Inkjet Printers

Printer driver

The printer driver is important when choosing a printer for two reasons: it acts as the interface software between your PC and the printer, and it is the access point that allows you to control the media stock and print quality from your desktop.

If you can, try to have a preview look at the printer driver interface. It's important to find one that is easy to use for you, and doesn't feature too many complicated setup options. How much control over the quality of the printout does it give you? How easy is it to switch the default paper size from Letter to A4 (a surprising bugbear in a number of printer drivers)? How well does it allow you to manage pending jobs?

Perhaps most importantly, what kind of feedback does it give you about the printer status - how much toner is left, what is the printer currently doing, and why is the printer not working the way it should?

Once you've made your initial printer purchase, you should check the manufacturer's Web site regularly for updates and patches for the printer driver. These are frequently updated to provide functional improvements, which may further enhance your prints.

Software extras

If you've bought a budget scanner in the past, you were probably pleasantly surprised by the avalanche of free software CDs that came with it. But don't expect printer manufacturers to display the same generosity.

Although a couple of manufacturers do bundle Adobe Photoshop Elements program, most printers come with little more than software drivers and basic printing utilities.

Overview of types of inkjet printers

Home Printers

Also known as entry-level printers, these units are highlighted by their simplistic feature sets and sparse controls. They are easy to install and use, and are perfect for printing documents and Web pages. If you want to print the occasional photograph, they will also indulge you: however, their quality - while being sharp and still very impressive - will not be as stellar as that of a dedicated photo printer.

In PC World tests, these printers have been found to be noisier and slightly less sturdy than their more expensive counterparts.

Prices for home printers range between $150 to $250.

SOHO Printers

Although these printers bear similarities to both home and photo printers in terms of their printing capabilities and pricing (around $500 to $600), they are generally distinguished by their boastful pages per minute speeds and connectivity options. They may also feature options for heavier ink tanks that will churn out more pages per cartridge than is standard, while their physical dimensions may also be bigger to help accommodate greater paper handling capabilities. Options for duplex printing (a method by which the printer can automatically print on both sides of the paper) may also be on offer.

Some SOHO printers may come equipped with an Ethernet port in addition to USB or parallel connectivity, while others might feature options for external print servers and even wireless connectivity.

Photo Printers

Heavily aimed at the digital photographer and priced between $270 to $900, almost all of these printers sport direct accommodation for more of the popular memory media used in mainstream digital cameras. This means you can simply remove the card from its camera, plug it into an adapter or directly into a slot on the printer, press a few buttons and print a few pictures.

Furthermore, some printers will house direct links for digital cameras made by the same manufacturer (eg, Canon printer and camera, or HP printer and camera combo). This means you don't have to even pull the card out of the camera.

The printers in this category will usually feature one black ink tank and either one three colour or one five colour ink tank.

Beware though: printing photos, even on 6 x 4in paper, will chew up a lot of ink, so watch your consumables cost. Also try and use the same brand photo paper as the printer: using HP photo paper with a Canon printer for example, can result in sub-standard prints.

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