Print Speed - What Affects It and Why

Dell E515dw Multifunction Printer
Dell's entry-level E515dw Multifunction Monochrome Printer. Dell

Back when Peter wrote this story in 2008, printers, especially inkjet printers, were significantly slower than they are today. In absence of a page that actually describes print speed, how it's assessed, and when and where it's important, in another article, and soon. Meanwhile, I have edited Peter's article to reflect the realities of this decade.

Is speed important to you when you're printing? When looking for a new printer, check out the device's pages per minute (ppm) manufacturer ratings.

You’ll need to take some of these with a grain of salt; typically, they represent averages, and there are a lot of elements involved that could make a difference. To get an idea of how manufacturers come up with their print speeds, you can learn from HP's description of the process.

Keep in mind, though, typically these numbers depict printing under perfect conditions, usually with documents consisting of unformatted black text default to the printer. As you add formatting, color, graphics, and images, print speeds slow down considerably, often by as much or more than half the manufacturer's ppm.


The size and type of document being printed has a great deal to do with the speed at which the printer operates. If you’ve got a large PDF file, the printer needs to do a lot of background work before it can get started. If that file is full of color graphics and photographs, that could slow the process even more.

On the other hand, as you might have surmised by now, if you’re printing out a lot of black-and-white text documents, the process can be pretty fast. Much depends on the printer itself, of course. Keep in mind also that manufacturer claims of ppm don’t take into account how long it takes the machine to warm up.

That can be a long time in the case of laser printers and some inkjets (my Pixma MP530, for example, takes more than 20 seconds from the time I turn it on to the time it’s ready to print). On the other hand, photo printers like the HP Photosmart A626 are ready to go almost from the moment they’re switched on.

Print Options

Printer makers work hard to make printing easy. While there are a lot of print options, printers will try to find the best way to print whatever you send them. But they don’t always know best. One way you can speed up print jobs — especially if they’re not intended for distribution to others — is to change your printer preferences.

If you’ve really got the need for speed, then set your printer’s default to Draft. You won’t get good-looking results (for example, fonts won’t look particularly smooth, and colors won’t be rich) but draft printing can be a big time saver. Even better, it’s a big ink saver.

However, after everything is said and done, the best way to assure the proper print speed for your application is do buy a printer suited to your needs. Depending on the environment, sometimes print speed is the most important variable. High-volume printers a designed to print fast.