Selecting the most suitable printers

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There is now an extensive range of different printers on the sites of suppliers like Ryman, and this range of choice can sometimes make the selection of the best model seem a difficult task.

As with so many other tech purchases, the way to zero in on the right printers is to first start by establishing the detail of your regular needs.

With printers, this understandably amounts to the type and frequency of the intended usage. Both of these factors have a bearing on spec of suitable printers, which in turn influences both initial outlay and ongoing running costs. Here we look at relative benefits of the most common types of printers.

Laser printers were formerly an expensive option, for business rather than home use, but costs for this technology, as with so many things in the IT world, have dropped over the years.

Those looking to produce a large volume documents will be happy with the excellent print quality of text produced by laser printers. Ongoing running costs are also low, with the relatively expensive toner cartridges lasting a long time, and commonly averaging a running cost of about 1p per A4 sheet. In contrast, inkjet printers can cost as much as 5p per sheet.

However, laser printers designed for the home use market do not usually come with the auto-duplexing function, which allows the automatic printing of both sides of the paper, and so aspiring novelists on a budget should perhaps be aware of this fact. Colour laser printers are a bit more expensive and limited in the quality of colour image that can be produced – they are not really recommended for those looking for a home photograph printer.

A PrinterInkjet printers are still the most popular for home use. Many inkjet printers can produce excellent quality photo prints and other high definition images, in full colour. Standard or entry level inkjets will perform just this function, and can be picked up inexpensively, although as mentioned can become costly if a large volume of printing is required.

For home office use, many choose to spend a little more on an integrated unit. All-in-one inkjet printers can scan, copy and print, and often fax. These kinds of inkjet printers will understandably cost more initially, but will have similar running costs as more basic models. One point to note with the integrated, all-in-one inkjet is the size of the unit, which is usually considerably larger than the standard type, and can eat up limited desk space.

While cheaper than laser printer toner cartridges, fresh ink cartridges or refills for inkjets will be required more frequently. This can get expensive, especially if a lot of high definition colour images are printed. Producing draft quality prints when definition is not an issue can go some way to reducing ongoing usage costs, and this is particularly viable when printing text.

Barcoding – a history and the future

Many youngsters these days are not aware of how recent barcoding technology actually is. In the 1970’s a mere forty odd years ago, it would have been a rarity to see a barcode – anywhere.

Before the barcode, retail was not nearly as efficient as it currently is. Often, till assistants would have to memorise the price of every product in the shop, or products would be individually priced. Furthermore, it was almost impossible to keep tabs on stock levels in real time.

Barcodes revolutionised industry.

Barcoding in retail

Now when you pick an item and take it to the till, a barcode is scanned. The till is linked to a central database where all the barcodes for that shop (or even the entire shop chain) are stored. Information on the price of the product, the stock of the product and usually a description and or image of the product, is all stored in relation to the barcode. Upon scanning, the price is retrieved from the database and one unit is deducted form the shops stock list.

Barcoding makes it easy to increase prices and to reorder stock, that way if something has high demand and is selling fast, more orders can (sometimes electronically) placed and the store can consider raising the price.

Barcoding in car production

Barcodes are also used in many other areas, one example being car production. In car production, each car will be given a barcode. That barcode will often contain information such as the type of car that is to be made, how the car is to be styled, what colour the car is to be pained etc.

Parts that have been made for that car will often also be associated with the same barcode, to ensure that every bit gets to the right car.

The classic barcode is the one with lots of vertical lines, each of different thickness. Below is an example of a classic barcode.

A Random Classic BarcodeDespite the classic barcodes uses, many people believe that the future of barcoding lies with QR codes.

QR Codes

QR codes are like barcodes in that they are all unique, however the image itself can actually store some information. QR codes are common in Japan, however they are slowly making their way westward, and and not uncommon in Europe now.

If you go to your fridge or a cupboard and pick up half a dozen items, the chances are at least one of them will have a QR code. I found one on some cheese the other day 🙂

QR Code‘ stands for ‘Quick Response Code‘ as they can quickly retrieve information, just by decoding the pixels in the QR code/image.

QR Codes are basically a code (durr) containing some form of information, be it text, a URL, etc. When you run the image through a QR decoder, it will work out what data is stored in the image.

Confused? Okay, let me give you an example. Below is a QR code image. If run the image through a smart phone QR decoder or an online QR decoder, you should find that it contains the information ‘www.TechnologyBloggers.org’. Why not try it out?

Technology Bloggers QR Code

When decoded this QR Code says 'www.TechnologyBloggers.org'


That information is stored in the actual image, and there is no need for you to connect to a database. That is why many people believe that they are the future of barcoding, as a barcode stores no actual data in the lines, just a reference to a counterpart on a database.

QR codes could store the name of a product and the price on that actual barcode image – although to deduct stock, they would need to be linked into the stock database.

In many countries, QR codes are being used in advertisements, and in some places, that are being used as the actual advert. This is to try and encourage people to decode the image and find out what it means.

So what do you think, are QR codes the future of barcoding? Could they both coexist, or will one emerge on top? What is your opinion of QR codes?

Over to you 🙂

Prosthetic limb technology and elective amputation

Recently on the BBC World Service I followed a news article about a young man who decided to have his hand amputated in order to have a prosthetic version fitted. His hand had been damaged in a motorbike accident and was not fully functioning, but was however still attached to his arm.

His decision rather took me aback, here was a person choosing to improve the performance of a hand with a replacement. This is fundamentally different to fitting a prosthetic hand to a person that has either lost one or was born without one. The problem seems to be in the quality of prosthetic limbs.

A prosthetic hand

An example of a high technology prosthetic hand

Prosthetic limbs can be operated through the existing muscle system, for example they can be attached to existing muscles in the arm or by using electrical impulses. In this case the muscle use generates an electrical impulse that makes the hand move.

Scientists are currently testing a system that works directly from the brain. Implants register the brain’s impulses and send them directly to the hand. You think about the movement and the hand moves.

There is another advantage too, sensors in the fingers can send signals back to the brain so the user can actually feel the object they are touching.

All of this raises some questions, soon technology will provide us with a fully functioning prosthetic hand that the user controls directly with their brain. It will be hard wearing, reliable and you can touch hot things without burning yourself, it will in fact be better that a human hand.

People might then have elective amputation in order to get one. Who can make legal and ethical decisions about such an intervention? This argument also has implications for sport. South African athlete Oscar Pistorius has recently qualified for the Olympic Games in London and will be competing with 2 prosthetic legs.

Oscar Pistorius - the fastest man on no legs

Nicknamed 'the fastest man on no legs' this is Oscar Pistorius in Greenwich London before next years Olympics

Here we are moving into a discussion about the confines of the human body, but also about enhancement. Maybe he even has an advantage over human legged athletes.

Have a look at Transcendent Man for a futurist view of how robotics and medicine in general might change humanity in the future.

Further discussion of the ethical and responsibility issues raised by scientific advancement and innovation can be found on the Bassetti Foundation website, including all the links relating to the stories above. I collaborate with the foundation and publish through their site.