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Several teachers have been in touch with me recently to ask about printers. I take that as a good sign because it means more of you are using computers. Let me offer an overview of the various types of printers. The cost of printers has dropped dramatically in the past year, especially for color and laser printers.

Dot Matrix

The dot matrix is the least expensive type of printer and the one I suspect most of you are familiar with. The dot matrix printer forms characters by hitting the ribbon, and then the paper, hundreds of times per second with tiny pins. Resolution is measured in dots per inch (dpi). They use continuous-feed paper, ribbons not unlike typewriter ribbons. Some dot matrix printers start as low as $200, and can run upwards to $500-550. Ribbons range from five to ten dollars. Some of the more popular brands include Epson, Okidata and the Apple Imagewriter. Some dot matrix printers have the ability to print in both black-and-white and color. The Imagewriter II prints both as long as you use the right ribbon. Color ribbons run from ten to fifteen dollars.

Some ask if it's time to retire the traditional dot matrix now that laser and inkjet are coming down in price. Here's an opportunity for you if your budget is tight: Convince your computer coordinator that it's time to replace the dot matrix with laser, and gee, why not give the dot matrix to the art department?

Laser Printers

Laser printers have been standard in offices for some time, but their cost was prohibitive...until now. A laser printer operates much like a copier and allows reproduction of virtually thousands of fonts and sizes as well as graphics. The image is electronically created on a light-sensitive drum, usually using a laser. Powdered toner sticks to where the light has touched the drum and is then transferred to the paper. Just a few years ago these printers cost $5000-$10,000, but now they start as low $700 (but run as high as several thousand).

Inkjet Printers

The inkjet printer uses an ink cartridge that squirts small droplets of ink onto the paper. Of course, these droplets are almost microscopic. Years ago inkjet printers were too much work for a classroom teacher; they needed special paper, the ink would smear and the printheads got clogged. While images still look best on coated paper, you can now print on regular paper, the ink rarely smears, and the printheads don't clog. The cartridges are still rather expensive. Black ink cartridges run about ten dollars and color runs about thirty dollars. The printers themselves start as low as $400-$700.

Laser output is generally of higher quality than inkjet printers, even when the inkjet lists as having higher resolution (dpi). It tends to spread on paper and if there are large areas of ink, the paper can get wet in processing. The laser is still the choice for text...but what about graphics and color?

Color Printers

Color printers, good color printers that print in rich colors on anything from parchment to watercolor paper, can go from $10,000-$85,000. But don't panic; you can get a good color printer for under $1,000.

The Imagewriter II prints in color if you use a color ribbon. It's a relatively easy way to get double use from your printer. It uses regular pin-fee paper, and color ribbons run about ten dollars.

Inkjet printers use four color inks (cyan, magenta, yellow and black). A printhead moves across the page depositing droplets of each color on the paper through tiny nozzles controlled by the computer's processor. Most inkjet color printers have resolutions of 160-300 dpi. Several offer draft, near letter-quality and presentation level output. Draft output saves times and supply costs particularly when you just want to check color and color placement. Liquid ink used in inkjet printers generally produces less saturated color because it is absorbed into the paper. For this reason, many recommend using specially-formulated paper stock. As with most printers, affordable models are restricted to letter-size paper (8 1/2" x 11").

Thermal Printers

Thermal printers create wonderful images, but they start at $5,000 -- no doubt this is well beyond your budget. Thermal printers offer higher resolution and richer color than inkjet printers. They use ink rolls that have the four process colors positioned sequentially on was film. The paper passes in front of a thermal printhead four times, fusing precise amounts of wax for each color to the page. Because the hard wax sits on the surface of the page, thermal wax transfer printers yield more brilliant color but require special paper. The output reflects the cost difference -- hardly enough to warrant the output of money for most school art programs.

Questions to Ask

Besides the obvious cost of the printer, you should find out the cost per page. If that information is unavailable, find out if the printer uses regular paper and how much each cartridge or ribbon costs. Hewlett Packard black ink cartridges are about ten dollars and will print approximately 800-1000 pages; color cartridges run about thirty dollars and will print 300-700 pages. Cost will depend on size and density of the graphics; if your students print out on full pages, the cartridge will fade more quickly. Having said that, let me add that you shouldn't be too concerned with the cost per page, just be realistic: How many images will your students print? Even if you teach in an elementary school with 800 students, would they print more than one or two pictures each? Determine how many students will actually use the computer and how many pictures they will create and buy cartridges and ribbons accordingly. Consider any cables that might be needed to connect the printer to your computer and don't forget to include ribbons, toner cartridges and paper in your budget.

Do students need to print out everything? The answer is no. It's great to be able to print draft copies of a work in process, but not necessary, particularly if you're worried about cost of supplies. Of course, color is ideal, but even black-and-white printers have possibilities. You can use an old ribbon that prints a faded gray image, and encourage students to use other media to color over their printouts. Mixed media is in!

How Many Do I Need?

You don't need a printer for each computer; you can network your computers so that several share one printer. The configuration is rather easy; you'll need a cable for each computer, and a switchbox. The printer cable runs to the switchbox, and a cable is run from each computer to the switchbox. You simply "dial-up" the computer you're using when you're ready to print. If this sounds complicated, talk to your computer coordinator.

A Final Recommendation

Talk to your computer coordinator and run some test prints of artworks on various printers. Be aware that older computers many not be compatible with the laser or inkjet printers. See what printers are already available in your school or district. Bring an art image or two created on a computer to a dealer and try a test printout on various printers so you can see the differences. If a dealer knows you will be recommending a purchase, most are more than happy to help.

If you are buying an Apple system (IIe, IIgs or Mac family), Apple offers a package deal which bundles the computers with the Stylewriter Inkjet printer or a laser printer. Other package deals may be available from various vendors.

The September, 1991 issue of Consumer Reports gave an easy-to-understand overview of black-and-white printers, but was specific to IBM and compatibles. Another magazine that might be a bit harder to locate, Publish, did an overview and comparison of color printers in their April, 1991 issue.

About the Samples

I don't like to recommend hardware or software I haven't used. For this article I included works created with the Imagewriter, GCC PLP Laser Printer with a Macintosh LC and the Hewlett Packard laser printer and Hewlett Packard InkJet 500C with an IBM PS/2 55 SX. (I've been told that the HP InkJet for the Mac responds exactly the same way it does with IBM).

I encourage more of you to write to me and send some of your students' works and some ideas of how you've incorporated computers within your curriculum.

Debbie Greh is Assistant Director, Communication Arts Program, St. John's University, Jamaica, New York.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Davis Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:computer printers
Author:Greh, Debbie
Publication:School Arts
Date:Mar 1, 1992
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