The two most common ways to print short run material in the office are inkjet and laser printers. Both have their strengths and weaknesses.
Inkjet printers tend to be cheaper to buy, and they can produce impressive quality for the price when printing photographs. They are smaller and lighter than laser printers, and purpose built photo printers that only print 4×6 photos can be really small.
There are several disadvantages, however. The ink used in these machines is very expensive, making them a less than ideal solution for larger runs. As well, some units have a single colour for the cyan, magenta and yellow colours; you can wind up wasting a lot of the precious fluid if doing large amounts of printing that utilizes one colour more than the others. Once you’re out of cyan, for instance, you need to replace that cartridge even if there’s lots of magenta and yellow left in it. Ouch!
Another significant disadvantage is the rendering of fine type. Fine, precise detail is not a strength of these printers, although for many it’s good enough.
There were 4 things that happened at about the same time that gave rise to what we now call desktop publishing. The first was the invention of the Macintosh computer; the second of the requisite software (The standard was set with Aldus Pagemaker, though MacPublisher was the first); the third, the invention of Postscript, and the fourth, the birth of the Laser Printer.
Laser printers handle postscript, and for this reason they print fine type very nicely. A few posts back I talked about Vector and Bitmap art. Vector art in particular is made up of points and curves defined by mathematic formulae; and as such they are not resolution-specific and produce the very fine detail found with small type quite well. Postscript is vector based.
Another point in favour of the laser printer is that because they use toner instead of ink, they’re cheaper to run, but the machines themselves are more expensive and larger than their inkjet cousins.
Both methods are great options for people that only need short runs and want to avoid the high cost of the preparation work that conventional offset printing requires; but one needs to keep in mind that as the size of the run goes up, the economic advantage enjoyed by digital printing is lost and traditional printing becomes the better option.
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