A printer is a device that accepts text and graphic output from a computer and transfers the information to paper, usually to standard size sheets of paper. Printers vary in size, speed, sophistication, and cost. In general, more expensive printers are used for higher-resolution color printing.

Personal computer printers can be distinguished as impact or non-impact printers. Early impact printers worked something like an automatic typewriter, with a key striking an inked impression on paper for each printed character. The dot-matrix printer was a popular low-cost personal computer printer. It's an impact printer that strikes the paper a line at a time. The best-known non-impact printers are the inkjet printer, of which several makes of low-cost color printers are an example, and the laser printer. The inkjet sprays ink from an ink cartridge at very close range to the paper as it rolls by. The laser printer uses a laser beam reflected from a mirror to attract ink (called toner ) to selected paper areas as a sheet rolls over a drum.

The four printer qualities of most interest to most users are:

  • Color: Color is important for users who need to print pages for presentations or maps and other pages where color is part of the information. Color printers can also be set to print only in black-and-white. Color printers are more expensive to operate since they use two ink cartridges (one color and one black ink) that need to be replaced after a certain number of pages. Users who don't have a specific need for color and who print a lot of pages will find a black-and-white printer cheaper to operate.
  • Resolution: Printer resolution (the sharpness of text and images on paper) is usually measured in dots per inch (dpi). Most inexpensive printers provide sufficient resolution for most purposes at 600 dpi.
  • Speed: If you do much printing, the speed of the printer becomes important. Inexpensive printers print only about 3 to 6 sheets per minute. Color printing is slower. More expensive printers are much faster.
  • Memory: Most printers come with a small amount of memory (for example, one megabyte) that can be expanded by the user. Having more than the minimum amount of memory is helpful and faster when printing out pages with large images or tables with lines around them (which the printer treats as a large image).