Understanding printer and photocopier specifications

I suppose many of you are like me, when, after purchasing a new piece of technology, like a TV, we all spend ages reading through the long list of specifications and instructions, which are chock-full of acronyms, and for which you need a degree in ‘gobbledegook’ to understand!

Similarly, when evaluating printers, the first thing you're likely to see is a confusing array of abbreviations, like 'dpi' and 'ppm'. These often have little or no bearing on the performance you'll actually get in the real world.

This month, we will endeavour to investigate and explain some of these specifications, enabling us to be more aware of what we are dealing with.  This will also help us to become thoroughly fluent in speaking 'Gobbledegook', so that we can also talk 'salesman speak!'  After all, a little knowledge goes a long way! 

Understanding printer and photocopier specs - Part 1


This is one of the most commonly cited specifications.  It refers to the maximum number ofdots per inch(dpi) that can be printed, measured both horizontally and vertically.  Eg, a 600x600dpi laser printer lays down a 1-inch square which is composed of 600 dots both vertically and horizontally.

Often, you will see a resolution with different values for vertical and horizontal. That's because the vertical resolution is determined by the increments at which the paper feed mechanism can reliably move the paper through the printer, while the print head has a fixed number and density of nozzles that determine the horizontal resolution.  Complicated, I hear you say, and that's the easy bit!

The lower of the two numbers, which is usually the fixed, horizontal resolution, determines the real detail or resolution of the printer. Related to the idea of resolution is droplet size, measured in picolitres. Smaller droplets -- these days 2pl or less are the smallest -- allow the print head to have better control over drop placement, especially at higher resolutions.

Though manufacturers have inflated the resolution numbers for marketing purposes, and the numbers no longer correlate directly with higher image quality, resolution still has some bearing on the quality of text and curves, especially on premium types of paper.

A good text can be produced at 600dpi, which is about the lowest resolution you can buy in a modern printer. If you want to print tiny text or graphics with thin lines and curves, you should probably bump it up to to about 1,200dpi.   For most photos, 600dpi is sufficient and you probably won't notice any benefit beyond 1,200 dpi.

Also bear in mind that the paper you use makes a difference too. For example, on the typical plain paper that most people use for their everyday printing, ink will bleed and climb along the fibres, defeating the purpose of using high resolutions.

Alternatively, high-quality coated paper, that can hold droplet shapes and sizes, will benefit most from higher resolutions.

For inkjets, you may notice that some manufacturers, like Epson, spec their resolutions in different multiples than other leading makers, with numbers like 1,440 rather than 1,200. That's because Epson's print heads have always been based on 180-nozzle heads, whereas the other manufacturers follow more traditional printing technology conventions and base theirs off 150-nozzle heads.

The most important thing to remember is that one system isn't really any better than the other, simply because of the resolution differences.

  • Paragon Comment

Here at Paragon we have an amazing team of professionals, who will be able to answer all the questions that you may ask.  They are highly trained and can advise you on the 'jargon' used by makers.  We deal only in the best manufacturers, thus ensuring that you have complete customer satisfaction.

Print speeds

This spec measures the amount of pages or photos per minute (ppm) a printer rolls out.  (This sounds pretty straightforward, right?)  Unfortunately, not!   To come up with the fastest-possible speeds, many manufacturers test using the lowest-quality print settings or draft mode, on plain paper, which isn't really a good enough test.  You can therefore only expect to see about half the speed promised by the manufacturer.

Recently, the ISO, (International Organization for Standardization) developed a set of criteria for measuring and reporting print speed.   

This forced manufacturers to report their speeds and to do their tests at the default settings.  However, the ISO's mandate failed to specify that manufacturers report what those default settings are! Buyers are therefore just as much in the dark as they ever were.

  • Paragon Comment

We are a passionate and dynamic document solutions company, designed to meet the all your needs. When you buy or rent a printer from us we will guarantee to deliver you the best prices combined with a premium customer service.  This means that if you don't understand something before you buy, or require us to talk through the capability of a product with you, then that is exactly what we'll do.  Customer's peace of mind is important to us.  After all, you won't return to us if we don't deliver!  


The USB (Universal Serial Bus) is now worldwide, with all printers having a USB, 2.0 port.  Some 'work horse' printers also support network printing using an Ethernet cable. Furthermore, many models print wirelessly, using Wi-Fi with 'built-in' print servers, and cloud printing.

These days, due to the high volume of data being sent, numerous companies like Google, are jumping on the 'cloud-printing' bandwagon. This makes it easier to produce copies of word-processing documents, web sites and articles without the need for a mobile printer.

Services such as these, host the files that you attach on its own servers and then sends the document to your printer, enabling you to do this anywhere and thus taking away the restrictive element of being tied to an office.  Some manufacturers have recently added 'e-mail', letting users print pictures or documents from the Web, by attaching it to a message and sending it to a unique e-mail address assigned to every printer.  You will, however pay for many of these functions, so make sure that you need these facilities before spending out your hard earned cash.

  • Paragon Comment

We recognise that customers aren't always as knowledgeable as they would like to be, regarding the terminology and 'ins and outs' of new technology that is coming onto the market.  That's why Paragon is here to give you all the advice and support we can, so that you can make the choice that is right for you.  With over 50 years of experience within the team, we have a comprehensive knowledge of the printing and photocopying world.  We pride ourselves on delivering an exceptional service at an unbeatable price.  By giving you our constructive and unbiased opinion, we can ultimately help to save you money. 


And so to conclude… By now you will be aware of some of the 'techno talk', which will ensure that you can hold your own with anyone who thinks they can 'talk the talk' on printing technology. 

So remember to use this knowledge when thinking about your requirements and ask a reliable, reputable company, to help you, before making your ultimate decision.

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