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Guide to Laser Printers



Advantages of a Laser | Monechrome Laser | Colour Laser | Consumables| Drum | Toner Cartridge | Recyled Toners | Resolution | Speed | Paper Handling | Compatibility| Interface | Memory

The type of printer you choose depends on what you want to print, be it text, graphics or photos in black & white or colour. If you know that text will make up the bulk of your printing then a monochrome Laser printer will suit your needs. But for most graphics and photos you'll want colour, which means an inkjet printer or possibly a colour laser. 

One of the best ways to get information about printers is online. Some manufacturer sites have solution advisors that allow you to select criteria like price, interface and type of printer, and then search for models that match your specifications. Often you can view several sets of printer specs side-by-side for easy comparison. Reviews are also a significant source of information, providing analysis on price, speed, print quality and usability.  

Research is important and below is some brief information that we hope will be useful.

ADVANTAGES OF A LASER              [Back to Top]

The main advantages of laser printers are speed, precision and economy. A laser can move with much greater speed than an ink jet. And because the laser beam has an unvarying diameter, it can draw more precisely, without spilling any excess ink.

Laser printers or LaserJet printers tend to be more expensive than inkjet printers, but it does not cost as much to keep them running. Toner powder is cheap and lasts a long time, while you can use up expensive ink cartridges very quickly. This is why offices typically use a laser printer for printing long text documents.

However, prices have gone down as manufacturers have found new ways of cutting costs. Output quality and build size has improved, making them more suited to home use.

MONOCHROME LASER                     [Back to Top]

Laser printers work on the same electrostatic concept as photocopiers, which accounts for their speed. A monochrome laser produces sharp text fast. Lasers are best at reproducing text, especially if you need to print fonts that are larger or smaller than the usual 10 to 12 point sizes. A laser printer offers a lower cost per page since monochrome toner is comparatively cheap and regular paper does the job.

Laser printers also tend to have better paper handling options. For example, they can hold more paper or make it easier to attach an extra tray for different paper sizes. These features make monochrome lasers a great choice for a home office.

COLOUR LASERS                           [Back to Top]

Laser printers are usually monochrome devices, but as with most mono technologies, laser printing can be adapted to colour. It does this by using cyan, magenta and yellow in combination to produce the different printable colours.

  A key area of development, pioneered by Lexmark's 12ppm LED printer launched in the autumn of 1998, boosted colour print speed up to the same level as mono. The Lexmark Optra Colour 1200N achieves this by having completely separate processes for each colour.

Apart from their speed, one of the main advantages of colour lasers is the durability of their output - a function of the chemically inert toners that are fused onto the paper's surface rather than absorbed into it, as with most inkjets. This allows colour lasers to print well on a variety of media, without the problems of smudging and fading that beset many inkjets. Furthermore, by controlling the amount of heat and pressure in the fusing process, output can be given a user-controllable "finish", from matte through to gloss.

The future for laser and LED colour printing looks bright. Within years of the first appearance of colour lasers in 1994 prices have dropped. With the market continuing to be stimulated, both by falling prices and improved technology, it looks inevitable that the laser or LED colour laser will become as commonplace and as indispensable as the photocopier.  

CONSUMABLES                             [Back to Top]

By dividing the total cost of consumables by the number of pages produced from those consumables, you can calculate a cost per page.  

In addition to toner, laser printers have a number of components that periodically need to be changed. A toner cartridge has inside of it an OPC (Organic Photoconductor) drum, developer unit, ozone filter and fuser, which explain why cartridges can be so expensive. Some printers allow you to change each of these components separately so you'll need to calculate the individual replacement prices plus toner to arrive at a figure that is equivalent to cartridge price.

DRUM                                         [Back to Top]

Most lasers use cartridge technology based on an organic photoconductive (OPC) drum, coated in light-sensitive material. During the lifetime of the printer, the drum needs to be periodically replaced as its surface wears out and print quality deteriorates.

TONER CARTRIDGE                        [Back to Top]

The cartridge is the major item in a laser printer. Its lifetime depends on the quantity of toner it contains. When the toner runs out, the cartridge is replaced. Sometimes the toner cartridge and the OPC drum are housed separately, but in the worst case, the drum is located inside the cartridge. This means that when the toner runs out, the whole drum containing the OPC cartridge needs to be replaced, which adds considerably to the running costs of the printer and produces large amounts of waste.

The situation is even worse with a colour laser - which can actually have up to nine separate consumables items (four colour toners, an OPC belt or drum, a developer unit, a fuser unit, fuser oil and a waste toner bottle). Many of these must be fitted when the printer is set up, and all expire after varying pages counts, depending on the manufacturer and usage. This high component count is a major reason for the cost and general lack of usability and manageability of colour lasers, and its reduction is a major focus for laser printer manufacturers. Not all the consumables in cartridges wear out when the toner is finished so you can save money and recycle the cartridge.

RECYCLED TONERS                        [Back to Top]

A recycler can simply refill the cartridge with toner or remanufacture the cartridge by replacing the drum and a few other components with new ones. The recycled cartridge is usually quality tested too. Buying recycled cartridges can save you between 25-50%, and help the environment. We sell many of these, see our site for prices.

RESOLUTION                                [Back to Top]

Once you know what type of printer you need, there are a number of technical criteria that are worth consideration. Firstly, the printer's resolution tells you how many dots per inch (dpi) can be printed. Simply, the higher the resolution the better the image quality. Resolutions are quoted for both the horizontal and vertical (i.e. 300x600). The standard resolution to aim for is 600x600.

SPEED                                        [Back to Top]

Printer speeds vary a lot with lasers being faster than inkjets and monochrome text printing faster than colour graphics. The page per minute (ppm) quotes in the printer specs measure how fast the engine can turn out blank paper. This is not the actual printing time since it fails to take into account processing time. Raw engine speed does give an indication of true printing time, but it's wiser to read printer reviews that quote-actual ppm.

PAPER HANDLING                          [Back to Top]

Paper is obviously a crucial part of printing. For text, most printers do well on ordinary stock, but colour printers often require specialized stock for optimal results. Factor in the extra cost for this paper when you evaluate cost per page. As far as page size goes, most lasers and inkjets can handle A4, but expect to pay more for a printer that can handle A3 pages. Some printers can also print on heavy stock, envelopes, transparencies and labels. Make sure the printer can handle the types of paper you need. If you want to print on a variety of papers, you should also consider multiple paper trays. The capacity of the trays may be a factor depending on your expected printing volume.

COMPATIBILITY                            [Back to Top]

Not every printer is compatible with both Apple and Windows computers. The specifications will tell you what operating systems are supported. This all depends on the printer language, which consists of computer commands that tell a printer how to format a document. The de facto standards are PCL (Hewlett-Packard Printer Command Language) and Adobe Postscript. Windows GDI (Graphical Device Interface) can cause trouble if you're printing from DOS programs so check if the printer also uses another language like PCL. Postscript is the best at retaining the original formatting if you're swapping files with others.

INTERFACE                                  [Back to Top]

Another issue between your computer and printer is the interface. The parallel port is fine for personal use or in a small office where users are sharing one printer. But larger workgroups will require a network connection. There are many choices for network connectors so they are often considered extra accessories and not included in a printer's cost. Recently, a third connecting option appeared on the market, the USB (Universal Serial Bus). USB offers higher data transfer rates.

MEMORY                                     [Back to Top]

Laser printers need memory to hold a document. Often manufacturers reduce printer prices by including just enough memory for low-resolution printing. Make sure you check the printer has sufficient memory to print at the resolutions you want. Find out how much extra memory costs in case you want to upgrade later to increase the printer's efficiency. Also find out if you can upgrade with cheaper generic memory or if you have to use the manufacturer's brand.

Thatís all for now, we wish you the best of luck and let us know weather you found the above information useful!                       [Back to Top]



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