The need for a home / office printer has increased as more of us work or school from home. You could be a parent who needs to print workbooks for your child. Or you may find that it is easier to take notes on a business report with a pen or pencil than with a keyboard. Or you have suddenly found that a government office requires you to mail a form to them. Or your local office supply store, which you normally use to print out occasional forms, is either still closed or is not a convenient place to visit.
Whatever the reason, if you need a printer, finding one is not difficult. Printers have not changed much in recent years. They have only become more efficient and cheaper. You will continue to choose between laser and inkjet printers. Color and black ink printers only; and printing-only and multifunction devices. Because of all of these decisions that need to be made, it is a good idea to find out what you want before clicking "Buy" on your preferred shopping page.
In this article, I'm not going to tell you which particular printer to buy. But I'm going to go through some of the decisions you're faced with, and some of the features you might want to make sure you get.
So let's start.
Inkjet and laser printers
If you haven't bought a printer recently, or haven't needed a printer yet, you may want to briefly refresh the difference between inkjet and laser printers. What follows is a huge simplification, but it gives you a general idea of how they work.
Epson Expression Premium ET7750 EcoTank
Inkjet printers spray tiny droplets of liquid ink on one side. There are different types of inkjet delivery systems, but most consumer systems use separate ink cartridges, each with a printhead that separates the ink into microscopic droplets. (Professional-grade inkjet printers usually have separate printheads that can be replaced individually.) Colors are created by combining different color inks.
The number of ink cartridges that a color inkjet printer uses varies. The cheapest printers usually only use two cartridges – one with black ink and one with cyan, magenta and yellow ink. Most lower to mid-priced inkjet printers offer four separate cartridges – cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. Higher quality printers have a different black cassette for text. Printers used by photographers or companies offer a wider range of color inks.
But even the cheapest inkjet printers can cost serious money. The printer itself may not cost more than $ 50 or $ 100, but a single set of cartridges can cost almost as much. And since most color ink jets will not work at all when one of the cartridges runs out of ink (for example, you cannot only print in black when the cyan cartridge is empty), you need to replace used cartridges. (We'll talk more about ink costs later.)
There are some inkjet printers known as supertank printers that have refillable tanks that offer lower cost per page than traditional ink cartridges. They are sold by a few manufacturers such as Brother, Canon and Epson and can be a consideration if you are planning a lot of color printing.
Brother HLL2370DW-XL laser printer
These devices use lasers to generate static electricity on a rolling drum in the printer. Static electricity attracts toner (powdered ink) that is melted onto the paper.
Toner cartridges initially cost more than ink cartridges, but they also last much longer than liquid ink. As a result, your cost per page is lower. Laser printers initially cost more than inkjet printers – but they can save you money in the long run.
Laser printers offer several other advantages over inkjet printers – unless you need color. They are faster than inkjet printers (especially low-end inkjet printers, which can be very slow), and the quality of their text printing is more precise (although current inkjet printers are certainly precise enough to match most documents).
Color laser printers are also more available than before. However, they are more expensive, and unless they are professional printers, the color is not as good as a color inkjet printer with the same price.
So what should I buy?
There are several other factors that you should consider before buying a new printer. Here are some questions to ask yourself when deciding to buy.
What do I use it for?
One way to choose a laser or inkjet printer is to check what you want to do with it. If color isn't important to you, it's a no-brainer – a laser printer is cheaper and faster. However, if you want to print out your children's computer graphics in color or print photos occasionally, you are probably in the market for an inkjet printer.
Canon Pixma MX532 inkjet multifunction
If you see yourself working from home for the foreseeable future – or even if you don't – you should consider a multifunction printer (also known as an all-in-one or AIO printer). These devices not only print from your computer, but also allow you to scan existing documents and either copy or save them as files. (In some cases, you can also fax a scanned document. However, since faxing is less required, this feature disappears quickly.) They are very convenient to keep paperwork in your home to a minimum since you can PDFs of most of your documents Can store papers (especially those that you've been sitting around for years) and then dispose of the actual hard copy.
(Yes, you can use your phone's camera to scan and upload documents. If you only need to scan a document occasionally, this may be enough for you. However, the quality of a document scanned by the phone is not the same as that of a good scanner.)
Most consumer-level multifunction printers allow you to copy anything up to 8.5 x 11 inches (popularly known as letter size). However, you can also buy printers that can process 8.5 x 14 inch (legal size) paper. If you need to copy or scan a lot, look for a multi-function automatic document feeder (usually called an ADF) that can move multiple pages through the system quickly.
Input and output compartments
Most current printers feed paper from the front, run it around the drum or roller, and then place it in the output tray. However, if you are printing on heavier material, you don't want to bend the paper. In this case, you may want to search for a printer with an input tray that extends from the back of the printer so that the paper is pushed through in a straight line.
With some printers, you can have more than one paper tray in front of you, so you can choose different colored paper, for example, or one tray contains letter-size paper and the other contains legal-size paper.
You also want to know how many sheets of paper your input and output trays can hold. For example, if you want to print a 200-page manuscript, you don't want an output bin that can only process 50 pages, or you find 150 of your pages scattered on your floor.
The duplex function – printing on both sides of a single page – is more common than before, but not all cheaper printers offer this function. This is very useful, especially if you want to print a lot and save paper costs. Of course, with most printers, you can print on both sides of the paper by manually reloading the paper after printing the first page. However, this can lead to real neck pain.
Price per page
Without a doubt, the biggest expense for a printer is not the printer itself, or even the paper – it's the ink. There is one way to find out how much a printer will cost you in the long run: Calculate the cost per page by dividing the price of an ink cartridge by the page yield of the cartridge or the number of pages that each cartridge is expected to come out.
You can usually find the page yield in the statistics published by a printer manufacturer for this printer. Take, for example, two multifunction printers from the same manufacturer, a color inkjet printer and a black-only laser printer.
The biggest cost for a printer is not the printer itself or even the paper – it is the ink
The yield of the HP Envy Photo 7155 All-in-One, which sells for about $ 180, is about 200 pages for a standard black ink cartridge and about 165 pages for a standard three-color ink cartridge. The black ink cartridge costs around $ 19 and the tri-color one costs around $ 29. So that's about 10 cents per page for black ink and about 18 cents for color.
The similar-price black-and-white laser printer, the HP LaserJet Pro MFP M148dw for $ 169, offers about 1,200 pages for a standard toner cartridge for about $ 47. That's about 4 cents a page.
Assuming you pump out about 1,200 plain text pages (excluding paper costs) in a year, it means that you paid a total of $ 47 more for the laser printer and $ 114 more for the inkjet printer.
Another thing to consider in the mix: A black ink tank for the Brother LC3033BK, a super tank printer, costs $ 33 for a yield of up to 3,000 pages, or about a cent per page. (Since supertanks typically use a different number of tanks for color printing, it is difficult to find an equivalent comparison for color printing.)
Of course there are many "ifs" here. For example, if you are looking for cheaper printers, some large printer manufacturers do not publish the page yield. Even if the page yield is available, you have to take into account that it is offered by the manufacturer. Therefore, the number of pages you receive per cartridge is usually optimistic. However, this can give you a good idea of what to expect.
When purchasing a printer, make sure that it can connect wirelessly via Bluetooth, NFC, and / or Wi-Fi – and that it is compatible with any computer or mobile device you plan to use.
If you have a Mac, iPad, and / or iPhone, make sure your printer is compatible with Apple AirPrint.
If you're using a Chromebook, make sure your printer is Chrome OS compatible by checking the manufacturer's website (for example, Epson has a page that lists all Chrome OS compatible printers).
Until recently, another alternative was to use Google's Cloud Print service, which allows you to easily print from computers and Android phones. Unfortunately, Google will discontinue its cloud printing service as of December 31, 2020, as the popular features are usually not considered. The company's rather unsatisfactory advice (“We recommend the platform's native printing infrastructure or working with a printing partner”) is unlikely to be of much help to older printers or phones that rely on Cloud Print. You can check to see if your printer manufacturer has a mobile app that can wirelessly print from devices instead of cloud print.
A photo printer is probably not required unless you want to fill multiple albums with physical photos. Some photo printers offer features such as the ability to remove red eyes from people's photos. However, this functionality is generally available in a number of photo apps (and probably easier to use in software).
There are exceptions. For example, there are small portable printers, such as the HP Sprocket Portable Photo Printer, that let you instantly print small images (such as 2 x 3 inches). These are fun for family celebrations and parties. And if you're a professional or aspiring professional photographer, you may want to invest in a high quality photo printer. Otherwise, most mid-level color printers – if you use good photo paper – do a decent job. If you want to print a lot of photos, spend less and get better results with a photo printing service like Shutterfly.