Buying the Right Printer

The first step in knowing how to buy a printer is deciding what type of printer and what features best meet your requirements. We guide you through some important questions to consider when it comes time to buy a printer.

Knowing what to look for when you are ready to buy a printer can be frustrating, with so many bells and whistles, and individual printers with endless combinations of those bells and whistles available. Here are some questions to help you buy a printer with confidence.

01. What Type of Printer Do You Need?

The most useful ways to categorize printers are by purpose (general or special), intended environment (home or office), and technology. Before you buy a printer, define your needs in these three categories.

Most printers—including most inkjets that manufacturers list as photo printers—are general-purpose printers, they are meant for printing text, graphics, and photos. Portable printers, dedicated and near-dedicated photo printers, and label printers are considered special-purpose printers. If you’re looking for a printer to print, photos, consider whether you want to print photos exclusively or want a printer that can print photos and other types of output as well.

General-purpose printers that are intended for home use tend to focus on photos, while general-purpose printers intended for the office focus on text. We see an increasing trend in the number of multifunction printers (MFPs) that are meant for use in home and office printing (particularly for home offices), generally these printers favor one role over the other. Consider your intended use for the printer, and buy a printer designed for that use.

The most common technologies are laser and inkjet. These technologies are increasingly overlapping in capabilities, but there are still differences. The most important difference is that all laser printers print higher-quality text than inkjet printers, and almost any inkjet printer will print higher-quality photos than the majority of laser printers. Is text or photos are more important? Answering this question will help you buy a printer with the correct technology.

02. Do You Need a Printer or an Multi-function Printer (MFP)?

Do you simply need to print or need something more? For a photo printer, more capability could mean enough memory to store more photos, so you can bring the printer with you, show and print your photos.

For a general-purpose printer, more capability means selecting an MFP, also known as an all-in-one. Additional functions include a combination of copying, scanning, scanning to e-mail, faxing from your PC, and standalone faxing. Printers intended for office use typically add an automatic document feeder (ADF) to copy, scan, and/or fax legal-size pages and multi-page documents.

Additional printing options are available in some MFPs. Web-enabled printers, can connect directly to the Internet via WiFi to access and print out selected content without the need to go through a computer. Some models will allow you to e-mail documents to the printer, which will then print them out.

03. Do You Need Color?

Most printer intended for home use will require color, but for an office printer, if you only print letters and monochrome documents, there’s no reason to pay the higher cost for color. However, many color laser printers can print at high enough quality to print your own marketing material, which could save you money versus printing small quantities at your local print shop.

04. Size Matters…

When you are ready to buy a printer don’t forget to consider the printer’s size. Even some home printers can be too large to share a desk with, and even a printer with a small footprint can be tall enough to overpower the space.

05. How Are You Going to Connect?

In addition to a USB port, most office printers and a large number of home printers include Ethernet ports, which makes sharing the printer easy. Many will also include WiFi capability. Whether the printer itself offers a wireless connection or not, if you have a wireless access point on your network, you can print wirelessly to any printer on that network.

06. What Level of Output Quality Do You Need?

Output quality varies significantly between printers. You will want to check out text, graphics, and photos separately, since high quality for one kind of output doesn’t necessarily mean high quality for another.

07. How Much Speed Do You Need?

If you only print jobs that are one or two pages, you probably don’t need a fast printer. If you print longer documents, speed will be more important, which means you probably want a laser printer. As a general rule, laser printers will be close to their advertised speeds for text documents, which don’t require much processing time. Inkjets often claim faster speeds than more expensive lasers, but they typically don’t live up to the claims.

08. How Much Do You Print?

If you print only a few pages a day, you don’t have to worry about the monthly duty cycle (how much the printer is designed to handle per month). If you print a high volume of documents, the duty cycle will matter. Don’t buy a printer that doesn’t include that information in its specifications. You can tell how much you print by how often you buy paper and in what amounts. You can then pick a printer designed to print at least that much.

Also consider: the minimum and maximum supported paper sizes. Do you need a duplexer to print on both sides of the page? For input capacity, the rule of thumb is to get enough capacity so you should need to add paper no more than once a week.

09. How Much Does It Cost?

Cost does not refer to how much does it cost to [buy the printer. Cost is the total cost of ownership. Most manufacturers will give you the cost per page, and many give a cost per photo. To get the total cost of ownership, calculate the cost per year for each kind of output (monochrome, color document, photo) by multiplying the cost per page for that kind of output by the number of those pages you print per year. Add the three amounts together to get the total cost per year. Then multiply that by the number of years you expect to own the printer, and add the initial cost of the printer. Compare the total cost of ownership figures between printers to find out which printer will be cheapest in the long run.

10. Additional Considerations

Would a refurbished printer cost less and give you the same quality and performance. Does the printer you choose have compatible toner cartridges available or do you have to pay a premium for brand name toner?