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Printer Buying Guide

Types of Printers
Printer Features
Inkjet Printer Features
Laser Features



All-in-one - This refers to a multifunction devise that can perfom more than just printing. Printing, copying, scanning, and faxing are usually standard capabilities of these machines. Scanners can either be sheetfed or flatbed.

Anti-aliasing - This is used to make graphics and text easy to read and appear pleasing to the eye on-screen. It consists of mathematical formulas that enables the detail around the edges of each charater to be enhanced.

Auditing - A Windows NT feature that enables the system administrator to monitor printing activities for any user.

Autoanswer - A setting available for most fax machines, fax modems, and multifunction devices with fax capability. With autoanswer, your all-in-one automatically picks up incoming fax calls after a specified number of rings.

Automatic Document Feeder - A tray or attachment that feeds one page at a time into a printer or scanner.

Automatic Paper Sensing - An optical sensor on a printer "reads" the unique media "signature" of the paper, or detecting the type of paper, by measuring inherent physical properties and comparing them with the signatures of other types of media. Once the media is identified, the printer optimizes printing for different media types.

Automatic Two-sided Printing - The printer automatically outputs a two-sided page without having to manually reverse and feed the paper. Automatic Two-Sided Printing is an option and does not have to be selected. It is standard with some high-end HP printers.


Banner Lifter - An attachment to help smoothly feed continuous banner paper through your inkjet printer.

Bays - The physical frame of a microcomputer case, a space for installing an internal drive or a peripheral.

Bi-directional - A term for a parallel printer connection or an external peripheral in which the data flows regularly in both directions between computer and printer.

Bit - The abbreviation for binary digit: The smallest unit of digital information, represented by 1 or 0. Computers and peripheral devices usually use many bits to represent information about each pixel of an image.

Bit Depth - A digital image is represented as a bitmap (a grid of dots). The bit depth is the number of color tones that can be associated with each dot. A 1-bit color can only contain 2 colors - black and white. But an 8-bit color contains 256 shades (color or gray), while a 24-bit color contains 16.7 million shades.

Bitmap File - Usually carries the file extension .BMP. The standard graphics format for Windows images.

Black Copy Speed - The speed at which the copier produces black text. Copy speed is measured in copies per minute (cpm).

Black Print Resolution - The degree of clarity with which a printer prints black text, measured in dots per inch (dpi).

Black Print Speed - The speed at which a printer prints black text. Print speed is measured in pages per minute (ppm).

Brightness - An adjustment to control the lightness and darkness of an image measured by the percentage of light reflected.

Broadcast Faxing - A fax machine feature, usually found on most all-in-ones, that sends the same fax documents to multiple recipients.


Carriage - The fixture in the print device that holds the print cartridge. The carriage may slide on a carriage rod (or rods) to scan (pass over) the media.

Centronics - Another name for the standard PC printer cable design (also called a parallel printer cable).

Charging Roller - One of the complex system of rollers inside a typical laser printer or all-in-one. The charging roller transfers an electrical charge to the photoconductor, which repels particles to the toner.

CMYK - An acronym to represent Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black, the process colors used in correct proportions to create the color range of a digital image. These are general names for the color hue of the colorants (dyes and pigments) typically used in formatting (including inkjet printing). These 4 colors are used to create all colors in this type of digital image.

Coaxial Cable - The cable typically used in Ethernet networks; also used to provide cable TV service.

Collation - A feature offered on some inkjet printers, laser printers and all-in-ones; with collation turned on, multiple copies of a document are printed as separate documents. Many of these products have a box labeled "ordered printing." With ordered printing turned on, the pages in a multiple-page document are printed in the correct order.

Color Balance - A print quality attribute that refers to the overall color cast of an image. Unbalanced images appear to have an underlying color so that grays do not appear neutral.

Color Matching System - A system of computer software, display hardware, cardboard color wheels, and color filters. Used together, these elements help guarantee that the colors used on the monitor are the same colors that will be printed in the final document.

Color Resolution - The resolution at which a printer prints colored text, measured in dots per inch (dpi).

Color Separation - A color printing technique used to print full-color photographs and mulit-color images and text. A standard set of colors (usually cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) is applied in separate layers, and the combination of these layers creates the different colors.

Color Wheel - A number of cardboard or plastic cards held together by a wire or bolt; each card carries a different color and an identifier for that color in a particular color matching system. A color wheel is useful for comparing the actual color represented within the color matching system with the color displayed on a monitor or physical layout.

Compatibility - How well one computer, attached device, data file, or program can work with or understand the commands, formats, or language of another. True compatibility means that any operational differences are invisible to people and programs alike.

Cost per Page - The price you pay to use and maintain your printer. Cost per page for an inkjet printer can hit a dollar, and rise, while the laser's cost per page stays below a nickel. A photo-quality printer's cost per page prohibits its use for simple monochrome text documents.

Corona Wires - A set of thin wires inside the body of a laser printer that transfers a static charge to each sheet of paper; this charge in turn attracts the toner to the paper.


Daisywheel - An early letter-quality impact printer that used a typewriter-style daisywheel or rotating ball.

Dedicated Print Server - A PC in a network dedicated to managing the available printers.

Defragmenting - The process of optimizing a computer's hard drive by rearranging files to make them contiguous. Defragmenting helps speed up your computer's operation because all tasks related to your hard drive run faster on a defragmented drive.

Device Independent - A print job saved as a file is a device independent when it can be printed or displayed on any compatible hardware platform and achieve the same results. PostScript files are device independent because the same PostScript file produces the same results whether printed on a computer printer, a laser etching system, or even when shown on a computer monitor.

Dictionary - As a PostScript term, a file containing font descriptions. Each description specifies how every character in a font family is constructed, including derivatives such as bold or italic versions.

Dot Matrix - A popular early impact printer that used a grid of tiny pins to transfer ink from a ribbon to the page. Dot matrix printers can produce basic graphics but are inferior compared to an inkjet printer's quality. They're loud and slow and produce only one color.

Dots Per Inch - Usually abbreviated as dpi. A measurement of print resolution, dpi indicates how many individual dots a device can create on a page per square inch of area. Dpi is typically listed as horizontal resolution by vertical resolution; the higher the dpi, the better the resolution.

Driver - Software that comes with a peripheral (i.e., printer, scanner, camera...) that allows the peripheral to communicate with the PC.

Driver Software - The software that enables your operating system to properly build and format commands and data bound for your printer; in effect, a print driver tells your operating system all that it needs to know to operate your printer.

Dual Cartridge - An inkjet printer that can accommodate two ink cartridges at the same time, one black and one color. Dual-cartridge printers are more expensive than single systems, but they are faster and can automatically switch between monochrome and color.

Duplex - Printing both sides of a two-sided document.

Duty-cycle - The maximum number of printed pages per month that a printer can print.


Encapsulated PostScript File - Usually abbreviated EPS. An EPS file is a stand alone, self-contained PostScript file that describes the contents of a printed page. EPS files can be scaled to any size, and they are commonly exchanged by desktop publishing and graphics professionals, publishers and printing houses. Many clip art libraries on CD-ROM and the Web offer graphics in EPS format.

Enhanced Capability Port - Usually abbreviated as ECP. An international specification describing bi-directional communications using your PC's parallel port. ECP focuses on printers and scanners.

Enhanced Parallel Port - Usually abbreviated as EPP. An international standard documenting bi-directional communications using your PC's parallel port. EPP focuses on peripherals other than printers and scanners.

Ethernet Network - The simplest, slowest, and least expensive network design, usually well suited for home or small offices. An Ethernet network broadcasts data packets to all computers in the network simultaneously.


Family - In the world of typesetting, a font family is a specific font and all of its derivatives: italic, bold, small caps, strikethrough, and such. A simple font might include Times Roman but a font family includes Times Roman in italic, bold, and so on.

Fax Forwarding - A fax feature that enables your machine to automatically forward any document it receives to another fax.

Fax Header - An informational line of text printed at the top of every page by a fax machine; it includes your full name, your station ID, and your fax number. Depending on your product, it may also include your company name and telephone number.

Fax Polling - A fax machine feature that enables your machine to automatically distribute the documents you specify to other fax machines that connect to it.

Fax Remote Retrieval - A fax machine feature that enables you to retrieve faxes from your machine remotely.

Feed Type - How paper products are loaded into a printer or scanner. Many scanners are sheet-fed, whereas a printer usually has a cartridge that contains multiple sheets. Some printers even have automatic document feeders for unattended copying.

Fire Wire - High-speed external connection used for connecting peripherals, also referred to as "IEEE 1394". See also Port Connection.

Firmware - Low-level software that runs in a digital camera, printer, scanner, etc., and controls the functionality and user interface.

Font - A set of printing characters that share the same distinctive appearance. Fonts are used on your computer to display text on your monitor and print documents on your printer.

Font Cartridge - A cartridge (or in newer printers, an internal memory card) that is plugged into a laser printer to add one or more "built-in" resident fonts; these resident fonts print much faster than fonts that must be downloaded to your printer, and they don't use any printer memory.

Freeware - A program distributed free of charge by the author. Freeware programs, fonts, and original clip art files are offered on the Internet and computer bulletin boards.

Fuser Roller - One of the system of rollers inside a laser printer. The fuser roller heats the page after the toner is applied, so the toner partially melts and sticks to the page for a permanent bond.


GIF Image - Usually carries the file extension.GIF short for Graphics Interchange Format. The first truly universal standard format for file images, originally developed by Compuserve. Widely used on the Web, GIF files are best used for small images with limited colors.


Hardware Conflict - A situation where two adapter cards inside your PC attempt to use the same hardware settings. If one of these cards is your I/O adapter and the conflict involves your parallel port, it will likely lock your PC whenever you try to print.


IEEE-1284 Standard - The international design specification for bi-directional parallel printer cables. Most late model inkjet and laser printers do not work properly unless your printer cable meets this specification.

Impact Printer - A printer that uses the force of an impact through an ink ribbon to create a printed character on a page. This impact is delivered by a rotating ball or wheel or through a grid of pins. This type of printer is generally slow and noisy.

Infrared - A type of connection that allows data to be wirelessly transmitted from the camera directly to another device when the infrared window on the camera is lined up with an infrared sensor on the other device.

Inkjet Printer - A printer or an all-in-one unit that shoots fast drying ink through tiny nozzles onto a page to form characters. The inkjet is currently the standard for personal computer printing. Inkjets are fast, affordable, and relatively quiet, they provide high quality graphics, and prints in color.

Input/Output Card - Usually abbreviated I/O card. A standard PC adapter card that typically provides two serial ports for your modem and two parallel printer ports.

Interface - A connection standard for transferring data that's recognized by all PCs or Macintosh computers. For example, a parallel printer port is a common interface found on virtually all PCs for transferring data from the computer to a printer.

Interpolated Resolution - An enhanced resolution that is computed using a software algorithm and makes an image appear as if it were scanned at a higher resolution. Contrast with optical resolution, which is the inherent physical resolution of the device. Both resolutions are given as dots per inch (dpi); thus a 2,400 dpi scanner can be the true, optical resolution of a machine or a computed, interpolated resolution.

Interrupt Request - Usually abbreviated IRQ. A signal generated by an adapter card in your PC that alerts your CPU to handle incoming data from the keyboard, mouse, serial port, or parallel port.


JPEG File - Usually carries the file extension .JPG. The current favorite image format among Web surfers and graphics professionals, JPEG images are highly compressed to save more space than a BMP or GIF file.


Label Stock - A thick paper sheet carrying peel-off or perforated labels arranged in a regular pattern.

Landscape Printing - Printing where the longer length of the page runs from side to side rather than top to bottom. Landscape mode is often used to print spreadsheets and larger photographs.

Large-format Printer - An inkjet printer that's designed to handle paper sizes of 11x17 inches or larger sheets. Some large format printers also use continuous rolls of paper. These printers are especially designed to produce photo-quality posters, blueprints, maps, and signs.

Laser Printer - A printer or all-in-one unit that uses static electricity and heat to bond particles of toner to a page to create characters, the same technology used by a copy machine. Laser printers are the current standard for business correspondence, and they deliver quality black text print.

Letter Quality - An old term for a printer that produces text that looks as if it were created with a typewriter.

Local Area Network - Usually abbreviated as LAN. A group of computers in an office or building connected to each other by cable. A network computer can access files on other computers in the network or enable others to open and use its files. Printers, modems, and CD_ROM drives are also typically shared peripherals on a network.


Media - The material that is printed upon, such as paper, glossy paper or transparency film.

Modular Ink Delivery System - Usually abbreviated as MIDS. A next-generation ink, cartridge, and print head design from HP that separates the ink supply from the print heads. In an MIDS printer, the ink is stored in single color, stationary tanks inside the body of the printer, and four print heads are used instead of one. This improves the speed and quality of the output and prolongs the life of the print heads. MIDS also have a sensor on each print head that alerts the user when the ink or print head needs changing.

Monochrome Printer - A printer that prints in only one color, usually black. Some monochrome printers can also produce text and graphics in shades of gray as well as strict black and white.


Near Letter Quality - A description of advanced 9-pin and 24-pin dot matrix printers, where the text produced by the printer is hard to distinguish from a letter-quality daisywheel printer.

Network Interface Card - Usually abbreviated as NIC. An adapter card installed in a computer that enables it to connect to a network; most NIC's support several different types of networks and network cabling.

Network Printer - A printer available for use by workstations on a network. A network printer either has its own built-in network interface card, or it's connected to a printer on the network.


Page Description Language - A language recognized by computers and printers that defines the physical characteristics of a page, including fonts, graphics, margins, spacing, and colors.

Page Memory - The number of pages your fax will hold in its memory, in case it runs out of paper.

Pages Per Minute - Usually abbreviated as PPM. A measurement of printer speed, indicating how many finished pages a printer can produce in 60 seconds. PPM speeds are typically listed for both monochrome only and color documents.

Page Storage - The number of pages (text or graphics) that can be stored internally.

Pantone - A spot color matching system supported by most computer desktop publishing and graphics design software.

Paper Capacity - Refers to how much paper (including envelopes, transparencies, etc.) a printer tray can accommodate.

Paper Guides - Adjustable plastic dividers that help hold paper in the proper alignment in a printer's paper feed tray. These guides can be moved to fit different dimensions, such as international sizes, envelopes, or custom-sized paper.

Parallel Communications - A method of sending data from one computer to another over several wires simultaneously, which results in faster transfer rates. Almost all printers available today use parallel data communications.

Parallel Port - The common name for the printer connector on the back of a typical PC. I/O adapter cards are available that can provide your PC with up to four separate parallel ports but most computers come with one as standard equipment.

Peer-to-peer Network - A simple network design that uses no file or printer servers. All workstations on the network are connected by cabling, enabling users to share files and hardware, such as printers.

Peripheral - A computer term for any external hardware device you can connect or attach to your computer system, like a printer or CD-ROM drive.

PhotoREt - A technology from HP that improves the appearance of high-resolution color images printed on an inkjet at any resolution, using any type of paper. The system uses an enhanced microprocessor and an ink cartridge with smaller nozzles, which enables finer control over ink application. A PhotoREt cartridge can apply more dots and smaller dots to paper with more precision, resulting in a high-quality, high-definition image.

PhotoREtII - Has a ink drop size of 10 picoliters. As a result, more drops of ink can be placed on an individual pixel, creating more colors per printed dot. PhotoREtII places 16 drops of ink on a single dot and delivers13 levels of color intensity or shades per primary color. (See PhotoREt.)

PhotoREtIII - Has a ink drop size of 5 picoliters. As a result, even more drops of ink can be placed on an individual pixel than in PhotoREtII, creating even more colors per printed dot. PhotoREtIII places 29 drops on a single dot and delivers 17 levels of color intensity or shades per primary color. (See PhotoREt.)

Port Connection - A communication link between hardware components. Types of connection include Fire Wire, Parallel, USB, Serial, and SCSI. See also Fire Wire, USB, SCSI.

Port Polling - A procedure performed by Windows 98 each time you boot your computer, and each time you send a print job from an application. The operating system automatically checks your parallel port to make sure your printer is ready to receive a print job. You can turn the port polling off in many cases to improve your printing speed.

Print Buffer - A separate, stand-alone print spooler with its own built-in memory that connects your computer and your printing hardware. The print buffer can spool print jobs, freeing up all your computer's resources for your applications.

Print Cartridge - The device that integrates the printhead, ink container, and ink delivery systems.

Print Driver - The software that enables your operating system to properly build and format commands and data bound for your printer; in effect, a print driver tells your operating system all that it needs to know to successfully operate your printer.

Print Head - In an inkjet device, the print head contains the printer's ink cartridges and the nozzles that control the flow of ink. This electro-mechanical functionality allows the delivery of ink dots.

Print Quality - Today's printing hardware enables you to adjust the quality of print; the lower the quality the faster the print speed, and less ink or toner used. The higher the quality, the slower the print speed, and the better the printed results.

Print Quality Problems -
Bleeding - Two ink colors run into each other.
Blooming - Ink absorbs into the paper, spreading beyond the ink dot size applied to the page.
Cockling - Paper ripple due to ink moisture.
Haloing - Lightening of black ink when it is next to color.
Wicking - Ink spreads along the fibers in the paper, creating a "spider web" effect.
Print Zone - The portion of the paper the printer is capable of printing.

Print Resolution - The number of dots per square inch (dpi) required to produce a high-quality image in printing or on a computer display screen. The higher the resolution, the finer the image quality.

Print Zone - The portion of the paper the printer is capable of printing.

Printer Booth - A box made of fiberglass or plexiglass that encloses a printer. A printer booth is insulated to reduce noise; and opened to add paper and retrieve your printed documents.

Printer Command Language - Usually abbreviated as PCL. The page description language developed by HP for use in its laser and inkjet printers.

Printer Emulation - A printer emulation enables a newer printer to "act like" an older, widely used printer so it can recognize and print documents formatted for that older model.

Printer Server - A computer completely dedicated to supporting a network printer. The server's system RAM and hard drive are used to store print jobs in the queue, and print jobs can be reordered, paused, or deleted from the server's keyboard.

Privileges - A Windows NT feature that enables the system administrator to change the user privileges for a specific printer. Privilege settings can prevent other users from using a printer, deleting a job, or pausing the print queue.

Properties - Under Windows you can display the properties for most printers by right clicking the unit's icon in the Printer's folder. Doing so enables you to change the configuration or default settings.


Queue - A sequence of documents sent to a printer to be processed sequentially, usually in the order in which they sent by the computer. Some multi-operating systems such as Linux and Windows enable you to set privileges or delete print jobs from the queue.


RAM Cartridge - A cartridge that can be plugged into a laser printer to add more RAM. The more RAM a laser printer has, the faster it can print documents.

Random Access Memory - Usually abbreviated as RAM. RAM built into your printer can store data from a print job temporarily until the printer is ready to print the data.

Reduction - With HP's digital reduce/enlarge features, you can specify the exact reduction or enlargement percentage you need (anything between 25% and 400%).

Resolution - A measure of image clarity based on the number of pixels used to reproduce the subject. For example, camera resolution is the number of pixels in the captured image. See also Pixel.

RGB (Red, Green, Blue) - All colors defined as percentages of red, green, and blue. 2. Light is comprised of just three colors: red, green and blue. Varying percentages of these colors create all colors seen in the full color spectrum. To help understand the concept of RGB, look very closely at a color TV screen (not too long though, remember what Mom always said...), and see that the color is comprised of a variation or combination of individually colored dots (like pixels).


Send Time - The time it takes to send a message or file through an infrared (IR) or serial port. Measured in seconds per letter-sized page.

Serial Port - A socket on a computer that is used to connect a modem, mouse, scanner, or serial printer. Sometimes two computers are connected together by their serial ports to send data between them. A serial port sends information through a cable one bit at a time, whereas a parallel port sends eight bits at a time along parallel wires. A parallel port sends data faster but a serial port is reliable for transmission over a longer distance.

Special Features - Refers to the features that differentiate a product from others, including double-sided printing accessories, networkability, etc.

Special Functions - Refers to the number of special functions a product performs. For example, some All-in-Ones fax, some don't.

Speed - The speed at which black or color text is printed or copied. Copy speed is measured in copies per minute (cpm). Print speed is measured in pages per minute (ppm).


USB (Universal Serial Bus) - An input/output (I/O) bus capable of data transfer at 12 megabits (1.5 megabytes) used for connecting peripherals to a microprocessor. Typically, each device connected to a computer uses its own port. USB can connect up to 127 peripherals through a single port by daisy-chaining the peripherals together. USB devices may be hot plugged, which means that power does not have to be turned off to connect or disconnect a peripheral. It is expected that USB will become a primary means of connection in IBM-compatible PCs. Most major hardware, software, and telecommunications providers support USB.

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