Looking for a network printer? Here are the specs and features you need.

All the printers in our network printers group test are network colour laser models. Network-enabled inkjet printers are also available, but are these are less common and their print speeds tend to be slower. Few inkjets can produce clean, top-quality text, and fewer still can do so while maintaining sufficiently high performance levels.

Given that the likely environment for a colour laser printer is a small office or business department, you'll want a printer that's capable of churning out 20 or 30 pages per minute (ppm). Take manufacturers' print-speed claims with a large dose of salt - look for claimed output rates of 1.5 times what you need and it should keep up with your expectations.

Laser printers can regularly churn out crisp text at rates in excess of 15ppm. They're also designed for high-volume printing, and come with toner cartridges that can typically demand lower costs per page (particularly for text) than inkjets.

Print resolutions are a slightly unsatisfactory means of determining print quality. Theoretically, the higher the resolution, the more detail the printer will be able to produce and the better the resulting pages ought to look. However, manufacturers often specify figures that have been inflated via software interpolation rather than hardware resolution.

Most printers have a hardware resolution between 600x600 dots per inch (dpi) and 1200x1200dpi. Anything upwards of 600x600dpi should be sufficient, but it's worth checking out reviews of a particular model or testing it in-store before you buy.

There's no substitute for real-world experience of a machine's print quality.

Network printers buying advice: Access denied?

You'll probably want to control how and by whom the printer is used. Many network printers offer sophisticated controls that let you monitor individual users or departments, and restrict access to expensive features - such as colour - where necessary.

Some printers let you access data stored on a USB memory stick, bypassing the PC. Others can require a password to be entered on the device itself before a document in the print queue can be processed. This lets you send secure files to print, without the risk of them falling into a colleague's hands.

Network printers buying advice: Printing costs

An important consideration in choosing the correct printer for your business is the total cost of ownership (TCO). With hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pages being printed each month, the difference between a 1.5p-per-page and a 2.5p-per-page printer will be more significant than you might think. Colour costs are higher than for text and tend to vary more among manufacturers.

It's possible to print a colour page for around 6p, but it can cost twice this amount. If your business will be printing out lots of colour images, 10p or more per page could prove costly in the long run.

Another way to cut costs on consumables is to reduce your paper usage. Most printers offer a duplexing feature, which allows the laser to print on both sides of a piece of paper. To maximise the chances that your staff or colleagues will take advantage of the feature, and save time in the process, you should look for a decent auto duplexing mode. This typically drops the print speed by around 30 to 50 percent, but it could potentially halve your paper costs.

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