Laser Printers Buying Guide

To help you in your decision making process, we present some of the issues and questions you should be considering when choosing a laser printer.

Print speed

The print speeds quoted by manufacturers aren’t always accurate, as printers are tested in the best case scenario. PC World reviews use a standard test across all models and measure speed in pages per minute (ppm) in order to give you an indication of how fast a laser printer can spit out each page.

Other factors can affect speed, like a printer’s warm-up time and the time it takes to spool a job to the printer.

Memory and hard drives

You can often upgrade the memory (RAM) in laser printers by purchasing compatible memory modules or ordering an optional part from the manufacturer. Installing more memory will mean your printer can deal with a greater number of print jobs in a more timely fashion.

Hard drives are available as an optional accessory on some network-equipped laser printers to store documents for reprinting or with password protection. This isn't to be confused with RAM, however, and won't contribute to the printer's processing power.

Fonts and emulation

Resident fonts allow laser printers to print certain jobs quicker and at a higher quality, as they don’t have to constantly communicate with the computer. However, the difference isn’t always noticeable.

All laser printers offer some form of printer emulation, but some models offer more languages than others. These determine what functions on the printer a computer can control without a proprietary software driver installed, and what operating systems the printer is compatible with. PCL is the most common for laser printers and means that Windows, Mac OS X and Linux machines can all access most of a printer’s functions without drivers. Other common emulation languages include GDI (Windows-only), HP LaserJet (for specifically written software) and Adobe PostScript, for high quality graphics.

Special media support

There is usually a big price difference between laser printers that only accept A4 paper and those that can handle A3 as well. It's also worth checking whether the printer can handle special media like envelopes or cards. Inkjets tend to handle these media types better than laser printers, so it might be more cost effective to purchase a second, inkjet printer for these jobs.

An automatic duplexer is extremely handy for printing double-sided documents — it will help you save paper and, of course, money. They aren't always included as standard, but may be available as an accessory.

Trays and paper feeds are mostly a matter of convenience: how often you have to refill the tray, or whether you have to manually load A3 paper every time you want to use it, for example. Larger printers will have multiple tray options.

Colour laser printers

Most colour laser printers still have lofty price tags but are becoming much more affordable, with a current starting price of around $200. As with monochrome laser printers, colour laser printers are often faster at printing colour documents than inkjets, but quality and colour accuracy are typically poorer.

If you're looking to print lots of basic colour documents, a colour laser printer will certainly be beneficial thanks to lower consumable costs and higher print speeds. However, since toner powder is heat-fused onto paper instead of bonding with it, these printers aren't suited to printing on glossy media or producing accurate photos.

LED printers

LED printers work in much the same way as lasers; the only difference is that these printers use an array of LEDs instead of a laser to alter the drum’s magnetic pattern. LED printers are typically smaller, cheaper, quieter and more durable than laser printers. LED printers can also produce more accurate text characters but usually have a lower maximum print resolution.

You may not even know you're buying an LED printer, as some manufacturers simply market them as laser printers without advertising the difference.

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James Hutchinson

PC World
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