Inkjet Printers

Other considerations: Printer consumables

The biggest contributor to the running costs of an inkjet printer is the replacement of consumables.

Ink costs money and will run out quickly, depending on what you're printing and the size of the cartridge being used. Generally, an inkjet cartridge will yield 300 to 800 pages per cartridge, but some inexpensive printers may require cartridges every 50 to 100 pages - the size of the paper tray.

Before handing over the cash, ask how much the replacement ink cartridges cost and how many pages each cartridge can print.

Prices range from around $13 for a black ink cartridge up to $80 for a colour photo inkjet cartridge.

In particular, look out for the cost of colour ink refills. A disadvantage of many colour printers is that when a single ink cartridge runs low, you have to replace the entire colour cartridge. With six or more colours to a cartridge, this problem becomes even more pronounced.

Some printers offer separate cartridges for each colour, so you can replace individual colours as and when necessary. This can result in a small saving in ink costs, even if the individual cartridges often cost comparatively more than a single set.

Counterfeit ink

Inkjet and printer toner cartridges have joined the ranks of counterfeit Rolex wristwatches and fake Nike sneakers. Around the world, Canon, Epson, Lexmark, and other leading ink makers are battling a rise in counterfeiters that are selling phoney ink packaged as the real thing.

It is important to note that fake cartridges should not be confused with third-party products, which are clearly labelled as such and are compatible with various name-brand printers.

Determining what is genuine at the time of purchase it difficult. If you do happen to buy the counterfeit product, the result is often leaky cartridges, poor quality printouts, fewer printouts per cartridge, dried up print heads and potential damage to printers.

The best bet to reduce your odds of getting stuck with a bogus cartridge is to buy only from authorised resellers.

Paper styles

Photo printer buyers also need to consider the quality and cost of the paper they intend to print on. The type of paper you use to print photographs will greatly affect the quality of the output.

Photo quality or glossy paper is best for optimum results when printing full-colour photographs; indeed, printing full-colour photographs on plain paper in standard mode will generally soak the page and curl it, resulting in a virtually unusable printout - not to mention a huge waste of ink.

There's a wide range of photo paper styles and accessories on the market: premium, glossy, coated, transparency paper/film, banner paper and T-shirt transfers. Different sizes area available, including panoramic and 6x4in.

A problem that plagued early photo papers was fading over time. To offset this, some paper manufacturers have introduced archival quality papers which, when used in conjunction with pigment-based inks, guarantee the colour-fastness of an image for a number of years (HP claims its photo paper is fade-resistant for up to 65 years, for example).

If you are keen to keep your photos for a long time, you may need to invest in these high-grade accessories to ensure the longevity of those prints. Most manufacturers mark on the paper packaging what type of printing the stock is suitable for, so check to ensure that the paper is fade-resistant, or colourfast.

On a final note: we recommend you use paper and ink cartridges made by the same manufacturer, to ensure the optimum quality of your pics. Printer manufacturers often develop specific types of ink to work on various styles of paper. In tests of inkjet photo printers, PC World found using the same type of consumables as the printer gave the best image printing results overall. When we tried using HP photo quality paper in Epson and Canon printers, and vice versa, we found results were well below par (splotchiness and poor ink absorption were two drawbacks).

Cartridge duty cycle ratings

Printer manufacturers give their products cartridge duty cycle ratings to indicate how many pages users can expect to print on average from a single cartridge. These can be a good way for consumers to compare the lifespan of ink cartridges across different types of printer models from the same printer manufacturer.

The cartridge duty cycle figure is usually displayed in the following way: 130 pages at 5 per cent coverage. While the first figure is self-explanatory (number of pages), the second figure could cause some confusion. What the manufacturer is referring to is the approximate percentage of the page the ink should cover in order to be able to last for the number of pages specified.

It's important to be aware that if you are planning on using the printer to print colour brochures or documents which feature a lot of thick, black text, your ink usage will be much higher than what is suggested by the manufacturer's rating. After all, 5 to 15 per cent coverage, which is what is commonly referred to by manufacturers in their duty cycle ratings, is a small amount of ink to a page. Users with more demanding printing needs can expect to replace the cartridge well before they reach the number of pages stated in the duty cycle rating.

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