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Printing "On the Go"

Portable printers are small and easy–to–use

Imagine you're on the road and need to print a memo, a presentation, or driving directions from your laptop or handheld. There's not a copy shop nearby, and you can't leave the conference center, hotel room or departure gate where you are.

With a lightweight, portable printer you can print what you need — right then and there.

Printing methods and quality

Portable printers use either thermal or inkjet printing technology (and in the case of Canon printers, bubble–jet, which is comparable to an inkjet).

Inkjet and bubble–jet portable printers deliver improved resolution and can print in both color and black–and–white. Thermal portable printers print only in black–and–white and have a printing resolution comparable to older fax machines. Staples doesn't sell thermal portable printers, largely because of the inferior quality of their printing.

The knock against portable inkjet and bubble–jet printers used to be that their printing resolution was inferior and topped out at 300 x 300 dpi. Now they can print in black and white and color at a resolution that rivals and even equals larger printers.

Modest size, modern technology

Portable printers weigh between two and five pounds — about the same as a pair of exercise handweights. They have a length and width that approximates those of a letter–sized (8.5"x11") piece of paper, and a thickness that ranges from two to seven inches.

Per-page costs and printing speed

Most portable inkjet and bubble–jet printers cost more than normal–sized inkjet printers. When it comes to features, the trade–offs for portability are cost–per–page and speed. Both features are in most cases better in normal–sized inkjet printers, even low–priced models. Portable inkjet and bubble–jet printers, however, do not require special cartridges.

Here's a quick comparison of the major features of portable and regular inkjets:

Type of printer Cost per printed page Pages per minute Resolution
Portable inkjet 5 – 30 cents (black and white)
24 cents – $1.40 (color)
Up to 5 –13 (black and white)
Up to 2 – 9 (color)
From 600 x 600 to 1200 x 1200 dpi (black and white)
From 720 x 360 to up to 4800 x 1200 dpi (color)
Regular inkjet 5 – 7 cents (black and white)
5 – 14 cents (color)
Up to 6 – 21 (black and white)
Up to 4 – 16 (color)
From 600 x 600 to 2400 x 1200 dpi (black and white)
From 1200 x 600 to up to 4800 x 1200 dpi (color)

Paper handling

Most portable printers are capable of printing on envelopes, transparencies, photo paper, and inkjet paper up to letter–size (8.5"x11") only. Some portable printers require premium heavyweight paper. Be sure to check the printer's "paper handling" specifications and follow the recommendations.

If you don't use the proper paper, print quality will likely suffer (e.g., the ink might not be properly absorbed and smudging will result). Another hazard of using the wrong paper is that the printer is more likely to jam.

Document feeder

Not all portable printers have an auto document feeder. Those that do can typically hold between 20 and 45 pages for printing. Portable printers that don't have a document feeder require you to feed paper by hand. Alternatively, you can buy a document feeder attachment.

Mobile and stationary power sources

Portable printers draw their power from either a standard power cord (included) or a rechargeable battery (included or purchased separately, depending on the model). Portable printers use one of two kinds of rechargeable batteries:

Type of battery Pages it prints between charges
Nickel metal hydride (NiMH) Up to 250 pages
Lithium ion Up to 300 or 400 pages

In addition to printing more pages per charge, Lithium–ion batteries weigh less than NiMH batteries.

Printing from a handheld (PDA)

For a portable printer to process jobs from a handheld (PDA), the handheld must be equipped with a USB port and be attached to the portable printer via a USB cable. Most new handhelds have a USB port, but some older models might not. (Note: Portable printers typically do not come with a USB cable. It must be purchased separately.)

Carrying cases

While Staples does not sell special carrying cases for portable printers, many notebook cases will work just as well. Just be sure to look for a case with suitable dimensions. A carrying case will protect a portable printer from bumps along the road. It will also make the printer easier to carry. (Click here to see computer bags and cases.)


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