When searching for a printer, there are obvious considerations such as speed, color capabilities, and wireless support, but there are also less-obvious aspects that can affect the quality of your final output. One of these aspects is the type of paper path used by the printer. The three main types of paper paths are U-shaped, L-shaped, and straight-through paths. When deciding between the different path types, there are a few factors to consider, as each has its advantages and disadvantages, and some printers even offer multiple paths within a single device, making the choice easier.
The most common type of path for home users tends to be the U-shaped paper path, though many laser printers also utilize this design. It is commonly seen in a printer that has both the input and output tray located in the front of the device. The advantage is a model that is more compact, but the sharp bend that the paper makes during feeding and printing can often result in more frequent paper jams. Heavier stock such as photo paper is also more susceptible to bends and creases. A common printer that has the U-shapped path is the Brother HL-2270dw.
An L-shaped path is generally used in a printer with an input tray on the top of the machine and the output tray in the front, like the Canon PIXMA MP560. When the printer feeds the paper from the top, it bends slightly so that it can come straight out of the output tray. L-shaped paths result in fewer jams than U-shaped paths, and work well with most specialty media. The main disadvantage is the extra vertical space required by many of these devices. Also, top-loading devices that are open can sometimes collect extra dust.
The most versatile type of paper path to consider is a straight-through paper path. This type commonly results from a printer with a loading tray in the rear and an output tray in the front. There is virtually no bending of media required, which makes it ideal for heavy stock that is susceptible to jamming or creasing. Many printers provide a single-slot rear feed that gives users the option of a straighter path when printing on thick or specialty media, and this is often in addition to a U-shaped or L-shaped path for standard printing jobs. One of these printers that offer both a U-shape and straight-path is the HP LaserJet 1320. The main disadvantage of a straight-path system is the extra space required in the rear of the machine, which is often alleviated by models that offer it with a fold-out tray that is only opened when needed, offering the best of both worlds.
When choosing the best paper path, you should consider the type that will suit the media you print on, and how frequently specialty media is used. Users who only print on plain paper can use any type fairly successfully, while those who print on thicker media like card stock should probably choose an L-path or straight-path device. Of course, the available space and the dimensions of the machine may also dictate which type is most fitting. By understanding the benefits and drawbacks of each type, you can now make a more informed buying decision.