Most people only consider the printing technology (laser toner versus inkjet) when selecting a printer. Few people consider the paper path, but this is an equally important aspect when selecting a printer. The paper path affects what mediums the printer can print on. There are three types of paper paths: L-shaped, U-shaped and straight. Each of these have advantages and disadvantages listed below.
L-Shaped Paper Path
The L-Shaped paper path is, as one might assume, shaped like an uppercase L. The paper is stored vertically and then proceeds through the printer; it bends at a right angle and comes out horizontally.
The main advantage of the L-shaped paper path is its use of space. The paper is stored vertically, reducing the amount of space needed. After printing, the printed material can be picked up immediately, and the arm that it rests on can usually slide under the printer. Thus, the only space this printer needs to use constantly is enough for the printer itself. The economical use of space makes L-shaped paths ideal for desks and other places where space is limited.
There is one main disadvantage to the L-shaped paper path. The printer cannot store a lot of paper. Because the paper is being held vertically, only a few pages can be stored at a time. A limit of 50 pages is fine for individual use, but this is not acceptable for a busy office or library. If many sheets are used at once often, then another path may be desirable.
U-Shaped Paper Path
Printers with a U-shaped paper path store their paper horizontally, usually below where it comes out after printing. The paper bends in a u-shape during printing. These printers are ideal for large volumes, but cannot print on thick material. The U-shaped paper path stores paper horizontally, requiring more space than the L-shaped path. However, it does not need as much space as the straight-path printers. Storing paper horizontally allows these printers to print large jobs without a problem. Models can have hundreds, some even thousands of sheets in them at a time.
A disadvantage, the sharp angle that paper makes along its path can prevent rigid or thick materials from going through the printer. They simply cannot bend enough to be printed on. The L-shaped path has a similar issue, but not to the same degree. It is extremely important to keep the printer paper path clean for this type of printer because of the amount of flexing of the media.
Straight Paper Path
The straight paper path sends paper through the printer without bending it. This requires a lot of space, but allows many mediums to be printed on. The straight paper path does not bend paper at all. This allows it to print on very thick and rigid materials. Even CDs can be printed on if the printer has a straight paper path.
The disadvantage of a straight path is the vast amounts of space it requires. The paper must be stored in one place, printed and finally rest in another area. These printers require the most space of any printer.