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Choosing a Printer for Linux

What is a Printer?

A printer is simply a device which takes visual data and records this on paper: this could be text, images or a mixture of both. It's quite possible that you can get by without a printer (-the author managed to work from home for over a year without needing one), but these days that is only likely to be true if your computer (-or your data) is portable - so you can take it with you when you need to show other people - or you don't need to keep permanent copies of anything.

Ink Delivery Systems

Like most things in the computing world, printers can cost from as little as £25 up into the thousands - and how much you need to pay depends on what you need to use it for. If you are a professional photographer specializing in A3+ prints, you are going to be looking at a whole different set of printers to someone who occasionally prints off his/her emails!

There are two basic types of printers available for the home market:

  • Inkjet: the quality of inkjet text is not as good as that of laser printers - and pages are slower to produce. Inkjets excel in producing photo-quality images (-using specialist photo paper). The actual ink comes from a varying number of Ink cartridges (-from one to eight usually) which are much cheaper (-around £15) than a laser toner cartridge, but they do not last anywhere near as long. In general, the more ink cartridges a printer has, the better (-normally one ink cartridge = one colour)

  • Laser: laser printers are great for high volume, mainly textual, output. Cheaper lasers are generally black and white only, but the more expensive versions can be colour. Instead of inks, a laser printer uses a toner cartridge, the price of which can be steep (-i.e. over £100); however, they do last a lot longer than inkjet cartridges

Note: inkjet printers are generally cheaper than laserjets

Different Types of Printer

Apart from the way the ink is delivered, there are several broad classifications of printer:

  • Standard: these are normally the cheaper printers which need to be attached to a local computer and just print out what is received

  • All-in-one or Multifunction: these are printers combined with a scanner and/or fax device. They are ideal for where you need the ability to scan documents into the computer/photocopy documents and standard printing

  • Photo printer: these are designed specifically for printing out photographs from a digital camera. Normally, these will also allow photos to be viewed and printed directly from the camera (PictBridge) or various types of memory card (-e.g. SD or USB stick), without having to go through (-or even switch on) the computer

Narrowing down the Field

There are several questions you need to ask yourself before buying a printer, including the following:

  • Will you be printing mainly text or images? Laser printers are better for text and inkjets for images such as photos

  • What paper sizes do you need to handle? The majority of printers will handle A4 or less; far fewer handle sizes over A4

  • Volume of printing? If you are printing many documents a day (-aka duty cycle), then you will need a printer designed for office use

  • Quality? If the quality of output needs to be high (-e.g. commercial communications or images), then you will need to look at the higher end market

  • Will it work with Linux? We recommend you go to sites such as Open Printing and search for available Linux drivers for your proposed manufacturer / model prior to purchase

  • Networked or Local? If you intend to add your printer onto a LAN you'll need to check it has ethernet support (-either wired or wireless)

  • Duplexing? If you need (-and you should) to print double-sided output, you need to look for a printer with duplex or auto-duplex capability. Sometimes you can buy this duplexer separately but it is much more expensive to do so

  • Standalone Use? Consider if you need a copier function or would benefit from being able to use the printer without having to switch on the computer

Using the answers to the above, you should be able to narrow down what you actually need from a printer. You can then take your requirements and use a Search Engine to identify candidates that need your criteria.

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