fails (the copier, for example), the printer, scanner, and fax machine will fail to work.

Cost: The lowest price computer printer in this category is around $350, while higher end models can cost an upwards of $500.

(5) Portable printers

If you need to print out documents on the go, a portable printer is a great choice. Portable printers are compact enough to fit in a briefcase, and usually weigh between one and five pounds. Portable printers usually employ inkjet technology although they tend to print at slower speeds and have a higher cost per page.

Cost: When shopping for the lowest price computer printer in this category, pay close attention to its means of battery power. Most portable devices run on rechargeable batteries and include a charger, but some models will not include these items and they will certainly add to the cost. Another consideration is how the paper is fed into the device. Some printers include a feeding device, which helps you load the paper without having to manually feed each sheet. Expect the lowest price computer printer in this category to be around $150, while the higher end models can cost an upwards of $500.

Types of Features

(1) Resolution

Resolution is the number of dots per inch (DPI) that your printer is capable of printing. The greater the DPI, the greater the quality images you can print. The most common resolution is 300x600 DPI. You won't need anything as high as 1200 DPI unless you want top photographic quality.

(2) Memory

Memory is important if you work in an environment where multiple people will print to the same printer simultaneously. You'll also need memory if you're printing high-resolution photos or other large files. The lowest price computer printers have minimal memory, while higher end models have faster processors and more onboard memory.

(3) Pages Per Minute

If print speed is a concern, then the pages per minute, or ppm, should be an important consideration. The lowest price computer printers, such as inkjets, print at relatively low ppm rates. On the other hand, color lasers and multipurpose printers usually have higher ppm rates.

(4) Paper Handling

Printers vary greatly in the types of paper they can use. Some printers can print on heavy stock, envelopes, transparencies and labels, so make sure the printer can handle the types of paper you need. If you need to print on paper larger than 8x5 by 11, make sure the printer can handle it. In general, the lowest price computer printers are capable of printing paper size 8x11, while the more expensive models can handle paper up to 11x17 in size.

(5) Compatibility

Not all printers will be compatible with both Windows and Apple. When you are making a decision, make sure that you check the printer's specs to make sure you can install the device to your computer(s).