Cost per page –The cost of a printer’s consumables (ink or toner cartridge), averaged across the number of pages it can print before those consumables need replacing. Inkjets generally have the higher cost-per-page for printing: Manufacturers sell low-end inkjet printers at cost, then generate their profit by selling you relatively expensive inkjet cartridges with tiny capacities. Laser printers have lower cost per page even though the price of toner is often higher than ink; you only have to buy a replacement drum every 30,000 pages or so. Another useful relative figure for comparing models within one vendor’s line, but don’t take the vendor’s word for the accuracy of each figure. PC Week, PC Magazine, CNet and other reviewers can give you their independent results from testing cost per page.
Duplex printing – The capability to automatically print two-sided. If you don’t have a printer that can handle duplex printing, you’ll create two-sided print jobs by manually feeding in the back-side print job.
Duty cycle – Forget it!
This is the occult figure used to indicate the amount of use the printer is designed to handle, measured in monthly print volume. The duty cycle for a given model will be many, many times greater than the amount you’ll really print (or estimate to print). Laser printer duty cycles range from 20,000 pages to 200,000 pages (40 to 400 reams of paper), inkjets much less. There’s no industry standard for duty cycle, so it’s not useful to compare one vendor’s numbers with another’s – but you can use this as a relative indicator of a model’s robustness, within one vendor’s product line. If you regularly print over the duty cycle you’ll not only wear yourself out refilling the paper tray and replacing the ink or toner cartridge and the printer drum, but you may start losing print quality as the printer wears down.
First page out – The elapsed time between hitting “print” on your computer to receiving the first printed page of your document. A fast first-page-out time is around 10 seconds, while machines with less memory for processing print jobs may require up to 20 seconds to start printing your job. First-print-out times also vary depending on the print content and whether the print job is color or black-and-white.
Footprint – The floor or desk space occupied by a particular machine. You’ll read about some machines having an especially “tight footprint,” which can be a key factor is space is an issue.
Inkjet – Printing technology that squirts droplets of ink onto the paper, creating an image drop by drop.
Laser – Printing technology that creates an image by shooting a light beam on a photoconductor drum. The resulting patterned electrostatic charge on the drum picks up toner and deposits the image on a piece of paper, and a fuser heats the toner to make it stick.
Networking – The connectivity on a printer that allows for multiple computers to access the printer. Usually you get networking through an Ethernet cable on a workgroup printer; some printers now offer wireless networking through built-in wireless servers.
Print server – A device for processing print jobs from multiple computers on a network. A so-called network printer has a print server built in. You can also use a separate computer or a small gadget that attaches to your printer and handles the print server tasks.
PPM – Pages per minute, a measure of the speed of a printer’s output. Manufacturers usually cite the ppm for the simplest possible print job (black and white, no graphics, plain paper, with the print quality in “draft” mode) and produce unrealistic figures; reviewers caution that real-world print speeds are much lower, sometimes a quarter the claimed speed for inkjets, though often three-quarters as fast on laser printers. PPM is one useful relative gauge of the kind of workload a printer can handle, and something to use when comparing models within one vendor’s product line.
Workgroup printer – A workgroup printer serves two or more computers on a network. It comes with networking capabilities, usually an Ethernet connection and some software for remote administration.