The issue between PCL and PostScript is very specific to which software and printer combination is used. On some printers, PCL is better than PostScript and on others, the reverse applies. Some printers like the HP LaserJet 5 Color (and many others) have an add-on module that fits in one of the SIMM slots that provides PostScript support. Yet other printers have factory built-in support. Sending a PostScript file to the printer produces fairly high quality output that is very predictable. On the other hand, the software on the PC/MAC/X-computer (or whatever the source of the PostScript is) becomes the wild card here. At some point, there has to be a conversion from whatever your document is to PostScript (unless the document is already in PostScript, and even in this case there are issues). This conversion to PostScript is a HUGE problem. Some software (usually Windows printer drivers) simply convert whatever document that you have to a bitmap and embed the bitmap in a PostScript file and sends this to the printer. This is a huge waste of space in all respects, and it completely goes around whatever advantage that PostScript offers. PostScript is a layout language that can layout vector and bitmap items. If you have a text document, the location of the text, font, and other details are described, and the raw text is sent to the printer. The PostScript engine in the printer is aware if the physical layout of the printer and renders the output in a way that is likely to produce good output taking the actual printer hardware into account. If your printer driver takes whatever text is in your document and renders this as a bitmap and then puts this bitmap into a PostScript file, then your printer is simply printing a bitmap. This creates a problem: When you are printing bitmaps there are specific optimisations that the printer will use to make bitmaps look nice, in most cases, these optimisations are different than the ones that will be used for text, so the end result is usually non optimal.
So to make sense of everything, the following issues have to be considered:
- How good is the software that converts your document to PCL or PostScript?
- How good is the PCL or PostScript support of your printer?
- Which combination works best for my specific computer/printer combination.
The answers for these questions is quite often not black or white. And to make things worse, some printers that have poor PCL quality might actually make nicer looking documents in PCL because the PCL converter on the computer puts in specific fixups or work-arounds for problems with PCL on a specific printer, or the reverse with PostScript.
Then there is yet another issue... Some printers claim to support PostScript, and in reality, there is no PostScript support whatsoever! The printer vendors claim support for PostScript based on that their printer driver that runs on the computer can convert PostScript to whatever language the printer speaks!
My personal approach is to use PostScript when ever possible. Generally, I won't buy a printer unless I know it has good support for PostScript, and I am talking about the actual printer, not about software that runs on the PC to convert PostScript to some other format that the printer uses. PostScript is a well established standard format, that is going to be around for a while, and sending the EXACT same postscript file to any random printer that supports PostScript is likely to produce acceptable output. The down side to this is that such printers are usually more expensive, and require more memory than other methods. However the price is well worth the time saved fighting with drivers, and also, if there is a problem with the PostScript converter on the PC side, it is ONE thing to fix and the fix works on every printer.
You could probably do the same thing with PCL, but this is not as clean as doing things with PostScript because PCL usually involves printer specific commands and sending the same PCL file to different printers is more likely to produce the wrong results than with PostScript. Also, some PCL drivers tend to have huge libraries of work-arounds that are printer specific, so it is not so easy to sent the same PCL file to different printers and expect the same output. This also means that if you have a very old PCL printer, who ever made the printer is less likely to release fixes for the older printers, and only issue PCL fixes for later models. This is generally not the case with PostScript, as a single fix to the PostScript software would effect all printers regardless of who made them or their age.
There have been other posts to this thread that are wrong:
First off, True Type fonts are vector (outline) fonts, very similar to Type1 (which are also vector fonts) but with the ability for the author to hand code pixel hints. This generally makes True Type fonts look better than Type1 fonts under certain conditions. It all comes down to the quality of the software that renders the fonts more than the actual format of the font. I have seen True Type font software that is so badly designed that it renders the fonts at a fixed size and then scales the output for display. It all comes down to the quality of the rendering software much more than the format that the font is in. (This only applies to vector/outline fonts, bitmap fonts are an entirely different issue.)
The point here is that PCL and PostScript are both standards that many printer manufacturers have adopted. Depending on how well the manufacture wrote the specific implementation will determine how well the printer will work with a given standard. There are also many proprietary printer languages that are printer specific. In my opinion, non standard printer languages are to be completely avoided when ever possible! The reason is that non standard languages are often not documented, and when the company comes up with a new one, support for the old one is likely to be discontinued. So when you upgrade or change the OS on your computer and there is no driver that works with your printer/OS combination, you now have a door stop. One other reason is that nobody has ever been able to demonstrate that a proprietary printer language has any real printing quality advantage over PCL or PostScript, so there is no reason whatsoever other than saving hardware cost on the printer, which now days is pointless because computing power is so cheap.