Today's laser printers offer many features in a surprisingly small package. In the past, you might have had to go to your local print/copy shop for some of the services that are now standard on many laser printers. But more features mean a more expensive device. So it's important to know what your options are before making that purchase.
The speed of a laser printer is measured in pages per minute--the number of pages the device can print in one minute. As a general rule, the more expensive the printer, the higher the ppm. Typically, laser printers have three levels of quality settings: draft, normal, best—the higher the quality, the lower the print speed.
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Print speed can vary widely by manufacturer, model and the content being printed (text or graphics). Most black-and-white laser printers offer print speeds of up to 17 to 24 ppm. Some of the latest models offer speeds up to 60-plus pages per minute.
Color laser printers will be slower, offering print speeds up to 12 to 40 ppm.
All laser printers come with a certain amount of memory installed. However, the memory is often upgradeable by adding memory modules. Check your printer's documentation for details on upgrading the memory—how much you can add and the type of memory modules.
Some printers also have a built-in hard drive. Hard drives can store fonts and documents.
The addition of memory modules and hard drives can significantly speed up print times.
Resolution is measured in dots per inch. The higher the number, the higher the graphic quality. Most black-and-white laser printers offer a maximum print resolution of 600 by 600 dpi; however, printers with 1200 by 1200 dpi are also available. Color laser printers can have a resolution as high as 2400 by 1200 dpi.
If you plan to print graphics or photos, you will want the highest resolution you can afford.
Some printer manufacturers offer special, proprietary technologies that can effectively "increase" the printing resolution beyond the printer's mechanical abilities. For example, HP has developed Resolution Enhancement Technology, available on many of its current laser printers.
Duplexing is the ability to print on both sides of the paper. This is sometimes combined with the ability to create booklets—a useful feature if you plan to make brochures or presentations.
All-in-one laser printers combine a variety of functions, such as printing, copying, faxing and scanning. These types of printers are more expensive and are designed for businesses or home offices. They are not for people looking for a simple, everyday home printer.
Current laser printers support many media types and sizes, including standard papers in different sizes and thicknesses; papers with matte, satin or glossy finishes; photo papers; cover and card stock; and transparencies.
Additionally, laser printers can have up to five trays installed, each holding a different paper type, providing you with a variety of print options without the hassle of unloading and then reloading a single tray just because you want to use different paper. However, printers with four or five trays are large, frequently free-standing, devices. They can also be very expensive. Multiple trays can be a great feature, but determine how many you really need before handing over the money. A tray that collects dust is useless.
Consumables—parts that must be replaced over time—vary depending on the make and model. However, laser printers typically have three consumables: toner cartridges, print drums and fusers.
When purchasing a laser printer, you must consider the cost of the consumables. Manufacturers learned long ago that people keep printers for years. So, they make money through the replaceable consumables. Print cartridges, drum kits and fuser kits can be very expensive. Color laser printers use four print cartridges.
A printer can truly be an investment. Know and understand what kind of investment you are getting into before making a decision. Will it be cost-effective, or will it break your wallet over time?