TODAY, the PC industry is in an era in which desktop computer users are engaging in more and more high-quality document production work. Not only are users demanding higher quality output and faster printing at lower prices, they are also quickly growing tired with what they perceive to be bland and lifeless monochrome output. They prefer to produce colour documents. Of course, the printing industry is managing to keep up with this swing in consumer interest. On the monochrome side, most people have moved away from dot-matrix printers except for special use where multi-part forms are needed. Instead, they are now using inkjet and laser technology. Inkjet technology used to have a reputation for smeared or less-than-crisp output. But current inkjet models from market leaders Hewlett-Packard, Canon and Epson can produce output at resolutions of 600 dots per inch (dpi) by 300 dpi, or higher. In addition, newer inks are less prone to smearing and are water resistant, helping ensure the longevity of printed documents, a problem which plagued early inkjet output. The popularity of the ink jet is already waning somewhat, however, because the price of basic low-end laser printers has just dropped below the US$500 mark for a few very, basic, non-PostScript models. This makes it viable for most home and small office users to purchase laser printers. Considering that laser consumables cost about one quarter that of inkjets, low-end monochrome users may now find laser printers becoming more attractive. It is important to consider, as well, that low-end inkjets generally print somewhat slower than low-end lasers, often as low as one page per minute compared with four pages per minute with the slowest laser printers. On the laser printer side, user expectations for high-quality output, especially with extremely small type and halftone images, has pushed the 600 dpi print engine into the position once held by the common 300 dpi variety. Now 300 dpi is low-end where it once ruled the high-end in machines costing several times more than today's 600-dpi models. Six-hundred dpi delivers four times the resolution of 300-dpi printers, providing smoother text at smaller point sizes and a wider range of greys in halftone images for more photo-realistic reproduction. In fact, with today's resolution enhancement technologies such as FinePrint and PhotoGrade from Apple and Resolution Enhancement Technology from HP, it is possible to use these printers to produce typeset output that comes close to the 1,200-dpi output of some photo image-setters. For users who need colour, this year is now a better time than it ever has been to buy into colour-printing technology. Not only do many low-end black-and-white ink-jet printers support colour add-on options, but there are reasonably priced four-colour inkjet printers available that can print as high as 720 dpi. Epson's Stylus is a case in point. Laser printers, still a high-end choice, have started to come down in price, especially since the introduction of HP's first colour LaserJet. This printer was priced lower than some competitor's models. There seems to be something of a colour laser printer war on at the moment between - primarily - HP, QMS and Xerox. Still, even though the price of new desktop colour laser printers is now less than US$10,000, the cost of consumables still remains higher than with monochrome and some other colour technologies. As an example, in the US it is estimated that consumable costs for a 50-page document with an average 20 per cent coverage will cost as much as $14.04 on QMS' new Magicolor printer. One major dividing line in the colour and black-and-white printer markets is printer language. The two most common are PCL and PostScript. For strictly PC environments, PCL is usually sufficient. Printers that only support PCL are usually cheaper than PostScript alternatives. Still, if users require intensive graphic printing or are printing in the Macintosh environment or mixed environments, PostScript is the only real choice. A third option, GDI can only be used in the Windows environment and is used in some of the lowest cost Windows laser printers because it uses Windows' drawing engine to image pages rather than imaging them in the printer. Another major trend in the printer industry is the move towards integrated multi-purpose units that usually combine fax, scanning and printing capabilities.