How to Choose the Right Printer for Graphic Design

by Rich on September 15, 2009

Planning to print out your own business cards and brochures? If you’re not doing huge print runs, printing on your home or office printer may be your only option. But not every printer is equipped to handle the demands of graphic design printing. Here are a few things to look for when choosing a printer to print your marketing collateral.

Colour printing capabilities. You’ll need excellent colour printing capabilities if you want to use your printer for business graphics. Look for a printer with a high DPI number. The acronym “DPI” means “dots per inch,” and it refers to the amount of coverage per square inch that the printer is capable of. The higher the DPI number, the richer and more vibrant the colours.

Photo printing capabilities. Will you be printing photographs as part of your brochures? If so, look for a photo inkjet printer—while laser printers can print decent-quality photo images, they don’t look as good as an inkjet’s photos. In addition, consider the type of camera you’ll be using and the method it requires for connecting to a printer. Is your printer compatible, or will you have to download your images to your computer first?

The per-page cost. Manufacturers and your office supply store should be able to tell you how much the printer you’re considering would cost to print per page. Bear in mind, however, that manufacturers often estimate the per-page cost by assuming an ink-on-paper coverage of about 5%. If you’re printing graphic design documents, you’ll probably be printing on a higher quality setting and using thicker coverage—so your per page costs will likely be higher than the manufacturers’ estimates.

Margin printing capability. Some inkjet printers won’t print all the way to the edge of a document. This may be a problem for you if you’re printing business cards, brochures, direct mail postcards and so on. You’ll either have to take that design limitation into account when creating your documents, or you’ll have to find a printer that can print all the way to the edge. Make sure you ask your office supply store staff before buying a printer.

Print speed. Because you’re going to be printing higher-quality documents than the usual, most printers’ fast print speeds will probably be much faster than you’ll actually experience with the printer. If you can, find out how long the printer takes to print photo-quality or best-quality documents, including processing time—more complex files require additional time to process, and some printers are faster at this than others.

Bear in mind that Laserjet printers are often much faster than inkjet, but they have their own drawbacks as graphic design printers. Print speed may be important to you—especially if you’re printing several hundred documents at once on a regular basis—but you may have to make sacrifices in terms of quality to get a faster printer.

Multifunctionality. How do you plan to use your printer? If you could see the usefulness of a printer that also scans and copies documents, you may need a multifunctional printer. These printers often function as scanners, copy machines, and sometimes even fax machines.

Print mediums. Not every printer can print on every medium. Some printers—particularly Laserjet printers—can only print on paper with a weight of 105 gsm (grams per square metre) or lower. Others have the capability to handle a wide range of mediums and heavy papers, from card stock to menu paper. Look for a printer that can handle the mediums you plan to print on.

Graphic design printing demands a lot from printers, and not all machines are designed to handle these demands. Still, there are some printers out there that can deliver the print quality you need to print business marketing collateral. Look for a printer that doesn’t compromise on quality, but also doesn’t break your budget—and bear in mind that your per-page costs will likely matter more than the initial cost outlay for the printer. Test the printer before you buy to judge its print quality, speed, and the way it handles the mediums you want to print on—and you should be able to find the right printer for your needs.

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