3 Types of Printers

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When considering purchasing a new printer, you have multiple types to choose from that could meet your needs. Inkjet and laser printers are examples of printers both home and business users can use to print high-quality text documents and photos, although performance and costs vary between these options. There are also special-purpose printers that are most common for companies that need to print invoices, receipts or even physical objects. Understanding the features, uses, pros and cons of these three types of printer options can help you make an informed choice.

Inkjet Printers

A popular choice for home users, inkjet printers are an economic option for printing high-quality documents and photos in both color and black and white. This type of printer features a print head with nozzles that spray ink from ink cartridges onto the paper. Inkjet printers typically have at least two ink cartridges – a black ink cartridge and a tri-color one with magenta, yellow and cyan ink – although some photo printers use separate cartridges for individual colors. Despite their relatively low price, many inkjet printers are capable of printing high-quality documents and photos between 300 to 600 dots per inch and sometimes even higher.

Inkjet printer advantages include capability for printing black and white documents quickly and having many options available under $100 for home users. Downsides include being slower than laser printers for color documents and involving a higher expense per page due to ink replacement requirements. In addition, some drying time is necessary after printing documents to prevent smearing of ink.

Laser Printers

Available in monochrome and color versions, laser printers are particularly popular with people who need to print hundreds or thousands of pages a month. Instead of using a print head and liquid ink cartridges, these printers use a cartridge with a powder called toner and feature a complex system that includes a laser, charged wires, print drum, mirror and fusing rollers. These printing components work together to generate positive and negative electrical charges and heat that help release and melt the toner powder onto the page to print your text and images.

A benefit of using a laser printer is that you can print quality documents at a quick speed, up to around 40 pages per minute for monochrome pages and 26 pages per minute for color pages. While they do cost more upfront, laser printers offer a lower printing cost per page since you can print thousands of pages before needing to replace the toner cartridge. The University of Wisconsin, however, warns that laser printers usually aren't the recommended option for printing photos at home, especially due to the high cost of color laser printers.

Special-Purpose Printers

While inkjet and laser printers satisfy daily printing needs for most users, special-purpose printers exist for commercial and home usage. Often used to print invoices for businesses, a dot-matrix printer (also called an impact printer) has a print head with pins that press down on an ink ribbon to create the characters on a document. Other common business printers are thermal printers, which use heat and special paper or ink to produce documents such as receipts, and line printers, which print a whole line at a time and use a continuous paper feed. A newer special-purpose printer both businesses and home users can use is a 3D printer, which lets you create physical objects using computer modeling software and a special plastic filament.

Which Printer Is Best for Home Use?

Laser and inkjet printers are the two categories of printers that most home users choose. If you're looking for an inexpensive printer to print documents and photos, then an inkjet printer can be a good choice. You might consider an all-in-one version if you want the convenience of making copies, scanning pages and possibly sending faxes with one unit. If you mostly print black-and-white documents and have a very high print volume, you might prefer a laser printer for its speed and lower cost per page printed. However, a color laser printer is likely not economical for regular home users.