Making sense of printers' spec sheets should help guide your purchase in the right direction. Do you need thermal or piezoelectric? Does it matter? Thermal involves heating the ink and piezoelectric involves crystals. Neither method is unequivocally superior. As with any hardware, performance and quality can vary greatly within any given product line.
One basic consideration is the connection type. All the printers in our chart have at least a parallel port for connecting to PCs. If you have a Mac, a USB printer, like the Hewlett-Packard HP DeskJet 970Cxi, is your best bet. The Xerox DocuPrint C20 has an optional serial-port adaptor available for older Mac systems. For newer PCs equipped with USB ports, a USB connection is often preferable to parallel for ease of use and faster speeds.
A wide-format printer, such as the Epson Stylus Photo 1270, can accom-modate prints of up to 13 by 19 inches as well as banners on special banner paper. This is handy for making large brochures, 11-by-14-inch prints and small posters. If you don't think you'll need that much space, you can save by buying a letter- and legal-sized printer like the Epson Stylus Photo 870.
One of the highest-priced printers on our list, the Xerox DocuPrint C20 has an optional external Ethernet-networking adaptor ($220) available. Unless it's a necessity for your setup, though, networking is usually best left to laser printers. The high volume demands placed on a networked printer will overtax most inkjets and force an even larger investment in expensive consumables. If you're going to network an inkjet, however, you'll want to look for one with a high monthly volume. The Xerox, for example, lists a monthly duty cycle of 5,000 pages-pretty hefty for an inkjet.
Speed is another big consideration-just be wary of manufacturers' pages-per-minute claims. Actual speeds can vary greatly with the amount of page coverage, type of connection and type of file being printed.