Printer Buying Guide

Printer Buying Guide: Printer Specs You Need to Know

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Other Useful Features to Consider

Displays: Many personal printers and some business printers have small displays on their front control panels, to aid you in selecting menu options or communicating printer status. While the typical display might consist of one or two lines of character-based messages, higher-end and photo-oriented printers might have a full-color LCD, measuring anywhere from 1.5 inches to 7 or 8 inches in diagonal width--all the better to view and edit photos directly from the printer. In general, it's preferable to have any kind of display telling you something, rather than having to interpret the blinking and colors of a few lights for yourself. Color LCDs enhance the experience by offering better graphical capabilities and more room to show options. A few displays are also touch-sensitive, which feels more natural when you're navigating on-screen options.

Media-card slots and PictBridge ports: If you want to print photos on your inkjet, a model with integrated media slots or a PictBridge port provides convenience. But if you already have such ports on your computer, of course, you needn't bother duplicating them on your printer.

USB port: This connector lets you insert a USB flash drive and print directly from the drive. It is sometimes combined with a PictBidge port. Though it's a handy feature, it's best used in conjunction with security functions, so people can't simply walk up to the printer and mess with the device or your network through this port. (An IT friend of mine glues USB ports shut in his office--secure, but difficult to undo!)

Operating system compatibility: All printers work on the PC platform, but not all models offer equal support for the less-common Mac and Linux platforms. If you use multiple computer platforms in your environment, make sure that the printer has full-fledged drivers for all of them--and be sure to check for functionality differences.

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