What type of printer has the best quality?
The debate between inkjet and laser printers has laser printer aficionados pointing to their crisp text and inkjet fans focusing on their ability to reproduce vivid colours. Modern printer technology has evolved to the point that both printers do an excellent job at just about everything, but each has a different set of advantages and disadvantages.
The differences between the two make each better suited for different purposes. Laser printers are faster (printing more pages per minute), tend to produce higher quality results (with some exceptions) and are more well-suited for high-volume printing than inkjet printers. Laser printers also print much sharper lines and are therefore well-suited for text, logos and simple business graphics. The economical laser printers are mostly monochrome, however. Modern inkjet printers print both black and white and colour these days, and they have an edge on laser printers for photo printing because they tend to blend colours better. There are, however, expensive commercial colour laser printers that are good at printing photos.
Resolutions vary from printer to printer. They've significantly improved since that early 96-dots-per-inch (dpi) inkjets in the mid-80s. The first desktop inkjet printers only had 12 nozzles on the printhead. Still, new printers have hundreds, sometimes even thousands, all less than half the thickness of a human hair, improving resolution significantly. The resolution has also been improved by the use of lighter cyan and magenta inks, colours that appear smaller to us, and the ability of printers to spray different drop sizes [source: Mitchell]. Common default resolutions for inkjet printers are 300 to 600 dpi, with higher resolutions possible in a lot of printers, some going into thousands of dots per inch.
The earliest desktop laser printers (including that first HP LaserJet) printed at 300 dpi resolution. Common laser printer resolutions today are 1200 or 2400 dpi, with some lower-end models printing at 300 or 600 dpi. All are perfectly adequate for printing most documents, with dpis in those ranges not being terribly discernible from one another to the naked eye. Dpi does make a noticeable difference with photo printing.
With inkjet printers, the ink usually dries quickly, but in some cases, the wet ink may need a little time to dry, so you can smudge it if you handle a newly printed page. With laser printers, the ink is fused to the paper before it exits the machine and does not smudge. The type of paper also makes a difference. Ink bleeds and spreads out on paper if it's too porous. Brighter white 24-pound paper is usually recommended for inkjets, rather than lighter 20-pound paper used for copiers and laser printers. Special photo paper is advisable for printing photographs.
The ink itself can affect print quality as well. Dye-based inks (which are soluble in water or other solvents) are better for blending colours and are therefore best for photos, but they may result in lines that are less sharp. Pigment-based inks (with insoluble pigment particles suspended in liquid) tend to result in sharper lines, so they're better for text, logos and other simple graphics. Indecisive? It's possible to find printers that let you swap cartridges to the type of ink you need.
Most laser printers print at resolutions of either 600 or 1200 dots per inch. Inkjet printer resolutions typically start at 1200 dpi and go up from there, with some approaching 5000 dpi. Since a 1200 dpi dot is so small that it is only visible under magnification or with the paper pressed to the viewer's nose, the additional resolution of an inkjet printer is only useful when dithering colours in a full-size photograph. When choosing a printer, though, remember that an inkjet's resolution varies with its speed setting -- while laser printers typically always print at their full resolution, inkjets only print at their peak resolution at their highest quality and slowest setting.
Colour and Greyscale Quality
Inkjet photo printers are the best option for businesses that need to print colour documents or black and white documents, like photographs, with a lot of variation in grey tones at the highest possible quality. Colour laser printers have a limited colour gamut and simply cannot reproduce certain colours. At the same time, their toners tend to product less saturated colours than inks while the way that they work increases the likelihood that large areas of continuous tone will show printing artifacts. Photo-oriented inkjet printers, on the other hand, have expanded ink sets. Some, like the Canon PIXMA PRO-1, ship with as many as 12 different ink cartridges. Colour laser printers have four -- black, cyan, magenta and yellow.
When Bad Things Happen to Good Prints
Laser printers have a significant advantage over inkjets in this area. Because inkjet printers use liquid ink, printers can be prone to smudging if they are rubbed before they are dry. Some highlighters will smudge even dry inkjet printouts, while a rainy day or coffee spill can destroy a print, as well. Businesses looking at an inkjet printer can minimize this risk by opting for one with pigment-based instead of dye-based inks. Printers using Laser or LED technology do not have this problem, since they melt the solid toner to the paper.
As long as you keep them dry, inkjet printouts should look as good or better as laser print outs, but they frequently do not. Because inkjets work by squirting very small quantities of ink onto paper, the ink ends up spreading in the paper as it dries. This can sometimes give their printouts a less crisp appearance than laser printers. Furthermore, while laser printers will generate about the same quality of output with any standard office paper, inkjets are more sensitive to paper quality as well as to the humidity level in the air.
Today there are almost a dozen different printer types available, and each has its advantages and solutions to your needs.
- Inkjet Printers
- Photo Printers
- B/W Laser Printers
- Colour Laser Printers
- Dye Sublimation Printers
- Multi-Function Printers
- Large Format Printers
- Bar Code Printers
- Label Printers
- Dot Matrix/Impact Printers
- Thermal Printers
- Pen Plotters
- Check Printers
- Industrial Printer
- Badge & Card Printers
While some of these are for very specialized applications, we will focus on the most common personal and business printers.
Inkjet Printers are probably the most common type of printers used today. Inkjet technology is used in everything from very inexpensive home printers to top of the line professional quality wide format sign printers. Inkjet printers have come a long way within the past 20 years. What was once extremely an expensive, low quality, loud and slow printer is now quite the opposite. Today's inkjet printer can print out an average of 13 to 15 Pages Per Minute (PPM) in black and 11 to 13 ppm in colour. Some inkjet printers can print 30+ PPM (pages per minute) in colour and black. These print speeds are based on the type of documents you are printing (coverage and resolution). You can find a huge assortment of printers to choose from various manufacturers (such as Hewlett Packard, Lexmark, Canon, Epson, and many more).
Number of Cartridges
Some inkjet printers have more cartridges than others. If you're very particular about how vibrant your photos are up close and if you're looking to print photos with wider tonal variation, don't get anything less than a 6-cartridge inkjet printer. Though you can still expect good quality photos from a 4-cartridge printer, the superiority of photos printed with a 6-cartridge printer is very pronounced to the trained eye.
If you're printing black and white photos: So you like life in monochrome. This means you should be looking for a printer that can properly print a good range of grey tones onto paper. For the black and white photographer, pay special attention to the number of black and grey cartridges, an inkjet printer has. For example, the Canon PIXMA Pro-1 has three greys (dark grey, grey, light grey) and two black (photo black and matte black) cartridges and is known to deliver stunning black and white prints with no colour casts and dynamic grayscale. On the other hand, the Canon PIXMA Pro-100 which only has grey, light grey, and black cartridges require a lot of tinkering with print settings before you can hopefully achieve a true black and white photo.
If you're printing coloured photos: The more cartridges your printer has, the more tonal variety your photos can possess. A 12-cartridge printer will most likely have deeper, richer colour tones and better shadow details than a 6-cartridge printer. Using our previous example, let's compare the cartridges used by the two printers:
Tricolour or Individual Color Cartridges
If you're in the market for a budget photo printer for printing personal family photos, something to ask yourself is: Do you get an inkjet printer with two cartridges (one black and one tricolour cartridge) OR four (one for each colour)? What's the difference? The downside to using tricolour cartridges (one cartridge that contains all cyan, magenta, and yellow) is that 1. it contains lesser ink, and 2. you need to replace the entire cartridge even if only one colour is low. So if you don't want to deal with these scenarios, get a printer that has a cartridge for each colour.
Inkjet printers use either dye-based ink or pigment-based ink. Let's go over a quick run-through of how these ink types differ from one another.
Dye-based ink is made from colouration that is dissolved in a liquid, usually either water or glycol. This helps the dye flow easily from the printer head to the page (and dry quickly once it's there). Dye-based inks are super sharp for text and create rich, vibrant colours in your images. Most standard inkjet printers you will encounter feature dye-based inks. Dye-based inks are not waterproof and tend to fade in 5-25 years.
To summarize, photos printed with dye ink are more colourful but are not waterproof and can fade faster than photos printed with pigment.
Pigmented ink is designed to create long-lasting photo-quality colour for professionals. Pigment ink sets often come in a wider range of tones than a standard dye-based ink set, in part because they are specialized for use with different kinds of paper. They offer more versatility to professional photographers to improve colour depth, sharpness, and tone by using different ink and paper combinations—though many manufacturers of both ink and paper will design their products with an intended combination in mind.
Apart from the difference in print quality, photographers prefer pigment printed photos because they are fade- and water-resistant. A caveat with printers that use pigment inks (as well as the cartridges themselves) is that they're more expensive. For both ink types, the ultimate quality of results your printer produces will also depend on the paper used.
Paper Media Types and Sizes Accepted
All inkjet printers accept standard printing sizes 8.5″ x 14″ and under, but if you're looking to print something like a 12″ x 18″ poster, you might need to look at wide-format inkjet printer options. For example, the Canon PIXMA Pro-1 can print photos up to 13″ x 19″ while the Canon PIXMA MG3620 can print only up to 8.5″ x 11.7″.
Apart from media size, inkjet printers also differ in the kinds of paper types they accept. The usual paper types accepted are copy paper, photo paper, matte paper, glossy paper, and card stock. But if you need a printer that can handle other types of art paper, be aware that not all inkjet printers can accommodate all media.
To illustrate, the Epson Expression Photo XP-960 wide format printer can print on fine art or textured paper but the Canon PIXMA iP8720 certainly can't. Some photo inkjet printers take a wider range of paper types while some might not, so make sure to check the specs before diving in.
Max Resolution (DPI)
Inkjet printers commonly have a resolution of 1200 x 1800 (DPI = dots per inch). For normal family photos, this resolution is acceptable. For professional photographers looking to print images of exhibit standards, this resolution simply won't cut it. Check out the list below so you can see how to print resolutions differ by printer:
When would a higher DPI matter?
Average inkjet printers today usually have a resolution of 1200 x 1440 dpi. This is a good enough resolution if you're not going to be printing photos larger than 5 x 7 inches. This little tidbit of knowledge can save you money when inkjet printer shopping since inkjet printers that boast higher resolutions are much more expensive than the average model.
Best Photo Printers
Here's a list of portable printers that can be carried around for printing photos.
Canon Selphy CP1300 Wireless Compact Photo Printer
Capture and print photos while on the go with Canon's wireless compact photo printer. Print out 4″ x 6″ photos or smaller in 47 seconds with this dye-sublimation printer. You can print card size or square 2″ x 2″ photos as well.
Canon PIXMA iP110 Wireless Mobile Printer
This printer has an outstanding print resolution of 9600 x 2400 max dpi with a print speed of 9 images per minute for black and white and 5.8 images per minute for colour. You can print 4 x 6 or 5 x 7 photos, or letter and legal-sized documents as well as #10 envelopes.
Epson PictureMate PM-400 Personal Photo Lab
Print photos straight from your phone with this Epson PictureMate PM-400. Get images printed in resolutions as high as 5760 x 1440 dpi. Uses dye-based ink—prints 4″ x 6″ photos in 36 seconds.
Budget Photo Printer
If you're looking for a photo inkjet printer to print family photos, a good printer may not be the cheapest, but it won't cost you an arm and a leg.
Epson Expression Home XP-4100
Get more bang for your buck with this multi-function inkjet photo printer from Epson. This printer uses Epson's MicroPiezo inkjet technology which provides you with max print resolutions of 5760 x 1440 optimized dpi–in a nutshell, and you get stellar sharp photos! This printer uses a black pigment ink cartridge and three individual dye-based colour cartridges, so you only replace the colour you need.
HP Envy Photo 7855 Printer
See superb photo printouts with this all-in-one printer powered by HP's thermal inkjet technology that can print 15 black/white pages per minute (ppm) or ten coloured ppm. You can get print resolutions of 1200 x 1200 dpi in black and white and 4800 x 1200 dpi in colour.
HP Envy Photo 7155 Printer
A slightly more affordable alternative to the Envy Photo 7855 is the Envy 7155. Both HP printers use one black and one tricolour cartridge instead of having one cartridge for cyan, yellow, and magenta. You can get max print resolutions of 1200″ x 1200″ dpi for monochrome images and up to 4800 x 1200 dpi for coloured images. Prints photos as large as a legal size document.
Professional Photo Inkjet Printers
Canon PIXMA Pro Series – Canon has three top of the line photo inkjet printers from the PIXMA series worth looking into if you're looking to print professional images. We hope to clearly differentiate each one to help you decide which one's a better fit for your needs.
Canon PIXMA iP8720
Another Canon contender when it comes to professional photo printing is the PIXMA iP8720. It boasts of a 9600 x 2400 maximum colour dpi so you can expect nothing less but detailed prints. It comes with one pigment black, two dye blacks, and three dye-based colour cartridges (6 cartridges total)—prints up to 13″ x 19″ images.
Epson Expression Photo HD XP-15000 vs Epson SureColor P400
Shifting our focus to professional Epson photo printers, there are two that stand out: The Epson SureColor P400 and the Epson Expression Photo HD XP-15000.
Overall, the staggering difference in price makes sense when you see how much colour intensity you can get simply based on the number of blacks and total cartridges the Expression Photo HD XP-15000 uses. Then again, it boils down to the photos you'll be printing. Whether you'll need that colour depth or not, is up to you.
Frequently Asked Questions
In short, printers work by converting digital images and text into physical copies. They do this using a driver or specialised software that has been designed to convert the file into a language that the printer can understand. The image or text is then recreated on to the page using a series of miniscule dots.
Here are a few reasons why we still need printers in our home and office… People simply find it easier and more convenient to print off a report, grab a pen and make notes and changes, highlight passages and underline important phrases.
Printers and speakers are examples of computer output devices. Printers output digital information such as text or image files to a physical medium such as paper.
Laser printers can print faster than inkjet printers. It won't matter much if you print a few pages at a time, but high volume users will notice a huge difference. ... Although they're more expensive, laser toner cartridges print more sheets relative to their cost than inkjet cartridges and are less wasteful.