Before buying a printer, make sure to understand the paper path.

20. September 2012 06:00 by Calvin Yu in Troubleshooting and Printer Tips  //  Tags:   //   Comments

Among the many important features of any printer is the physical path taken by paper through the machine. Printers have three standard paper paths: straight, U-shaped and L-shaped. Each type has its own advantages and disadvantages, making different types of printers well-suited for different uses.

Perhaps the simplest of the three is the straight path, which passes media through the printer in a straight line. Laser printers commonly use this path. Feeding media straight through the machine provides unparalleled printing speed; indeed, laser printers using the straight path can print almost twice as quickly as those using other paper paths. Furthermore, the straight path eliminates paper jams almost entirely, since there are no twists and turns inside the machine in which paper can get stuck.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of the straight path, though, is versatility. While other types of printers can only print on flexible paper, straight-path printers can print on thicker, stiffer media types such as cardboard and plastic. Some printers with this paper path can even print directly onto CDs. On the other hand, straight-path printers typically take up more space than L-shaped and U-shaped printers.

The U-shaped paper path is a popular option for inkjet printers. Typically, this type of printer stores paper in an input tray; the machine pulls sheets inside and upward, making a U-shape, and then deposits them in an output tray that sits directly above the input. The tray system makes it easy to store hundreds of sheets at once and retrieve the printed documents easily, making U-shaped paper paths ideal for high-volume printing.

Unfortunately, the U-shaped paper path generally does not allow printing on thicker media. Printers using this shape also tend to be fairly bulky and do not print as quickly as straight-through printers. Nevertheless, its ability to handle high volume makes the U-shaped paper path popular for office use.

Like the straight paper path, the L-shaped paper path is typically found in laserjet printers. The user loads paper into a tray that sits above the printer; the machine pulls paper down, passes it through an L-shaped space and deposits the printed documents in an output tray on the other side. The L-shaped paper path lends itself to building compact and portable printers because the small input and output trays can be folded in to save space when the machine is not in use. This makes the L-shaped path an excellent option for home printing.

Because of the wide range of options, it is very important to consider the paper path when choosing a printer. Each of the three paper paths has its own advantages and disadvantages. Keep the intended media, location and volume in mind when choosing a printer and select the best paper path for the job.  For more information on the 3 paper paths, read more about paper paths.

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