Laser Printer - dpi question

Palatine's picture

I'm in the market for a laser printer, but I'm a bit flummoxed when it comes to understanding dpi output.

One of the models does 600 x 600dpi, which is too low for me. Heck even my inkjet did 1200dpi.

Here's my problem:

I've narrowed it down to two models. The HP laserjet 1022 does 1200x1200dpi. BUT . . . the Brother HL-2040 does 2400x600dpi.

Which is better with respect to producing text that is crisp and on the heavier side - as in, which would do justice to Bembo Book?

Both are b&w laser printers, and those dpi ratings are for text, as far as I know.

Any help would be appreciated.

hrant's picture

I bought an HP-1022 recently. It was quite a find - no frills, but very affordable and a very small footprint. I did consider some Brother models, but they all seemed cheesy to me, not least because I think symmetrical resolution is important. My only complaint with the HP-1022 is some slight toner scatter towards the bottoms of shapes, visible via a loupe. HP suggested trying different fusing temperatures (easily set via the driver) and even sent me a replacement cartridge, but nothing helped. On the other hand, it's hard to see the scatter with the naked eye.

In terms of pumping up the color of text rendering, the HP software (at least on Windows) lets you choose a number between 1 and 5 to determine darkness, and it's pretty effective.


Palatine's picture

Thanks for the reply, hrant!

I actually bought the LaserJet 1020, but I was thinking about returning it because:

I use an Intel-based Mac, and this little printer is supported by 1) An older HP driver that offers no access to print quality controls, limiting the output to 600 x 600dpi, and 2) An Open-Source CUPS driver which, although allowing access to print controls, prints 600 x 600dpi no matter what I select. This issue with the CUPS driver is confirmed by web sources.

So I'm basically stuck with a wonderfully compact, reliable (HP), quiet laser printer that is stuck in 600 x 600dpi mode. I compared a page of Underware's Dolly printed with the LJ 1020 to one printed with my Deskjet 5150, which printed it at 1200dpi. Needless to say, my inkjet brought out the warmth of Dolly, and that rich black it is known for. But at 600 x 600 dpi, it basically loses its charm

Other lasers for Mac are either cheap Brother brands that do 2400 x 600 (why the lowewr vertical res?), or Samsung models that do 1200 x 600.

The only 1200 x 1200 laser from HP that is in my price range is the Laserjet 1022, but that also is stuck at 600 x 600dpi on the Open Source drivers. It does have a Mac driver from HP, but I can't tell whether it just allows basic printing (what I'm stuck with now) or access to advanced functions.

I feel like tearing my hair out.

tomii's picture

What about Post Script support, is it relevant?

clauses's picture

Oh yes, be aware of those el cheapo HP printers as many does NOT work with Mac. My girlfriend bought a Laserjet 1018 yesterday; imagine the phone call I got when she had assembled and attached it only to find out that there are no drivers for it. Luckily the shop would change it for a Samsung ML-2010 which works just fine. It's fast and dirt cheap, but noisy.

The one I recently opted for was the Laserjet P2015 which is more expensive, but very silent and very fast if you stick to vectors (text). First page really is out in eight seconds from stand-by mode. It's 1200x1200 dpi and it looks fine.

hrant's picture

I don't know about drivers, but the 1020 only does 600x600 anyway, so
return it pronto - the difference between 600 and 1200 is very clear.

I had an inkjet for many years - it was cheap (with ink refills) and had
good resolution, but [affordable] inkjets always exhibit a fuzz that doesn't
jibe with text output to me.

Postscript support would be great, but ups the price of a printer a lot.
And from what I know HP's Postscript is buggy.

BTW, the 1022 is noisy, but surprisingly fast.

The 2015 is nice, but besides being about double the price its footprint is bigger.


pattyfab's picture

I love my Ricoh Aficio AP610N

1200 x 1200, postscript, 20 ppm, 11 x 17", really reasonable price (I think I paid around $800).

I've always heard HPs postscript is buggy too - you need workaround software that limits your options (such as dpi). This Ricoh is basically plug and play into the ethernet port or router, once you download the driver. It's kinda big tho. I have it under my desk and it makes a nice footrest when I'm not using it. But man, I can print an entire book out in about 15 mins.

Inkjet printers suck.

hrant's picture

I just looked at the HP-2015 again and after the typical rebate the price jump from the 1022 for Postscript is probably worth it for many people; and when you count the 1022's paper tray that sticks out (which does mean you can conveniently lay stuff on it though :-) the 2015's footprint is about the same. So you should probably go for that one.


Mark Simonson's picture

I just recently got the same Rocoh model that Patty got. It has really good print quality and is very fast, plus true PostScript.

Previously I had a Brother all-in-one fax/printer/copier/scanner. The print quality was okay, but it was really slow and would go to sleep and refuse to wake up--sometimes in the middle of a job--necessitating a restart. It also bugged me that it printed much faster from Quark/Windows than from Quark/Mac. I can only conclude that the Mac printer driver was to blame.

The Ricoh has no such problems. Still have the Brother, but only use the fax and copier functions. Never did use the scanner part.

Palatine's picture

I'd like to thank everyone for relating their laser printer experiences. It's helping me quite a bit.

So I figured that I'd experiment with various lasers until I get the right one in terms of my budget and print quality concerns. I can just return the unit(s) to Staples and do an exchange each time, just paying the difference. I don't mind the few extra dollars. A laser printer is an investment.

I'm now trying the Brother 2070N, 2400x600dpi, with included Mac drivers. The options in the print menu allow for 300, 600, and 1200dpi (with the 1200 appearing as an "HQ1200" option.) Is this 1200 x 1200dpi? Or 1200 x 600? What's the 2400 x 600 all about?

I'm a bit confused here, but in any case, I printed out a sample page set in 10.5 Dolly and the output (at HQ1200) look darker and richer than the previous HP's 600dpi output.

So for a few dollars more than the HP 1020, I'm getting better results.

But there is also a Samsung model (ML 3051ND) in a similar price range that does 1200 x1200 (stated on the box), but which is rather large (nay, huge!), though it is also "mac compatible" - to what degree I'm not sure.

Any thoughts?

hrant's picture

Staples is gonna love ya. :-/

> stated on the box

The boxes lie.
I will never forget the desktop scanner box that -over
ten years ago mind you- claimed a resolution of 9600.


blank's picture

The boxes lie.

That goes for postscript and real CMYK support, too.

Palatine's picture

Nothing beats a visual comparison, letter for letter.

The Brother's printout of my Dolly sample page is virtually the same in terms of the thickness of black text as the page my Deskjet 5150 produced. The only real difference being that the laser-printed text is a bit sharper and crisper than the inkjetted page.

It seems the paper itself has quite a bit to do with the quality. A nice, slightly creamy heavier stock really brings out the richness of black text, especially with a font like Dolly.

I'm satisfied with this little unit. Time will tell how reliable it is.

Thanks for the help, everyone!

Palatine's picture

I'm still a bit cnfused re dpi:

2400 x 600 vs. 1200 x1200.

Which is better for text? Why would there be less vertical resolution with the 2400 x 600?

hrant's picture

Think about how this stuff works: the paper moves, and the electromagnetized (or whatever) specs of toner are laid down on the paper, line-by-line. So the vertical resolution is a matter of how finely the paper can be moved, and the horizontal resolution is a matter of how finely the toner can be laid down. The former depends on the quality of the paper "tractor" mechanics, the latter on the quality of the electronics as well as the granularity of the toner coming out of the cartridge. Since the way any product like this is put together depends on the price point it is meant to end up selling at, an asymmetrical resolution means that it was much cheaper per dpi to produce either horizontal or vertical resolution. A given company might be able to produce finer mechanics and less fine electronics/toner than another company, and/or they value symmetricity of resolution differently.

For text, the horizontal dimension tends to need more definition, for things like consistent stem weights and equal counters in the "m" (especially using fonts with bad/no hinting) but most of all for reduced aliasing in italics. For a printer with finer vertical resolution than horizontal, printing text in landscape format gives better results. BTW, don't assume the higher number is the horizontal, since the marketing people will always get the literature to list the higher number first either way.

And a general problem with asymmetrical resolution is that if you print something like a fine grid mesh (especially a skewed one) the texture and color of the vertical vs horizontal lines will be different.

In short: Oh brother!


Palatine's picture

I'm learning quite a bit here. For text, it seems that a finer horizontal res is more important, when printing in portrait mode.

But all else being equal, hrant, if you want excellent text output, which dpi combo would *you* choose?

I can still spring for the Laserjet P2015 you mentioned earlier, which seems to be a Postscript printer as well. It also seems sturdier than the Brother I have now

I know I'm beating this to death, but if I'm to hound anyone for typographic knowledge, it'll be you!

hrant's picture

I guess all else being equal I might prefer 2400x600 over 1200x1200 if I were using the printer almost exclusively for proofing my own fonts and I could shoot for landscape or portrait printing depending. But probably other factors (footprint, trustworthiness, etc.) would tip the decision for me. And they did! :-)

But if you're looking for a good general purpose, typographically decent laser
printer, unless buying the 2015 is likely to cause you monetary grief, go for it.


charles ellertson's picture

There are all kinds of reasons for/problems with laser or inkjet printers. For example, we could never use the highly though of -- and expensive -- Xante because some of its internal software took over & we couldn't do a proper grayscale profile for it. Now that only affects work with images, but images are an important part of our business. Drive by the office & make us an offer -- less than 5,000 sheets through it.

Always remember that what you are after is total resolution, with all elements considered. So,

1/Rt = 1/R1 + 1/R2 + 1/R3 + ... 1/Rn.

If one of those R's is low (like the paper), having high resolution in some other element doesn't help the total resolution all that much.

My real world test is that a .25-point rule often looks good on a laser printer. It flat-out doesn't work for offset printing (Direct-to-Plate at 2400 dpi), at least, with uncoated stocks. A .33-point rule is the smallest you can get away with.

Palatine's picture

After going over my sample pages with a magnifying glass under good lighting conditions, something occured to me . . .

Even though my laser printer is set to highest quality (HQ1200), the inkjet output still seems slightly darker, or better put, thicker. This may be obvious, but it's allayed some of my fears re laserjet vs. inkjet quality. The ink from the inkjet at high-quality setting seems to bleed into the paper, producing a kind of thick, perhaps fuzzy output that might not be what was intended by the font's designer.

The laser's output is just as dark, but seems a bit thinner due to greater sharpness/clarity because toner doesn't bleed into paper.

I'm assuming, then, that for accuracy's sake, we'll want to avoid that "ink bleed" that seems to be characteristic of inkjets. This ink bleed might actually make text appear too heavy on the page.

Am I making sense here?

clauses's picture

Yes you are. In other words: NEVER trust an inkjet printer for text 'colour'. Never trust an inkjet for colour accuracy, unless it is fully calibrated, and none of the consumer models are. HP makes a line of pro-sumer Designjets that have an integrated loop-back colorimeter, that can print out a target and scan it, and create the ICC-profile for that specific paper, with the used ink cartridges, and the used printheads, for that temperature and humidity. And only for D5000 norm-light. And that's only really working with the third party RIP. And text 'color' is still way off because you have to use some special proof stock to simulate off-set printing. So no, inkjet is not for us.

blank's picture

Am I making sense here?

Yup. Inkjets pretty much suck when it comes to rendering fine text; I don’t use them for anything lighter than Akzidenz-Grotesk. I know some crazy design students who can coax amazing output from an inkjet, but that’s because they sit around all day running prints and tweaking settings for every page.

Something to keep in mind for getting really nice output is to just bite the bullet and have it run off by a local print shop on a really high-end laser printer. Even high-end business laser printers can’t compare with what you can get from a print shops high-end laser printers for a dollar or two.

Palatine's picture

I ended up taking back the Brother - I had reliability worries with it, and the unit seemed rather flimsy, and bought an HP Laserjet P2015. The one that Hrant suggested, more or less.

I can already tell that the print quality makes this machine worth the extra money. The output is heavy enough to accentuate that deep, rich black, but light enough to bring out the details of the type. It's interesting how I can tweak the settings (i.e., print density) via a web interface. I compared newly-printed samples to what the Brother 2070N produced, and the Brother at highest quality seems to have rendered text far too dark and heavy. It's amazing what a difference a quality machine makes.


What kind of paper should I use (weight/thickness) to really do justice to fonts that are meant to bring out a black that is rich and deep? I know there is "laser" paper that is sold in any computer outlet, but I think some of you might have a better idea.

hrant's picture

Actually Claus suggested the 2015 first.


hrant's picture

BTW here's a discussion of the HP bug I mentioned:


ebensorkin's picture

I got a 2015 and I really like it. It's good to know about the HP bug though. I should test my printer and see what I get...

GraphicFuzz's picture

Anyone here use a Xerox Phaser? Pricier than HP, but I'm curious if it's less buggy when outputting from Mac.

Palatine's picture


What would you suggest are the best print quality settings for the P2015?

I have the print density set to 5, but there's also a resolution enhancement option (on/off), including an econo mode option with, somewhat oddly, a "highest quality" setting.

I'm assuming ProRes 1200 is the best, but what about those other two options?

hrant's picture

If it's like the 1022, if you set it to "true 1200" you shouldn't have the resolution enhancement option on (that's for making 600 look more like 1200, which it does, but visibly not enough). You definitely don't want "econo mode" on, since that makes everything gray. On my setup all I did was switch it up to "ProRes 1200" and I get the best it can do. But I also have the density set to 3 (the default), and 5 is too much for me (plus it probably distorts the outlines, not to mention takes you further away from what an imagesetter would do).

Beyond that the main thing you'll need to worry about is changing the paper type setting as needed. Thicker paper needs more toner fusing time, otherwise the stuff can actually fall off after printing!


clauses's picture

There are only three settings for image quality on OS X. The setting for highest quality is pretty self explanatory:
Printer Resolution: ProRes 1200
Resolution Enhancement: On
EconoMode: Highest Quality

As far as I can see the 'Resolution Enhancement' does nothing when 'Printer Resolution' is set to 'ProRes 1200'.

ebensorkin's picture

So far I have used it to test what an office printer is likely to do - not to try to make it into an imagesetter... ;-) You questions are good ones. I will try to test them out in about a week and a half. If I haven't posted a result in 2 weeks bug me a little & I will. In the meantime I would fallow Hrant's advice but also look to see what you think.

What I like about mine is that it prints very quickly, the cost per sheet is low, & it seem to be built well enough that I might get to keep it for more that 2 years unlike an inkjet which is the posterchild for planned obsolecence. It also doesn't seem to have an obvious problem with vertical or horizontal distortion which most laser printers ( other than a xante) do seem to. This doesn't mean that it is immune from the bug metioned earlier.

jasonla's picture

I'm a big fan of hp printers i've had 3 over the last 8 or so years. My last one which broke I called HP to see if they could help their service guy eventually said just to give him my address and they'd mail me a new one and to return the broken one which was really cool of them since i purchased it at staples and it may have even been out of warranty not 100% on that but he tried to diagnose the problem the paper didn't feed at all he just had a new one sent out to me. I'd really suggest if you ever have a problem with your printer to call them and see if they can send you a new one. They ask for your credit card in case you never send the broken one they charge you. It's worth calling you speak to someone over seas and i guess if your printer is really busted they offer you a new one.

kolber's picture

We've had a xerox phaser at work for the past few years. Not very impressed with the print quality.
Never had any bugs running it on our mac network. Gradients don't always look so good, but apart from that, overall, not too bad.

ebensorkin's picture

The more I look at this kind of question the more it seems like checking in the medium you will want your font seen in is the only really good solution. And if you want it to work in a variety of settings you had better check your font in those settings. Obviously there is a limit to these things - but my point is that there doesn't seem to really be a rule of thumb or easy solution. If I discover otherwise I'll let you know.

1985's picture

I am trying to restart a similar thread to find out what
the current situation looks like for laser printers.

quadibloc's picture

Someone has already explained that a 2400 x 600 printer is basically a 600 x 600 printer where the electronics allow fractional dot positioning. I am sorry to hear that the OP had a bad experience with buying a laser printer that had inadequate support for his computer; but in the case of the Macintosh (and, for that matter, with Linux as well) one must very carefully check on driver support for peripherals.

This reminds me of something else, though. Some laser printers have a 360 by 360 resolution. This way, they can, without rounding, support type with a 1/72" point, and, like a 300 by 300 printer, also support the 1/60" unit common to Pica and Elite typewriter fonts.

Some European typewriters, instead of having a character width of 1/10" or 1/12", defined character widths in millimeters. And, of course, for printing, they use Didot points, based on the pre-revolutionary French Pied du Roi, which are about 15/14 of the English-speaking world's points. Have laser printers been designed with a resolution to specifically accommodate this?

hrant's picture

> Some laser printers have a 360 by 360 resolution. This way,
> they can, without rounding, support type with a 1/72" point

However this is moot, since no laser printer is really dot-
accurate anyway, and many of them don't even come close!

In addition, 360 is not nearly enough for nice rendering.


1985's picture

Hrant, are you still using the same printer as you were at the start of this thread?

hrant's picture

Yes. It's working just fine, although I don't print a
lot (I installed a second cartridge a few months ago).


quadibloc's picture

A Didot point is about 0.0376 millimeters, so one could imagine it being approximated by 0.375 millimeters. I would assume that 10 pitch typing would be approximated by letters that are 2.5 mm wide; 12 pitch is 2.12 mm, so 2 mm is possible, but I vaguely remember instead seeing 2.25 mm given as a width of characters on a European typewriter.

0.375 is three times 0.125, or 1/8, so 8 dots per millimeter, or 203.2 dots per inch, would serve both the Didot point and the common European typewriter pitches well. Of course, that is too low for laser printer quality, but any multiple - 16, 24, and so on, dots per millimeter should work well.

Arno Enslin's picture

@ 1985

There is a good German website specialized on printers. I have a Samsung ML-3051 and the printing quality is very high in my opinion. (I am not sure yet, if the 1200 dpi × 1200 dpi are emulated.)

However, they take photos with a microscope:
Samsung ML-4551/letter a (Palatino)/quality mode.

Samsung ML-3051/letter a (Palatino)/quality mode.

As you can see, the ML-3051 prints cleaner, (probably!) less glossy (an advantage), but thinner (a bit too thin). I have compared the outline of the Palatino a in Photoshop.

The buy is not a question of precision only, but also a question of taste. For most digitized typefaces, the ML-4551 is maybe better, because in my opinion most of them are too thin! But in case of Mario Feliciano’s Merlo for example the ML-3051 works perfectly fine.

I only have to warn you with regard to the resistance of the Samsung toner against mechanical influences. If you fold and unfold paper, the paper looses the toner in the edge. So, if I have to fold paper, I am using an electric iron and hold it shortly to the edge.

And forget the duplex print of the ML-3051. I tuned mine with a kind of carton rail. Now I am able to print duplex very precise, but I need 20 seconds per page. No, not 20 seconds, I need more time. It takes more time than letterpressing now, lol! But nevertheless I am contented.

And Samsung has a very bad firmware support. In Germany they send service men to you only for updating firmware, although this could be done by yourself in a few minutes only.

I have heard, that Lexmark’s toner resistance is very good.

Hope this was a help!

ebensorkin's picture

I posted some advice related to this here

In which I say that it isn't the laser printer you need to worry about ( within limits) but rather the way you test.

I don't mean to make light of being interested in these things - especially as proofing devices for graphic design.

But it is a different matter for designers of type.

simjps-spammer's picture

There are papers specifically optimized for laser printing and some for ink jet. Others are just generic copy machine paper. If you are interested in producing a quality product yourself, you will need to use quality materials. Both HP an HammerMill make papers which specify their intent to be used on laser printers. I prefer 24lb as a minimum. If you examine the surface of laser papers versus others, you can see something about the sheen and lack of visible texture in them. This must enhance their apparent sharpness compared to inkjets which rely somewhat on absorbsion characteristics. Laser toners are fused with heat on top of the paper rather than be absorbed into the paper fibers as are inks. It makes sense when you think about it. Watch for the sale prices and promos and stock up when you can. cartucho toner.

Té Rowan's picture

Wow! A spam-like post that may be considered informative! This calls for a party!

quadibloc's picture

Since this thread has risen from the ashes, I might mention that in my web searches on this topic, I found that some early Autologic laser printers had a 723 dpi resolution. This shrunk the output just enough so that if the software assumed a 720 dpi resolution, and used the conventional 1/72" point, the point size would actually be shrunk to 0.01383126... inches, which approximates a real official printer's point of 0.013837 inches.

Further pursuant to this topic, I've modified this page on my web site by adding a table comparing several possible laser printer resolutions in the neighborhood of 1080 dpi, showing how closely these resolutions could approximate both the Didot point and either the standard English printer's point of 0.013837 inches or its nominal 1/72 inch replacement in the computer world.

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