Print Speed: What Affects It and Why

Speed up your current printer or shop for a fast one

If speed is essential to you when you're printing on your laser or inkjet printer, then you want to know what affects print speed and why. One speed indicator is a manufacturer's stated pages-per-minute (ppm) rating for its printers, but several aspects of a printer affect print speed.

A standard laserjet printer.
Yevgen Romanenko / Getty Images

Start With Page-Per-Minute Ratings

When looking for a new printer, check out the device manufacturer's online specification for its pages per minute (ppm) rating. Keep in mind that ppm ratings typically depict printing under perfect conditions, usually with documents consisting of unformatted black text sent to the printer. As you add formatting, color, graphics, and images, print speeds slow down considerably. Typically, the color-ink ppm rating is half that of the black-ink ppm rating. Still, the ppm rating gives you one way to compare different printers.

Variables That Affect Print Speed

The size and type of printed documents have a great deal to do with the speed at which a printer operates. If you have a large PDF file, the printer needs to do a lot of background work before it starts to print. If that file is full of color graphics and photographs, that slows the process even more.

On the other hand, as you might have surmised, if you're printing out a lot of black-and-white text documents, the process is relatively fast. Much depends on the printer itself.

All of these variables affect the print speed.

  • Age of the printer: Modern printers are much faster than those of a decade ago.
  • Choice of printer technology: Laser printers print faster than inkjet printers. Many inkjet printers are rated at about 15 pages per minute for black ink. Laser printers usually print twice that fast; some high-volume monochrome laser printers print as fast as 100 pages per minute.
  • Choice of printer: Any printer advertised as high-volume is likely to be lightning fast. Any laser printer is typically faster than an inkjet printer in the corresponding price range.
  • Color printing vs. black ink-only printing: Printing in black ink is faster than printing in color ink, particularly when the color ink is used in photographs.
  • Printer settings: Some printers have settings that instruct them to flip a page to horizontal orientation, reverse the order of pages in a multipage document, apply edge smoothing, or collate several pages. All of these features require the printer to do extra work before the printing starts.
  • Image size: Printing a small image is faster than printing a large one.
  • High-resolution vs. low-resolution printing: High-resolution images take longer to print than low-resolution images. You want high resolution for professional-quality photos, but low-resolution images work fine in a newsletter or document.
  • Print quality: Most printers offer a choice of high quality, regular quality, and draft quality. When printing for internal purposes, draft quality is the fastest mode to use, although the quality is not as good as the other settings.

Print Options for Faster Printing

If you already have a printer, the best way to speed up print jobs that are not intended for distribution to others is to change your printer preferences.

When you need speed, set your printer's default to Draft. You won't get great-looking results—fonts won't look particularly smooth, and colors won't be rich—but draft printing is a big time saver. Even better, it's a big ink saver.

However, after everything is said and done, the best way to ensure an appropriately fast print speed for your application is to buy a printer suited to your needs. When you're at work, print speed is sometimes the most important variable.