After reading whether an inkjet printer is the right printer for you, of course you’ve decided on buying an inkjet printer. Or maybe you already know you want an inkjet printer because you’ve been using them for years. In either case here are some helpful tip for your next purchase. Once you know an inkjet printer is right for your needs, you need to know things to avoid or exceptional features to get the most form your next purchase. Features not specific to type such as: wireless printing, fax, scan, could printing, etc, are covered here. This guide will focus on characteristics to look for the next time you buy an inkjet printer.

  • Separate ink cartridges for each color
  • Easy to use Color registration utility.
  • Additional colors.
  • Carriage speed, ink flow, or auto cleaning utilities.

Ink cartridges

The printhead is the heart of any inkjet printer therefore should be the focus when buying a new inkjet printer. When shopping for an inkjet printer check whether it has separate ink cartridges for each color. This is a desirable trait because it will save money in the long run. When one color runs out only that cartridge will need replaced. If one printhead streaks only that color will need replaced.

Easy color registration

Every color printer should have a color registration utility. It can be found within the properties of the print driver or in the menu at the inkjet printer if it has one. Some brands have made this process very easy and some are lagging behind. Usually this involves printing a test page and telling the printer which marks have the best alignment. Color registration is essential to keep images looking sharp. It should be done whenever the image looks blurry or not as sharp as it was. You will be happier in the long run owning an inkjet printer that makes this easy and intuitive.

Additional colors

Having more than the 4 standard colors is not just for the high end inkjet printers anymore. The more colors the greater the total amount of colors reproducible by a printer, aka gamut. The most common additional colors are photo black, magenta light or cyan light. Photo black is not as dark as a standard black ink. This improves the greyscale and would be most noticeable on darker photos. Black and white or sepia photos especially. Cyan light and magenta light increase the richness of all the colors in an image.

Carriage speed adjustment

This is a rare find but being able to control the carriage speed as well as ink flow is a desirable feature. For example, the quality of a printed image can be improved without using more ink by merely slowing the carriage speed down slightly. Sometimes this appears as a speed v quality setting. This isn’t to say slower inkjet printers have better quality. A faster inkjet printer typically has more nozzles to achieve the same quality at faster speeds. No matter how many nozzles a printhead has, each will have an optimal carriage speed and ink flow for quality. Manufacturers tend to favor a slightly faster than optimal speed for a printhead because speed is something quantifiable they can list.

Other menu items

While manufacturers seem to be adding more features in the menu, not all are necessarily useful. A nozzle test will help identify which color print head has a problem. Unfortunately, not all offer the second part of a nozzle test, a jet substitution utility. Being able to substitute nozzles extends the life of any ink cartridge. A print head cleaning cycle is useful but it’s not clear the benefit of a paper cleaning cycle. Even if the printer doesn’t have a menu to change the carriage speed or ink flow, a quality/speed priority may work just as well. If this is an online purchase I recommend downloading the user manual for the model you’re considering and searching those terms.

Things to avoid when you buy an inkjet printer

The features listed so far are nice if available, but not essential. It may be hard to find any of those features in a inkjet printer under $100. There are certain things in an inkjet printer that would cause me to pass on buying them no matter how cheap it was. For example:

  • Unsealed printheads when not in use
  • Inadequate feed system
  • Toothless drive belt

Unsealed printheads when not in use

Astonishingly enough not all inkjet printers seal the printheads when not in use. A seal would prevent them from drying out. Naturally, this is a desirable feature but just how does someone tell a docking station seal from a feed roller? Open the inkjet printer and follow the metal bar to the end where the printhead is stored when not in use. You may have to move the carriage assembly to see the docking station. The “seal” will be a set of rectangular rubber pads that will move up and cover the printheads. Not to be mistaken for the spittoon, aka purge station, which has a yellow or white sponge. In some cases this information will be mentioned in the user manual. If not, the docking or sometimes called a service station may be consumable items with a part number or image online.

Inadequate feed system

The better feed systems consist of a pick-up, feed, and separation roller. Some will have a separation pad instead of a roller. Others have no separation pad or roller, instead rely on just the right amount of pressure to feed a singe sheet. If most of what you print is standard 20lb paper the ones lacking a separation roller or pad should be adequate. If you plan on printing a lot of different types or weights of paper look for a separation pad or roller.  Or at least an auxiliary tray, sometimes called a manual or bypass tray, to feed sheets of different types or weights.

How to tell which type a printer has? Look in the area paper is loaded or on the cassette that pulls out. See if there is a greyish rectangular rubber pad or roller. Some may have a cork pad, which usually indicated a pick-up roller. If you can’t see either a pad or roller chances are it will be the pressure type. Those typically will have a slanted faced ray so the paper stack doesn’t sit square but rather spreads out.

The Printer Jam has a guide on how to clear paper jams should the printer happen to jam.

Toothless drive belts

Inkjet printers tend to have few moving parts therefore fewer points of failure. The drive belt that moves the carriage assembly does most of the work in any inkjet printer. Open the inkjet printer and carefully1 feel the belt that moves the carriage assembly. Hard rubber belts with teeth are the best. The soft rubber o-ring type can stretch and slip over time and cause color registration issues. If the color registration is off it will cause blurry or fuzzy images.

This guide is to inform and assist anyone the next time they buy an inkjet printer. It may be hard to find an inkjet printer that has every desirable trait and none of the things to avoid, but that’s fine. You’ll know which ones you can live with and which ones you can’t.

What to Look For When Buying an Inkjet Printer

copier guy

The Copier Guy, aka Dave. I’ve worked on scanners, printers, copiers, and faxes over 23 years. When I’m not fixing them I’m writing about them. Although, I’m probably better at fixing them. I have certificates from Canon, Xerox. Ricoh, Kyocera, Lexmark, HP, and Konica Minolta. My experience includes other brands as well as several types of processes. If it uses paper I’ve probably worked on one.

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