The lowdown on printers

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Reporting for duty

What are the differences between lasers and ink-jets? Laser-class printers, which include LED and LCD printers, are always faster than ink-jets, and produce sharper text and graphics. In the low-price category, ink-jet technology is required for photos and spot color.

How do total costs compare? Most ink-jet printers cost less than most laser-class printers, but their per-page cost of printing is much higher. As Gillette did for years with razors'selling them at a loss and making money on the blades'vendors practically give ink-jet printers away because they sell ink at high prices. But if you will only use the printer for a few pages each week, the low initial cost of some ink-jet printers can be a real bargain. Just remember to run routine maintenance to keep the ink from drying.

What is a duty cycle? This rates the limits of a printer's monthly output. You should choose a printer with about two to four times the duty cycle rating of the number of pages you normally print.

If you regularly push to the limit of the duty cycle, the printer will need lots of repairs and won't last long.

Must-know info? Three factors will narrow your choices: ports, print quality and duty cycle. Universal Serial Bus is becoming common and is desirable for future expansion, but the printer needs a parallel port if your present PC doesn't have a USB port. Good print quality is important, but you shouldn't pay for what you don't need. And choose a printer with an appropriate duty-cycle rating.

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