Midnight runs to the copy shop for last minute sales proposals and essays are a thing of the past.

You may miss out on the nightly doughnut runs, but you are becoming more streamlined – not only in your midsection, but also in the printing equipment you’re using.
Home office printers are more powerful than ever these days. “The technology has grown by leaps and bounds,” says R. Craig Allen, product manager for consumer imaging at Epson. “As an industry we’ve increased the amount of nozzles on the printer head, reduced the size of drop lifts, and thus enabled our printers to print with more detail.”
Confused? Well you can be confident that the quality of the products has improved, even though you probably need a tutorial to clear up the tech talk.

Kodak EasyShare Photo Printer 500

In printing, as well as with so many other things, you get what you pay for. A reasonably good inkjet no-name printer can run from $100 to $300. Multifunction printers, which combine fax, copier and scanning capability, are about $300 to $400. Some monochrome laser printers cost $200, while a top of the scale colour-laser printer capable of near-print-shop quality might set you back $800 to $1000. 
But price is only a partial indicator of printer quality. A far better gauge is the specs, or performance characteristics, of various printers practical for home-office use. Barbara Krasnoff, About.com’s printer and scanner guide, says that the two most important specs to look at are pages per minute (ppm) and resolution.
Pages per minute is a measurement of how fast the unit can print. “This can vary widely, so the best way to judge is by comparing several similar printers,” Krasnoff counsels. “Be aware that, when you’re looking at the specs on a vendor page, what you’re looking at are the maximum pages that will be printed each minute. This is usually at draft speed, which is faster, but very low quality. You will seldom actually hit that speed.” If you’re buying a colour printer for photos, drawings or presentations, colour printing is usually slower than monochrome printing. However, in such cases, quality is more of a shopping guide than raw speed.
When you talk about printer quality, you’re referring to a characteristic called resolution. Resolution measurements indicate how sharp your image or text is going to be. For printers and scanners, resolution is most often expressed as the amount of dots per inch (dpi). “The higher the resolution, the better the print quality,” Krasnoff says. Text printers should offer at least 600 dpi, while images will demand 1200 dpi or higher. To put it another way, a 600 dpi resolution means that you’ll be asking your printer to print 120,000 dots per square inch on a given page.

Epson’s Stylus Photo RX700


Resolution and ppm are definately the most important criteria, but there’s a few other specs to spy before you buy.
Ink cartridge. Cheaper printers have room for only one colour cartridge. Better printers have slots for multiple cartridges and are capable of printing in several colors.
If you are printing colour documents, you should choose a multicoloured cartridge printer capable of holding multiple cartridges of up to a total of six colours.
Maximum paper size: From time to time, you may be called upon to produce documents that are smaller or
larger than average letter-sized paper. That’s why your printer should have at least two paper shelves: one for standard size and the other 9 x 14 or even 11 x 17. This larger size will let you print larger documents, such as posters, scrapbooks, etc.
If you intend to use your office printer to churn out photo-size copies of your digital snapshots, you’ll want a device with a slot for 4 x 6-inch glossy photo paper.
Connections. Just about any printer on the market today will come with a universal serial bus (USB) connection. If the printer comes with a parallel port connection, then it’s probably obsolete. Also, if you ever want to network your home office computers so you can share documents and peripherals, make sure your printer is network-capable.
Ink yield. This isn’t a printer spec so much as a printer cartridge spec. A good rule of thumb is that you want 400 pages for colour and 600 pages for black-and-white.
Operating system. There are some printers for Mac users, some for Windows, and even some for both. Make sure your printer is compatible with your computer’s operating system.

Brother HL-5170DN laser printer

Specs are highly useful, even necessary, for helping you choose a printer. Yet because there are a variety of printer needs for home offices, your choice should also be governed by what you intend to use your printer for.
If you are planning to use your printer mostly for text, invest in a good quality inkjet or personal laser printer. The specs we’ve outlined are just a guideline, and the minimum. “If you’re going to be printing a lot of high-quality images
for advertising, publicity, etc, look for a good photo printer,” says Krasnoff. “Some of the multifunctions also offer high-quality image printing.”
If you’re setting up a complete home office, Krasnoff recommends a multifunction device. “You’d judge them the way you’d judge any printer/scanner combo, looking for speed and resolution.”
She also says to look out for other handy features, such as duplexing (printing on both sides of a sheet) and an automatic document feeder for associated faxing and copying tasks.
Buying a printer for your home office is not unlike buying a car. Each choice involves lots of research into the specs. Sure, we’re talking $200 rather than $20,000, but your choice for a home-office printer should be a combination of functionality and taste.

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