Picking a new printer can feel like a real challenge, especially if you've never had one before. We’ve written this guide to help you make the right choice from the broad range available.
One of the key decisions you’ll face is whether to go for an inkjet or laser printer. Knowing a bit more about them can help you decide which to go for. Both types have their strengths and weaknesses, which we’ll look at below.
Inkjet printers work by squirting ink droplets onto the paper through small jets in the ‘print head’. This sweeps side-to-side across the paper, printing across a small area on each pass. When it reaches the edge, the paper moves up so that the next area can be printed. But all that movement takes time, and some models can be quite loud.
Laser printers use heat and light to fix a particular type of powder called ‘toner’ to the paper as it goes through the printer. With fewer moving parts, they’re generally quicker and quieter than inkjets, and need less maintenance.
Inkjets and laser printers are very different, so judging them against each other directly is a bit like comparing apples with oranges. If you play to a printer’s strengths, you should get high-quality results that look as good as you’d expect.
Inkjet printers can deliver rich colours and deep blacks that laser printers can only dream of, which helps make pictures look more natural. Photo inkjet printers will give the best results, but remember that printing high-quality images can use a lot of ink.
Laser printers are kings of the text document, with even the smallest fonts crisp and easy to read. Simple graphics and line drawings will print clearly too, making laser printers the best option for text-heavy jobs.
If you usually only print a couple of pages at a time, you probably won’t notice much of a difference between lasers and inkjets. Print more than a few, and the laser printer’s speed advantage becomes obvious.
Inkjet printers are quick to respond, with almost no time delay between pressing the “print” button and it starting. Typical print speeds are 4-6 pages per minute (ppm) for text, falling to 2-3 ppm if you’re printing images.
Lasers use a heated drum to ‘fix’ the toner, so there’s a short delay while this heats up before the printer starts. Once it’s started printing you can expect 18-20 ppm, with some monochrome laser printers reaching up to 30 ppm.
Think about lifetime cost, not just the price of the printer. Inkjet printers usually last around 3 years, with lasers generally lasting about 5, so you should factor replacement cartridges into your calculations. Used inkjet cartridges can often be refilled, reducing waste and helping to keep costs down, but toner cartridges can't be.
For example, take a typical home user printing 10 pages a week, or about 500 pages a year. That’s roughly the output of a set of full inkjet cartridges, so you can expect to buy 3-4 sets during its life. Also, if you don’t use an inkjet printer very often, the cartridges can dry out, and you’ll have to replace them sooner.
Laser toner cartridges often print 1000-1500 pages or more, so you might only need to replace the toner once or twice - and they won't dry out either. They’re more expensive than ink cartridges, but powdered toner isn’t as wasteful as ink and will print many more sheets than their liquid-filled counterparts.
Print speed, quality and cost are all important, but there are a few other things to consider too.
A wireless connection doesn't necessarily make a printer better, but it does make it more versatile. Wireless printers can be put almost anywhere in the home, and everyone using your wireless network can add the printer and use it. A wireless connection isn't as stable as a wired one though, so
Many models offer support for Apple AirPrint and Google Cloud Print, which mean you can print direct from your mobile phone or tablet (but you might need to install an app).
There's no denying that photo inkjet printers produce great pictures, but they're usually a price premium over regular inkjet printers. That's because they're often more complex, with anywhere between 4 and 10 ink taks, rather than the more usual "one back, one colour" cartridges of entry level inkjets. The extra tanks are for special inks, designed to give the best results on glossy photo paper, rather than standard printer paper.
All-in-one printers are three pieces of kit in one package - printer, scanner and copier. Like many multi-purpose items, they might not excel at any one task, but should give a good all-round performance. Most will work as a photocopier without you needing to turn on your computer, and many have feed trays to scan several pages at once.
When it comes to choosing the perfect printer, it's worth taking time thinking about what you're likely to print, before you start looking. That way you're far more likely to buy one that fits your needs, not just the one that seems like it's good value.
Inkjets are versatile and well-suited to light family use, printing out the occasional picture and piece of homework, but struggle with lots of text. Laser printers are fast and efficient, but there can be a high price premium to pay if you want a colour model.
Hopefully you've got all you need to help you pick your next printer, but you can contact an Expert from Team Knowhow if you want to know anything else.