When you're buying a printer for your home, one of the first decisions you'll need to make is whether you want an inkjet or laser printer.
Inkjet printer. Colour inkjet printers are the most popular choice for home use thanks mainly to their versatility. They can be used to print everything from text documents to glossy photos, and there's a huge range of models to choose from. However, they're generally not as fast as laser printers.
Laser printer. Known for their fast printing speeds and ability to churn out high-quality text printing, laser printers are often a preferred choice for office settings. However, they generally can't match the flexibility or photo printing skills of their inkjet counterparts.
Next, you'll need to decide whether you want to go for a standard or a multifunction printer:
Standard printer. The sole purpose of these models is to print.
Multifunction printer. Multifunction printers combine a printer, a scanner, a photocopier and sometimes also a fax machine into one device. This means they're a versatile inclusion in your home office and can help you save space. Check out our multifunction printer buying guide for more information.
How to compare printers
Before deciding on the best printer for your needs, take some time to think about the sort of printing you plan on doing.
If you're just looking for a versatile all-rounder you can use to print out family photos and the kids' homework as well as scan and copy documents when needed, a multifunction inkjet printer is the way to go. In fact, a multifunction inkjet will tick all the right boxes for many buyers, but it isn't the right choice for everyone.
For example, if you frequently print large text documents and don't have much need for printing in colour or graphics, a standard laser printer might be the best fit. And if you want something capable of printing high-quality photographs, you'll want to look for a printer specifically designed to do exactly that.
Make sure you consider the following factors when comparing printers:
Replacement ink cartridges
Consider the cost of replacement ink cartridges. Printer manufacturers have come in for some much-publicised criticism in recent years for selling printers at dirt-cheap prices, but putting high price tags on their replacement ink cartridges. Check how many cartridges will need to be replaced, how often they'll run out and how much a new cartridge will cost. Colour ink cartridges tend to cost more than black ones.
Ease of use
The best printer for you will be simple and straightforward to use. Find out what's involved in the set-up process, check whether all buttons and controls are clearly labelled and whether there's an LCD screen to help you set up and use the printer. It's also a good idea to check what troubleshooting options are available (such as instruction manuals, online help centres and customer support) if you ever have a problem with your printer.
Check the specs sheet to find out the exact dimensions of a printer and whether it will fit in the space you have available with its trays extended. Multifunction printers tend to be slightly larger than standard printers, but they obviously use less space (and are simpler to set up) than if you want to run a separate printer and scanner.
Most printers fall anywhere between $30 and $800, but there are some more expensive models available. If you're looking for a multifunction inkjet printer, prices start at less than $50. Laser printers tend to be more expensive upfront, with mono laser printers starting from around $100 and up.
Check how your printer will connect to and communicate with your computer. This is usually as simple as plugging in a USB cable, while Wi-Fi connectivity is commonly available on all modern printers. Some printers will also allow you to print directly from your digital camera via a PictBridge connection, removing the need for a computer.
Many printers with Wi-Fi will also allow you to print straight from your mobile device, using services like Apple's AirPrint and Google Cloud Print. Some even use near-field communication (NFC) to allow you to print by tapping your phone or tablet on the printer.
If you want to print high-quality photos or documents, check the print resolution of any model you're considering. This is measured in DPI (dots per inch). However, for a true indication of a printer's performance, head in-store and ask to print a demo page using one of your photos.
If you need to print a lot of documents quickly, check out the manufacturer's claimed printing speed, which is measured in pages per minute (PPM).
Colour or monochrome
A printer that can print in colour will be a necessity for many people. However, if you need a printer for office use and you'll be publishing a lot of text documents, a monochrome printer may be a better choice.
Some modern printers also come with a range of other handy features, such as the ability to do the following:
Email documents straight to your printer
Connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi and print documents without using a computer
Print or scan on both sides of a page (known as duplexing)
Print directly from your camera's memory card
Easily scan or copy large documents thanks to an automatic document feeder
Three things to consider
Before you buy a printer, don't forget to consider a few important factors:
Check software compatibility. If you're thinking of buying a printer that's been on the market for a while, check with the manufacturer to find out whether they still provide software updates for that particular model and that it will work with the latest operating systems. And if you're using an older OS but getting a new-model printer, check the fine print to ensure compatibility before you buy.
Consider a continuous ink printer. If you're sick of buying expensive replacement ink cartridges, you might want to consider a continuous ink printer (sometimes also known as a supertank printer). These models use external ink tanks that can be refilled with a bottle of ink. This means you can print a whole lot more pages before you need to replace the ink, making them better for the environment, and they can be a cost-effective choice for people who tend to go through a whole lot of ink.
Don't forget about paper size. For most buyers, a printer that can handle documents up to A4 size will be sufficient. However, depending on your needs, you might want to look for a model that can handle larger documents – some printers can print to A3 pages, while a few can print even larger documents. You may also want to check whether a printer can print on other surfaces, such as envelopes and glossy photo paper.
Tim Falk is a writer for Finder, writing across a diverse range of topics. Over the course of his 15-year writing career, Tim has reported on everything from travel and personal finance to pets and TV soap operas. When he’s not staring at his computer, you can usually find him exploring the great outdoors.
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