THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO BUYING A PRINTER

Buying a new printer is no small feat, especially if you've never had one before. The number of options available for a variety of needs can be confusing—how do you know which one to buy?
Start By Asking A Few Basic Questions
What is your budget?
  • While this question may seem simple, the factors that determine the cost of a printer, which we will outline later, make it a little more complex. Give yourself a price range within which you're willing to work and be flexible.
What will you be printing?
  • Will it be primarily photos? Color documents (with graphs, charts, or other graphics)? Or simple black and white text documents? Assessing what you print will help determine what kind of printer you need.
How frequently do you print?
  • Is it a few small print jobs per day? Per week? Or are you outputting a lot of pages per day? Knowing how much you print will help you decide what speed and quantity you need.
What capabilities do you need?
  • While print-only models are less common than they were in the past, some still exist. If you need copy, scan, or fax capabilities, you will need a machine that can handle those features.
Who will use the printer?
  • If you have multiple users, you'll need a different printer than if just one person will use it.
Once you've answered these questions, you should have a better handle on your specific needs, which will help you determine which printer is best for you.
We'll break down each of these areas to give you the different options, but first it's important to understand the two major types of printers on the market.
Inkjet vs. Laser Printers

For the longest time, the decision between inkjet and laser was simple—laser printers were large, expensive, and best suited for office environments with massive print outputs, whereas inkjets were ideal for the average consumer.

However, advances in technology have blurred the lines between the two and made it more difficult to determine which is better. Laser printers, especially those with color capabilities, have decreased in price and size, while increasing in quality. Inkjets have increased cartridge capabilities and speed to be on par with their laser counterparts.

With the distinctions between inkjet and laser much smaller, the printer buying decision is even more convoluted than ever before. But, have no fear, we're here to help.

First, let's look at how each type of printer operates so you can understand why each one works better for different prints.

Inkjet Printers
Inkjet printers use tiny nozzles to squirt ink on a page. Because of this, different levels of ink can be used to create virtually any color imaginable—like how we learned as kids to mix the primary colors blue and yellow to make green, but obviously much more complex.
Pros
  • The color quality on inkjet printers is unmatched. Since it is wet ink, color printing, especially for photos, appears more vibrant and colorful.
  • If you plan to print photos or color documents most often, an inkjet printer is the way to go.
Cons
  • What inkjet printers have in color printing quality they lack in speed and accuracy.
  • Because the ink is essentially sprayed on the page, it's more difficult for inkjet printers to reproduce small lines of text or very minute details.
  • Small fonts can come out blurry. That also means that the ink is wet and prone to smearing immediately after printing. It's best to give the page a few seconds to dry before touching it.
  • Finally, while inkjets have improved drastically in speed, they still do not compare to laser printers.
Laser Printers
The process for laser printers is a little more complicated. Laser printers use static electricity and heat to bond toner, a powder-like dry ink, to the page. It's called "laser" because the printer uses a laser beam (cool, right?) to build up the static electricity needed to attract the toner to the page.
Pros
  • As mentioned above, the way that lasers print makes them much faster, with much more output per cartridge compared to inkjet printers.
  • They can also print small lines of text with more accuracy and produce crisp curves and lines.
Cons
  • Laser printers are simply incapable of producing certain colors, which puts them at an obvious disadvantage for photo printing.
  • While color laser printing has gotten much better lately, it still doesn't compare to inkjet (and the price tag often exceeds individual and small business budgets).
It should be noted that in the past laser printers also suffered the smearing ink problem, but that has since be solved with more advanced technologies and quicker fusing. If your laser printer begins to smudge, it's likely that there is an issue with the parts and you should try troubleshooting it.
How to Compare Quality

As a general rule on quality, laser printers are better for quick printing in black and white with sharp, crisp text; inkjets are better for photo/color printing. However, when printing black and white documents with varying tones, such as grayscale or black and white images, an inkjet will produce better quality prints.
In your research, you'll notice a lot of websites like Consumer Reports and Best Buy using complicated technical terms to describe and compare the quality of printers. Which is all fine, if you actually know what these words mean. So, bear with me, as this might get a bit bumpy!

Let's get into how you can assess the quality of a printer to make the right decision for what you need.

Resolution
Resolution describes the level of detail in printing and is measured in DPI, or dots per inch.
Printing Speed
Printing speed, which is measured in the number of Pages Per Minute (PPM) that the printer is capable of producing.
Paper Handling
Printer capability of handling the type, size, and quantity of paper you need.
Color Accuracy
Quality and accurately of displaying colors in the first place.
Detail
The level of detail—how sharp the lines and curves are—depends on what you're printing.
Artifacts & Color Banding
Transition between colors isn't smooth and different weights and ink levels are placed on elements of your document.
Resolution

Resolution describes the level of detail in printing and is measured in DPI, or dots per inch. DPI is the number of dots per square inch that a printer is capable of producing. In general, the higher the resolution and the higher the DPI, the sharper and more detailed the image or printed document. Most printers are measured in maximum DPI, but can print at varying resolution. At the highest resolution, printing will take considerably more time and use more ink (due to the increased level of detail). If you favor speed, you can print at a lower DPI, but may receive a lesser quality print.

This term is not to be confused with PPI (pixels per inch), which describes the number of pixels per inch in the digital image itself. Pixels—like "dots"—are a form of measurement in images on screen, rather than on paper. If you have a low PPI (low resolution) in an image, then each pixel will be too big and the image will print pixelated and fuzzy. However, when considering what kind of printer to buy, you will be assessing the resolution in DPI, which indicates quality of printing output.
Now let's look at how our two major types of printers—inkjets and lasers—differ when it comes to resolution and DPI.
Inkjet Printers
An inkjet printer is typically capable of a maximum DPI of 4800 to 9600. You'll notice when comparing printers that DPI is expressed in two numbers—9600 X 2400 DPI, for example, is WIDTH X HEIGHT of the dots per inch.

What makes an inkjet unique, when assessing resolution, is the number of color cartridges. More colors means more combinations available to create different hues, tones, and shades of color per dot of ink. As we've stated before, this is an advantage to inkjet printers over laser printers.
Laser Printers
For laser printers, the maximum DPI ranges from 600 to 2400, with many falling in the 1200 X 1200 range. However, some color laser printers can get up to 9600 DPI (but will inevitably be much more expensive).

Laser printer technology has made huge strides in resolution, rivaling even some inkjet printers. While it may not compare in photo printing, most laser printers have a maximum DPI that is perfectly suitable for text documents, presentations, and handouts. Once again, depending on your needs, a laser printer may be worth the investment.
Printing Speed

Another way to assess the quality of a printer is the printing speed, which is measured in the number of Pages Per Minute (PPM) that the printer is capable of producing. Many printers have different speeds for black and white versus color printers, with color printing typically being slower than monochrome.

Also, your printing speed will vary based on the complexity of your print job. Detailed graphics or double-sided prints take longer, so be sure to consider that when evaluating speed.

You should also consider the amount of time it takes for the printer to warm up and print its first page. Less time warming up means print jobs finished quicker.
So, how do inkjets and lasers differ in speed?
Inkjet Printers
For black and white documents, the best inkjet printers will print at a speed of 15 PPM or more, while the average is about 9 to 11 PPM. Color is slightly lower at about 5 to 9 PPM on average. When printing photos, that number is significantly less, with the best inkjet printers producing about 1 photo per minute for a 4x6 print.

When considering the speed of an inkjet printer, remember that printing at the highest resolution and in color will reduce the number of pages per minute printed.
Laser Printers
If speed is important to you, lasers are undoubtedly the best choice. Most laser printers produce up to 40 PPM in black and white, and around 30 PPM in color. As a reference, printers that can handle more than 30 pages per minute are considered quick and efficient.
For some, printing speed may not be a feature of concern. If you don't have a high print output with many users, it may not matter that the printer takes 5-15 seconds to warm up and only prints 8-10 PPM. In the grand scheme, a few extra minutes may not be worth the extra cost for a laser printer.
Paper Handling

When considering the kind of printer to buy, you'll want to make sure the printer is capable of handling the type, size, and quantity of paper you need.
For example, if you are printing photos, you should look for an inkjet printer that allows 4x6 paper feeds. Also, different paper weights and styles, such as glossy photo paper, cannot be handled by every printer—especially laser printers, because the print process involves heat and bending the paper through the feeders. This won't work for thick stocks and glossy paper.

Outside of photo printing, you may want to print on envelopes or labels. Some printers have multi-purpose trays to accommodate different sized documents, so keep that in mind when weighing your options.

Finally, some might find it inconvenient if a printer is running out of paper frequently, especially with high printing outputs. Some printers have a primary tray, plus a secondary input tray to hold more paper. Also, some printers have a document feeder for quick scanning of many pages, rather than just placing one page on the flatbed.
Color Accuracy

As we've mentioned before, inkjets, especially those with multiple color ink cartridges (rather than one tri-color cartridge), far exceed color accuracy and quality of color prints than laser printers. Inkjet printers can reproduce a wide range of colors, where laser printers cannot. Plus, the ink in inkjet printers is brighter, bolder, and the best reproduction of the original image.

Still, lasers have come a long way when it comes to color printing and can handle most basic color printing projects for home and business use.
Detail

The level of detail—how sharp the lines and curves are—depends on what you're printing. For small elements, laser printers reproduce clearer details. However, like we've said before, this really only matters in instances like small lines of text. For most, inkjets can still produce an acceptable level of detail.
Artifacts & Color Banding

When purchasing lower quality printers in either category—inkjets or lasers—you may notice certain errors such as color banding and artifacts.

Color banding happens when the transition between colors isn't smooth and is recognized by vertical lines on your prints. If you see this problem, try realigning your print head or running a cleaning.

Artifacts occur when different weights and ink levels are placed on elements of your document. This is more than likely a result of errors in the image or document and you should check what you're printing before troubleshooting with the printer.
Environmental Friendliness
An often-overlooked element of choosing a printer is how environmentally friendly it is, for a few reasons:
Different kinds of printers consume more or less power when on and in standby mode. Some printers may even list a daily power cost, which is something to be considered when evaluating cost. In general, inkjet printers use less power than laser printers.
Duplexing, which is just a fancy word for double-sided printing, saves paper (and trees!). Some printers don't have automatic duplexing, which means you have to feed the page in manually for it to print on the other side. This can be time consuming and tedious, but may be worth having to cut down on paper costs.
Certain printers and companies have ink- and toner-recycling programs, which reduces waste. You may even be able to get cash back for your empty cartridges! Before you throw away your used cartridges, check to see if there's a way to recycle them. Also, see if the company offers refillable cartridges. While it may not be the most convenient option, it will several cut down on operating costs.
Printers that are labeled "ENERGY STAR Certified" are energy efficient and better for the environment. Consider buying one of these qualified products when purchasing a printer.
Other Premium Features
Beyond the items listed above, there are many other features to consider when purchasing a printer:
Wi-Fi
Depending on how many people and devices you will have connected to the printer, you may need a printer with wireless connection capabilities. In general, having this feature is simply easier so that you don't have to be plugged into the printer whenever you need to print. You'll find that most printers have this feature, but it may come at a slightly higher cost.
Cloud Connection or Bluetooth
Another way to connect to printers is using the "cloud" via resources like Google Cloud Print or Apple AirPrint. Both of these let you print from any internet-connected device, such as your computer or phone. Some printers can even connect via Bluetooth, all of which makes printing easier, faster, and eliminates the need to transfer documents to your computer in order to print.
Scanning
Most people don't realize they don't have a scanner until they need one, so make sure you find a printer with this added capability if you think you'll need it. Not only is the ability to copy useful, but you can also scan and email documents. It's probably preferable to find a printer that scans via flatbed, rather than a paper feed, because it's easier to scan documents of varying size and thickness (such as insurance cards or driver's licenses).
Print from USB, Memory Card, or Camera
For photo printing, it may be more convenient to print directly from different devices, such as a USB drive, memory card, or camera. If you want to print directly from your camera, you'll want to find the PictBridge label, which allows you to plug in a camera via USB and print directly from it without using your computer or removing the memory card. Check to see what connections the printer has before choosing the right one for you.
Portability
If you need to print on-the-go, for tradeshows or traveling photographers, you'll probably need a small, battery-powered printer. You can assess which kind of portable printer to buy using the same features of regular printers.
Support
If technology isn't your strong suit, you may want to consider the type of support available for your printer. Most companies offer a 1-2 year warranty, with phone, email, live chat, social, or other method of help.
How to Compare Cost

Unfortunately, comparing the cost of printers is more complicated than just ranking the initial price tag. Paper costs, ink/toner costs, and ongoing maintenance all contribute to the overall cost of a printer and should all be considered when choosing the right printer for you. For example, while a $60 inkjet printer can seem like a sweet deal, the ink cartidge is oftentimes more expensive than the printer itself!
Inkjet Printers
The price of inkjet printers can range from $60 to $1,500, but the ink is where they get you. Replacement ink cartridges are anywhere from $30 to $50 or more and produce a lot less pages per cartridge than laser printers. Also, the number of color cartridges you need and the quality of the ink pigment will affect your ink costs. If you have one tri-color cartridge, you will need to replace the entire cartridge when one color runs out, versus only replacing the empty cartridges as needed with multiple.

Ink cartridges are measured by the "average page yield" per cartridge, which essentially gives the average number of pages a cartridge can print before it runs out. By taking the price of the cartridge and dividing it by the page yield, you can get an average cost per page to compare with other printers.


Also, when calculating cost per page, you'll want to consider the kind of paper you need. Specialty paper adds to the overall cost of printing.
Laser Printers
The simple fact is that laser printers are more expensive up front than inkjet printers, especially once you start looking at color lasers. However, laser printers use toner cartridges instead of ink and have a much higher page yield per toner cartridge than ink.

Basic black and white laser printers cost $70 to $200; basic color laser printers range from $120 to $300. The highest quality printers cost up to $1,500 for black and white and $3,000 for color. Whether or not it's worth the cost for you is completely dependent on your needs.

Toner costs anywhere from $50 to $250 per replacement cartridge and yields anywhere from 2,000 to 10,000 pages per cartridge. These numbers, plus paper cost, can be used to calculate a cost per page to compare against other laser or inkjet printers.
As a general rule, inkjet printers are cheaper up front and more expensive ongoing and lasers are more expensive up front and cheaper ongoing.
But this all depends on the quantity and type of printing you're doing.
Conclusion
We've given you a lot of information to consider in this guide, but buying a printer is an investment. Knowing all your options is key to ensuring you make the right investment.
Put simply, inkjet printers are probably best suited for household and small business use with low- to mid-level printing outputs and mostly color or photo prints. Businesses with large printing outputs will benefit from the advantages of a laser printer.

When it comes to cost, if you're willing to shell out a little bit more cash up front for a mid-level inkjet printer, you'll save yourself a couple bucks later on when purchasing replacement ink cartridges. The same goes for investing in a laser printer, which adds convenience and saves on ink in the long term.

And finally, there are a variety of other features to consider, such as network capabilities and Wi-Fi, connections like USB drives and cloud services, energy efficiency, and more, to consider when buying a printer.

To help you keep track of it all, we've put together this handy checklist you can use to find the right printer for your needs. Good luck!
Other Features to Consider: A Checklist
Our Recommendations
Phew! We made it. Now that you know everything there is to know about buying a printer, we've decided to give you some options to choose from, based on your different needs.
Students
If you're a student, the majority of your printing is probably school-related. Maybe the occasional concert ticket. For low printing quantities and mostly text-based prints, a cheap inkjet printer should do the trick. And since you're likely on a tight budget, we've got a great option for you.

HP Envy 4520

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While this HP inkjet printer is low on price, it's packed with a lot of features. It includes copy, scan (including scan to e-mail, which is useful for school projects), wireless and USB connectivity, AirPrint, duplex printing, and a touchscreen. It supports most paper sizes for photos and envelopes, and is ENERGY STAR certified. The downside is that it has only two ink cartridges: One black and one tri-color. However, the resolution is 1200 and it prints nearly 7 PPM for color and nearly 10 PPM for black. For students or home use on a budget, this printer is the way to go.
Home Use
For home use printers, you may be looking for something that has a few additional features, such as the ability to connect multiple users. But your print output is probably still relatively small and your needs will likely be met by an inkjet printer.

HP OfficeJet Pro 6968

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This HP printer is a slight upgrade from the previous HP option (and slightly higher price) and comes with a few additional features besides the above. First, it includes Wi-Fi Direct, which allows you to print wirelessly from any device (not just your computer). Also, the paper tray has a higher capacity. Probably the biggest different is the document feeder on top of the printer, which leads to speedier scanning of multi-page documents. It also has a fax option.
Home Office
Home office printers can vary depending on the capabilities you require—how much you are printing, how many users you need to connect, how important color quality is to you, etc. Based on this, we've recommended an inkjet and a laser option for you.

Canon MAXIFY MB2120


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This Canon printer has been designed with the home office user in mind. It's Wi-Fi ready, so you can connect any enabled device, and has AirPrint and Cloud Print capabilities. It boasts a 19 PPM print speed and has all the features you'll need—print, scan, copy, and fax.

Small to Medium Business
As we move up into the small- to medium-sized business category, you're probably looking for a higher print output for both color and black and white at a speed that can keep up with a number of users. In that case, we'd definitely recommend a laser printer that can accommodate everything you might need.

Brother HLL8350CDW

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For fast printing, this Brother printer is a must have. Its 32 PPM print speed is top of the line. It's also equipped with wireless or wired networking to connect your whole team, plus its large paper capacity can accommodate large daily print outputs. With a 2400x600 resolution, you'll get black and color prints suitable for any business needs.
Photos, Flyers, Brochures & Other Visuals
For those looking to printing primarily (even exclusively) photos, then a designated photo printer may be the right fit for you. It's important to note that the inkjet printers we've already listed are also great options for photo printing. If you're looking for features typical of photo-designated printers (such as direct-from-social-media printing and portability), then a photo printer would be the best choice.

Canon Selphy CP1200


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Do you think the Canon SELPHY printer will be good for printing your SELFIES? We do! Especially because with this printer, you can print directly from social media right from your smartphone or tablet. It has varying paper size capabilities including card size, postcard, and square. Also, this printer is wireless and AirPrint enabled. Plus, it's portable!

On the other hand, if you are printing flyers, brochures, or other visually-driven documents with a lot of photos and graphics, you may want a higher-end inkjet printer that can accommodate these prints.
Photos, Flyers, Brochures & Other Visuals
Canon PIXMA iX6820

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With a 9600x2400 resolution and 5-cartridge ink system, this Canon printer is ideal for color, graphic, and photo printing. It comes equipped with wireless connectivity and AirPrint, or ethernet and USB if you prefer a wired connection. The printer can accommodate paper sizes up to 13" x 19", which is ideal for people printing flyers or brochures. It even has a special feature called "Solution Templates," built in poster and business document layouts that you can download and use for designs. Finally, this printer has borderless printing, which may be important depending on the design of your brochures and flyers.
Photos, Flyers, Brochures & Other Visuals
Need to print on the go? Lucky for you, there are portable printers that run off battery so that you can print from anywhere. Take this printer to trade shows, events, vacations, and more, and never worry about needing to find a power connection again.

Canon PIXMA iP110

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This portable Canon printer comes with tons of ways to connect: AirPrint, wireless network, and from the Canon PRINT app. It's compact and easy to carry, and has five separate ink cartridges. At 9 PPM print speed, you'll be printing documents and photos on the go in no time.
Article by Bre

Bre is a Chicago-native, avid writer, travel enthusiast, and untamed soul who helps build comprehensive content marketing strategies that span every channel, including blogs, articles, emails, social media, digital marketing, and even traditional ads. On her off days, you'll find her planning her next international vacation, reading on her Kindle, or binge watching Netflix.
Article published on 27 Dec 2016

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