The Best Holiday Printers Offer Something Extra

Inkjet Printers: Versatility, Quality

An inkjet printer squirts liquid ink through extremely small holes in a printhead to create an image. The primary reason to choose one is for the photo quality: Inkjets are still the best at blending colors smoothly. (The other purposes for which your gift recipient might want color output--invitations, flyers, brochures--turn out just as well with other printer technologies.) For a look at some of the best current models, check out our top picks for standard inkjet printers and inkjet multifunction printers.

In Video: Two Sub-$200 Printers for Your Home or Home Office

Our reviews of color laser and LED printers have identified a few that can rival an inkjet printer's photo quality, but for the most part they are high-end, graphics-oriented machines; see our extensive printer buying guide for more on laser and LED models. If you have your eye on a dedicated snapshot printer, see the next page for a discussion of these specialized models.

HP Officejet 7000 wide-format inkjet printer
The other reason to choose an inkjet is because it can print on a broad variety of media. Some models can print on specially designed canvas or iron-on transfers; others (such as the HP Officejet 7000) can print on banner-size or wide-format papers. No need to worry about baking labels or scorching nice stationery on an inkjet--it will print gently on all kinds of items.

Speed and Print Quality Will Vary

With an inkjet printer, what you get in versatility, you lose in speed: Most inkjet printers are slow to average in their output rate. Business-oriented models generally offer higher speeds than personal models do.

Your gift recipient will also see a difference between how prints look on plain paper and how they appear on coated inkjet paper or glossy photo paper. Inkjets have improved a great deal over the years, but some models still produce gray and fuzzy text or grainy, oddly colored graphics on plain paper. Such results might be acceptable for a school report or a flyer, but not for business purposes--and buying special paper to improve the output will add to the cost per page. To get the lowdown on print quality for a specific model, consult our reviews of inkjet printers and inkjet multifunction printers.

The kind of ink used can affect print quality. A dye-based (colored liquid) ink, just like watercolors used for artwork, is best for blending colors; the trade-off is in the precision of text and fine lines. A pigment-based ink--particles of color suspended in liquid--will generally create crisper-looking text and lines, but it won't mix colors as well as dye-based inks will. Not surprisingly, photo-oriented printers tend to use dye-based inks, while business-focused printers tend to use pigment-based inks. Some printers offer both: pigment-based ink for text, and dye-based ink for color images.

Ink Costs: Do the Math and Don't Get Reamed

Kodak ESP 7250 inkjet multifunction printer
Because the replacement inks for a color inkjet can be expensive, it literally pays to shop carefully. Our printer reviews provide ink-cost details for each model, but you can figure it out for yourself. Turn to our extensive printer buying guide to see how we calculate ink costs.

Some general tips:

* Lower-end inkjets might have tricolor cartridges, with cyan, magenta, and yellow contained in one package. These are generally a bad deal, because once the user depletes a single color, they have to replace all three.

* Inkjets that use separate cartridges for each ink are more efficient; models that separate the ink tank from the printhead can also save money. Some printers have high-yield cartridge options, which offer a lower cost per page compared with standard-size cartridges. If your gift recipient prints fairly little to begin with, however, having a large, expensive cartridge sitting forever in their printer isn't any better for them or the ink.

In Video: Is That Ink Cartridge Really Empty?

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