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Inkjet printers (some manufacturers like Canon use their own branding like “Bubble Jet”) use tiny sprays to transfer ink from consumable cartridges onto paper, much like wetting specific portions of a cloth with a focused garden hose.
Inkjets are suitable for home use because the printers themselves are affordable, and so are the ink cartridges that need to be replaced or refilled on a regular basis. These printers provide a low-cost entry route for printing color documents, and don’t consume that much electricity to get the job done.
Drawbacks: inkjets produce pages at a much slower rate than laser printers, especially if the document is full of high-quality color graphics. As these kind of printers have more moving parts, the chances for malfunctions are also higher.
For heavy print jobs, inkjets are also less efficient because the ink cartridges run out faster compared to the toner cartridges use on laser printers (the latter though are more expensive). And the ink they use takes some time to try. On printers that stack up the pages they print on the tray, It’s not uncommon to see some pages in a print job end up with marks on their backs, due to the wet ink on the next page.
Manufacturers quote a dpi (dots per inch) figure to show customers what kind of detail is possible with their printers. A printer with a higher dpi can cram in more dots per inch of paper, allowing for more detailed and thus higher-quality documents.
Most printers let users configure their dpi level, because when printing out text-only documents, using a lower dpi will use up less toner and thus extend the life of the cartridges.
Pages Per Minute
On any printer’s spec sheet, the pages per minute (ppm) is an estimate by the manufacturer of how fast its printer is. In most cases, estimates are based on printouts of text-only documents; printing out photos that take up the entire page requires significantly more time.
Paper and Tray Size
Like other printers, inkjet printers can print on any document that’s as big or smaller than its maximum paper size, which is usually determined by the size of the paper tray. The maximum paper size for many inkjets is legal (8.5” x 14”), which allows support for letter (8.5” x 11”) and A4 (8.27” × 11.69”), two other common paper sizes. The printer paper tray can usually be adjusted to accommodate smaller sizes than the maximum, so that when the paper is fed into the printer, it remains straight.
Network support is slowly becoming standard for printers of all kinds, because it’s an easy way to share a printer among several computers through a special device called a router. Routers are what make networks possible, since they manage how computers connected to it share information with each other, and how they share a common connection to the internet.
Many printers don’t have network support built in, but can be shared over a network if the router has a USB port the printer can plug into. Other printers can work with networks out of the box, but only if it’s plugged into the router with an ethernet cable. Higher-end printers have wireless network support, meaning they can connect over Wi-Fi.
Wireless networking isn’t that important for printers. As large devices they’re designed to stay in one area most of the time anyway, so you can just use a long enough cable to connect it with the router. But wired setups of course carry the potential for additional mess that you’ll have to deal with.
Some inkjet printers have a special feature called direct printing, which is essentially the ability to print on non-paper mediums like optical discs (CDs, DVDs, Blu-Ray discs, etc.) and even printed circuit boards.
In most cases, the ink used is the same as the kind used on paper; it’s the medium itself that’s modified to accept and retain the ink. For example, the top of CDs are normally too smooth for the ink to stick and leave a mark. So direct printing CDs are covered with an ink-receptive layer.
The opposite is a much common set up. Instead of using modified media, the inkjet uses cartridges containing ink that’s specifically designed for what it will be printed on.
Inkjet printers are perfectly suited for direct printing applications, because unlike laser printers they can print on objects that can’t be bent, like the aforementioned optical discs.
The ink sprays on an inkjet are mounted on a printing head that moves back and forth as the paper is fed through the printer. In effect inkjets print out one line a time.
Older inkjets didn’t dampen this motion properly as the print head reached the ends, so it was a common sight to see them shake sporadically from side-to-side on the tabletop. Some users even reported that their inkjets shook so violently that they caused flimsier tables to give way.
The sometimes violent motion also has a negative side-effect: inkjet printers have a relatively high chance of breaking down. The print head can jam on its track, hit the side of the printer, or even overheat after a certain amount of pages.
Newer inkjets are much more reliable than their predecessors, but it’s still fashionable for disgruntled users to assume that their printers will fail at some point, particularly when an important paper or report is due.
Many manufacturers say that using third-party “unofficial” ink cartridges contribute to this problem. But in reality it’s all about physics: the more moving parts something has, the higher its chances of failure. Laser printers are more reliable than inkjets, because they “just” feed the paper over a rotating drum.
Who are Inket Printers For?
Laser printers are much more reliable and in the long-run more efficient than their inkjet counterparts. However inkjet printers consume a lot less power and provide color output at much lower prices. For those who don’t print frequently, they’re the best option. If you find yourself printing out documents several times a week and don’t need color, go for a laser printer.