Inkjet Printers in the Office – Print Quality Characteristics to Look for
In this article, Jimi St. Pierre outlines key areas to focus on when assessing the print quality of monochrome inkjet printers before purchase. Top-branded inkjet printers show some surprising variaitions in quality, and it pays to check those test print sheets carefully.
Although laser printing technology today offers printer speeds in exceeds of 50 pages per minute on general office printers, inkjet printers are now commonplace in small business and home user environments. With improvements in inkjet print speeds, the days are long gone when laser was automatically preferred over inkjet because of speed considerations. But what about print quality? What quality indicators should we look for when deciding between products from competing manufacturers? Or indeed between products offered in differing price ranges from the same manufacturers?
There are a wide variety of areas of print quality to take into account. For most general office use for internal communication, we might consider absolutely perfect print quality to be unnecessary, but for customer-facing documentation and presentations, this should never be the case. For colour proofing tasks, of course, colour accuracy issues become critical.
The ability to assess professional print quality is something which can be learned from experience, but for most people, the buying of a new printer is not a regular event. Discussing with friends and colleagues is an obvious way to go, but even then it is hard to get a full picture of the choices now available.
Here we list in brief, some factors to consider in terms of print style and expectations, for regular office document productions. Closer inspection of documents which look adequate in principle, reveal distinct differences in print quality in specific areas. These are the areas to focus on when looking at those all-important test sheets.
Text clarity on all print media is the issue first and last with Black-Only printing. Individual printer products differ widely in their control of so-called "ink splatter" . This occurs with the spreading of miniscule droplets of ink, which vary in size between different printer models, from the defined text edges. Such ragged edges are caused primarily, either by alignment issues with the print head, by use of inappropriate print settings for the media used or the media itself.
However, even under expert control, some printers will always offer much-reduced ink splatter than others. In particular, the differences in quality can be most obvious between machines with a fixed print head as part of the machine compared with machines (far more common) with the print head as part of the disposable cartridge. Here users are faced with a choice of cost issues – where a damaged print head which is part of the machine will more or less inevitably mean a replacement of the printer itself - but where the disposable print head route increases the cost of consumables.
The other area to look out for is black print density in blocks of print, for example in charts or diagrams. Here, in addition to possible ragged edging, there is a tendency for grey streaking where the block should be uniform density.
Examples of known good performers in these areas are Canon's MP-450 and Brother's DCP-330C.
Colour Printing - Office Documents:
As well as variations in ink droplet size, the use of colour inks under-laying the black is a contributing factor to the sharpness of text and lines in colour printers, but a downside can be the presence of colour dots outside of the defined edges, which are a feature of poor cartridge alignment. Good performers here are Canon's MP-450 and the Lexmark P4350.
Colour lines and colour depth are factors which deserve close scrutiny. Look for deep, rich colours. Look also for blocks where "banding" occurs, where positioning of the print head differs slightly as is passes in each direction.
Colour purity and accuracy need to be carefully considered, if the print output is to engage a buying audience, or when technical requirements (eg in graphic design projects) mean that accurate colour is paramount. Inkjet printers have problems here more than laser printers mainly because of the interface between liquid ink and paper. Much more attention is needed as to the type of media used, for example when coated media might be preferable to plain media.
Printed Page Size
An unexpected and often infuriating aspect of using inkjet printers is the tendency for some models to print a different document size to the size expected. This is not the case with Canon, Brother and Lexmark, but some manufacturers' models can produce document 4% larger, or even 8% smaller than anticipated. This is certainly something to be aware of when researching the performance areas of any prospective purchase.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Companies in the UK, including computer printer supplier Officemagic, the Car Parking Group and Country Connect Tourist Office Directory, the latter being a publisher of a daily news feed to the UK travel industry via the Virgin Media Traveleye extranet.