PostScript is a page-description language that lets any two devices (computer and compatible printer) describe and reproduce exactly the same page.

The quality of output varies tremendously between inkjet printers, ranging from fair to excellent, depending on how much you want to spend. A lot depends on the size of the ink dot that a printer applies and whether it uses a four- or six-color process. Basic inkjets use a four-color ink cartridge, with cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks. Many can produce photo-quality pictures. More sophisticated printers use a six-color process that adds two more inks, usually a light magenta and light cyan. In the four-color process, if you have a broad light area, such as sky, you might see the dots of cyan and magenta that color it because they're quite far apart. Using lighter values of those inks lets the printer place more color, less visibly.

High-end inkjets, like the Iris, can cost tens of thousands of dollars but can be perfect for graphics professionals. Iris and similar art-quality printers are sometimes found at service bureaus or art studios. They can produce very large prints, up to 33x46 inches, with remarkable detail and quality. You can have an Iris print made of your work, but they tend to be expensive. Prices range from $50 to $100 for a single 16x20 print.

Laser Printers

The laser printer offers a good balance of price, quality, and speed. Laser printers abound from well-known companies such as Brother and Hewlett-Packard.

Most laser printers output 300 to 600 dpi (some up to 1200 dpi), and they are particularly good with halftone and grayscale images. Some can subtly alter the size of the printed dots, thus improving quality. Laser printers are generally faster than inkjet printers, but they tend to be more expensive.

Color laser prints can be very good, if you like bright colors and don't mind the shiny surface that you're likely to get in areas where the toner is quite dense. Laser printers work by fusing powdered toner to the paper. Color lasers use a four-color toner cartridge.

Dye-Sublimation Printers

Dye-sublimation printers are expensive photographic-quality printers, but you get what you pay for. Image quality is superb, but these printers use special ribbons and paper. You can't use ordinary paper with them, and the specially coated paper is expensive. You can often find these printers at a service bureau, where you can get a single dye-sub print for a modest fee. If you're satisfied with small, but perfect prints, look into desktop dye-sublimation printers. Several companies make them at reasonable prices. The drawback is that the most affordable ones only make 4x6 prints.


Imagesetters are printers used for medium- or large-scale commercial printing jobs. These large, expensive machines burn the image onto photographic film or paper. That film is then developed and used to make printing plates that are used for the actual printing. We're talking high resolution here: 1200-2400 dpi, or even better.

Imagesetters don't print in color, per se. Instead, you have to create a separate image for each color you want printed. These are called color separations; we'll talk more about them later.

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