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Pick the perfect printer

Going in for your first printer? There are so many models today that you need to know exactly what you want

THE DAYS have long gone when you could walk into a computer shop and say: "Gimme a printer." In fact, specifying that you want an inkjet printer — the cheapest type, these days — is not good enough. Even entry level bargain printers come with a variety of options and you need to know exactly what you want to do with the printer before you can make price comparisons. Here is a little help for first-time buyers.

To begin with, a brief guide to navigate the jargon jungle:

Inkjets (also called bubble jets): This is currently the most popular print technology for home users. The print head of the machine contains thousands of tiny nozzles through which fine drops of ink are fired on to the paper. To achieve colour, the cartridge contains three sets of nozzles for the primary colours — red, green and blue — and usually a separate cartridge for black.

DPI or Dots Per Inch: This tells you how many dots the print head can put down on one square inch of paper. The reason why we are talking dots per inch rather than centimetres is because of the dominance of the U.S. in the computer industry, a primitive nation units-wise, which has still not gone metric. When you try to print photos which have been digitised, you need to make sure that the DPI of the photo file is also quite large — at least 250 to 300 DPI for a sharp print — that compares well with a normal glossy photo. If your file size and hence the DPI is very small, even the best printer will produce that pixelated look, with the picture looking stretched out.

Inks: Dye-based inks are used for most home office inkjets. Costlier professional printers use pigments.

PictBridge: This is a new technology where a printer works directly with a digital camera or mobile camera-phone without requiring a PC.

Printer types

The simplest inkjet printer is just that: a no-frills machine that needs a PC or laptop with the appropriate printer driver (software) pre-installed. In India today, the cheapest inkjets go as low as Rs. 2,500.

For those who own a digital camera, it makes sense to pay a little more and go in for what is known as a photo printer. These have higher print head resolutions and more ink nozzles. The Epson Stylus Photo 830U released last month uses six different nozzles to achieve the colour combination and has a DPI of 5760 x 720, which means you can get excellent border-free prints up to A4 size (provided, of course, you use the right photo paper). The machine which connects to the Windows or Mac PC through the USB port only costs Rs. 6,999.

Canon was the first to bring the PictBridge technology to India last year. Among its recent releases, is the camera-direct i455, costing Rs. 8,995. This allows one to directly download photos stored in the memory card of the digital camera, to the printer. It also accepts cut sheet photo paper in the most popular size.

This year has seen all-in-ones, otherwise known as multi-function printers being released by most printer manufacturers. Typically, they combine the functions of a printer, scanner and copier. The more advanced models also include a fax function. Last week, HP broke the price barrier to unveil what is possibly the cheapest printer-scanner-copier currently available, in that performance category. The HP PSC 1315 is, in fact, a $100 machine abroad, but HP has aggressively priced it at Rs. 4,999, which is just about equal to the converted rate in rupees. The machine uses HP's patented PhotoREt III technology to achieve photo quality, and thanks to the PictBridge port, it also functions as a direct camera printer. The scanner is standard flatbed and the copying, while slower than dedicated machines, is certainly good for small runs. What's more, the copier works independent of the PC.

Competing offers

You will find competing offers in each of these product types. So, having decided what you need, do some shopping around (and yes, a little bargaining) to pare down the price to this side of affordable.


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