Looking to buy a new printer? With so many options on the market, it can be difficult to make a decision. So how do you narrow things down?
In order to find a great printer, you’ll have to decide what type of printer you need, and then compare different models that fit into these categories. Printers are a big investment, especially if you need one for work. You’ll want to ensure that the printer you select will serve you well for years to come.
This guide is intended to help you find the best printer today. A great printer will not only give you the capacity to print photos and documents whenever you need, but it may also allow you to scan and upload documents. Some printers even allow you to fax or photocopy documents.
There are a huge variety of printer types, intended to serve different needs. Many people prefer specialty printers, such as dedicated or near-photo printers, label printers, or 3D printers. However, for the purposes of this article, we will only be discussing general purpose printers.
General purpose printers are divided into two categories, laser and inkjet. Within each of these categories, you can opt for either a plain printer or an AIO printer. Plain printers only offer printing services, while AIO (all-in-one) printers offer a much larger variety of services.
Table of Contents
What type of printer do you need?
The first thing to determine before going to buy a printer is which type of printer you want to purchase. For most home printer users, the three best options will be a laser printer, an inkjet printer, or an AIO printer. Each type has its pros and cons that make it ideal for certain users.
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Inkjet printers are very common for home and office use. When printing, the system propels extremely tiny droplets of ink from the cartridge onto the paper to create the necessary text or image. The printers combine ink from the primary colors as well as black to create very exact, photo-grade images with these droplets. Although these images are made up of drops, they are positioned in such an exact manner that they would never be visible to the naked eye. You may sometimes hear these printers being referred to as non-impact. This means that they do not touch the page to create the image.
Who or what are inkjet printers best for?
Inkjet printers are usually the cheapest to purchase, both in-store or online. They are perfect for anyone on a budget. They are particularly good for students or young professionals buying their first printer, or families that just need basic printing services. They also are a great choice for anyone who regularly prints out family photos or likes to scrapbook.
Since inkjet printers are known for printing the best quality photos and can use photo paper, they are perfect for photographers, graphic artists, designers, and other professionals who need the best visual quality from their prints.
Pros of Inkjet printers
They are generally the cheapest consumer printers on the market. Their ink cartridges are also very inexpensive compared to other types of printers. If you are on a budget, this is a huge benefit.
Inkjet printers blend color in an extremely smooth and visually appealing manner, perfect for photo printing. There are many models of inkjet printers that are specifically designed for photo printing and support photo paper.
Inkjet printers are usually very small and easy to move, and they can fit in cramped offices or workspaces. Some inkjet printers even come in portable models.
These printers can generally print on many different types of paper stock. This ranges from lightweight copy paper to textured cardstock. This is ideal if you plan on using your printer for crafting projects.
Cartridges for inkjet printers are refillable, so you only need to buy new ink when you run out, not a new cartridge.
Cons of Inkjet printers
Although inkjet printers are less expensive than laser printers to buy initially, the ink is more expensive in the long run. Inkjet printers also tend to waste ink during their internal cleaning processes, so you need to repurchase more frequently.
Since inkjet printers are usually on the smaller side, their paper trays can only handle small amounts of paper at a time. They also don’t have output trays, so you will need to monitor your printing job if you are printing in high volumes.
Inkjet take much longer than laser printers to produce their final product. Again, this may be problematic if you print in high volumes.
Inkjet printers work best with higher quality paper. If the paper you use is quite thin, text and photos may come out slightly blurred.
Since inkjet ink is water based, your prints need to be kept away from water, and they may fade over time if not stored properly.
Price range for inkjet printers
Small inkjet printers for home use generally range from $100 to $200. Some of the very small options are even less than that, starting at $60. There are also inkjet printers that are designed specifically for photo printing, which are a bit more expensive. These range from roughly $150 to $400. Larger inkjet printers for office use require a much bigger budget. These range from about $200 to $600.
These are just general ranges - each model is priced depending on its size, features, and performance quality. There are also many different places to purchase inkjet printers. Many chain office, department, or electronic stores have tons of affordable models.
Laser printers are the most common alternatives to inkjet printers. Instead of using water based ink, they use a dry form of ink, called toner. The ink is bonded with the paper using heat from lasers within the printer. As the paper moves through the machine, the laser runs back and forth horizontally, which generates static electricity. This process sets the ink. This process is very similar to the way photocopiers work.
Who or what are laser printers best for?
A laser printer is the best option for anyone who needs to do high-volume printing. This is because laser printers work much faster than inkjet printers. If you work from home, this can be a great way to step up your performance, or if you work in a small office and need to buy a new printer, a laser option is a great choice. Laser printers are a great long term investment, so they are definitely the way to go if you want something that is guaranteed to serve you well for years to come.
Pros of laser printers
Laser printers are able to handle high volumes of printing at one time. They are very efficient for printing large documents, or items like flyers, brochures, or handouts, where you need large quantities. Even very small laser printers can usually handle at least 20 pages per minute.
Although inkjet printers are better for photos, laser printers produce better quality work when it comes to text. The lines will be much crisper and cleaner, especially if you are using a thinner copy paper or multipurpose paper. Laser printers also do a much better job handling very small details.
Since most laser printers are larger than inkjet printers, they usually come with multiple input trays and stacker output trays, which helps you organize your jobs much more effectively.
Laser printers do not waste ink, so one toner cartridge will last much longer than one inkjet ink cartridge. This may save you money over time, depending on how often you print. These printers are definitely a very economical choice if you use them mainly for text prints and not for graphics.
Cons of laser printers
They have a very high upfront cost, so you need to be prepared to spend a significant amount of money for the initial purpose.
Laser printers need to heat up before they can be used, which can take time.
Laser printers are usually much larger than inkjet printers, so they don’t always work well in small apartments or home offices. They also aren’t nearly as portable as inkjet printers.
Laser printers can only print on certain types of paper that are designed to handle the static electricity that they use. You cannot use a laser printer to print on heavier textured paper or photo paper. This is very important to remember if you do buy a laser printer, because running these types of heat-sensitive materials through the printer will not only be bad for the machine, but it can also be dangerous for you if a meltdown happens.
Laser printers are generally not as effective for printing highly detailed graphics or photos as inkjet printers.
Price range for laser printers
A small laser printer designed for home use will generally start at about $120, however, the average laser printer will typically range between $150 and $400. If you are interested in a larger laser printer for a small office, then these models can be anywhere between $300 and $700.
Laser printers are less readily available than inkjet printers, but they can still be found in many electronics and office supply stores, as well as online. They are currently increasing in popularity as well, so we’re sure to see more of these on the market soon.
All-in-one printers (AIO)
AIO, or all in one printers combine traditional printing services with additional office functions. They are sometimes also referred to as multifunction printers, or MFPs. They typically can scan, photocopy, and fax in addition to printing. They come in both inkjet and laser versions, so you can choose one that best fits your needs.
Who or what are AIO printers best for?
Anyone can get good use out of an AIO printer, but they are particularly useful for offices and those who work from home. Since the printer has everything you need in one machine, you’ll never have to worry about heading to the library or a copy store to get things done. They also can be very helpful for families or students who need to scan photos or photocopy documents for personal use.
Pros of AIO printers
AIO printers save tons of money over time, because you have the capacity to use many different functions at home instead of having to use a public service to scan, fax, or copy. They also save you from having to buy separate machines for each task, which can be very costly in both purchase costs and costs for ink.
They save lots of space, because they come in relatively compact sizes, and they don’t take up an entire wall the way a standalone photocopier would. You also don’t have to worry about maintaining several different machines.
Because AIO printers are slightly bigger than single-function printers, they usually have larger input and output trays, which is very helpful for printing in large volumes.
Cons of AIO printers
Because you are paying for multiple services instead of just one, AIO printers tend to have larger upfront costs than single-function printers.
If you need to do maintenance on your printer for one function, you will lose access to all of the other functions. For example, if you are having an issue with the scanner and take it to be repaired, you won’t be able to print, copy, or fax until it’s been fixed.
When using these printers in high volumes, you may sometimes encounter slow performance or traffic jams. These printers have come an extremely long way over the past several years, but some of the lower-end versions still struggle to do multiple actions at one time.
Price range for AIO printers
Because they provide more functions than a standalone laser or inkjet printer, AIO printers are generally more expensive than their counterparts. However, you will save money in the long run, because you can use one toner cartridge for all of your printing functions, instead of having to buy ink for separate machines. Small inkjet AIO printers can range anywhere between $100 and $250, while their laser counterparts generally run from $150 to $400. Larger, office-oriented AIO printers of both types run anywhere from $350 to $500, with some of the most expensive, high-tech models costing as much as $1,000.
What to look for before you buy
Inkjet printers are great for producing incredible quality photos and graphics. While they may not be as powerful as their laser counterparts, they are ideal for home photo printers, or for creating high-quality marketing materials like flyers and brochures. Here are the factors you need to consider when shopping for an inkjet printer.
Connect options - Most inkjets today now come with wi-fi or ethernet connectivity options, so you can set up a network for your printer and computer. Some higher end inkjet printers support printing directly from mobile devices as well. However, many of the very inexpensive portable budget printers will only print via USB.
Duty cycle - Duty cycle for inkjet printers are generally relatively low, as they are designed to focus on quality over quantity when printing. Inkjet printers are rarely designed to print more than 5000 sheets over their lifetime.
Size - Inkjet printers are usually designed to be very lightweight, and many are even portable. An average size for an inkjet would be approximately 15 x 12 x 6. The average weight for an inkjet would be anywhere between 10 to 30 pounds.
Color output - Inkjet printers generally use the RGB output format. This combines primary colors to create bright, photo-quality prints.
Text, graphic & photo quality - The image quality with inkjet printers is typically very good, with the best models producing photos that rival prints that you'd get from a professional service. They are also designed to be able to print complex graphics. However, with black and white text, sometimes the fonts may come out blurry if they are very small. Budget inkjet printers may also produce a black color that is closer to a dark grey.
Scan, Copy, and Fax Quality - Most inkjet printers now come in AIO versions, which means that they do offer other functions like scan, copy, and fax. However, there are some inkjet printers that are specifically designed for photo printing and do not offer other functions.
Speed - Although high-end inkjet printers have been getting much faster over the past several years, they still are notoriously slow when compared to laser printers. Inkjet printers generally can print between 3 and 20 pages per minute. This is usually fine for home use, but can be cumbersome for office use.
Functions and Features Needed - If you are focusing on photo printing with your inkjet, you will likely want to look for a printer that can connect with your camera or mobile phone, or that can print off of a memory card. Inkjet prints can also smear if they don’t dry properly, so you’ll also want to look for an output tray that will hold your prints in place after they come out.
Convenience and Ease of Use - Inkjets are usually designed for basic home use, so they are very easy to set up. Most connect directly to your computer or to a USB for very straightforward printing.
Paper handling - Most inkjet printers have very small input trays that can hold about 100 sheets of paper. Inkjets designed for office use will have a slightly larger input tray, holding between 200 and 300 sheets of paper. Most inkjet printers have an output tray and a feeder tray, but most don’t have a larger stacker tray for high volume printing.
Maintenance ink use - Ink for these types of printers is generally more expensive than laser toner. However, the cartridges are refillable, so you’ll only ever need to buy one cartridge for each color and then refill it. Inkjet printers do waste ink during their internal maintenance processes, which can require you to repurchase ink more frequently.
Versatility - Generally, inkjet printers are somewhat versatile. They can print on many different types of material, and they produce incredible color prints. However, they aren’t the best choice for text printing.
Power saving - Many AIO inkjet printers do come with a power save mode that will automatically turn off the printer or shut down some functions when not in use. However, the smaller budget-friendly printers usually need to be turned off manually. Inkjet printers are also going to use more energy during the printing process because they work more slowly.
Cost of ownership - Inkjet printers can be as inexpensive as $60 for portable versions, and around $200 to $400 for the most powerful office versions. Ink cartridges are generally around $30.
If you need to print in high volumes, or you mainly print text-based documents, then a laser printer is a great choice for you. However, there are many things to consider when shopping for a laser printer. Not all varieties are created equal, so you’ll want to be sure to compare these factors when looking for your printer.
Connect options - There are a few different ways that printers can connect to your computer when printing. Most laser printers today use Ethernet connectivity, so you just need to plug them in for internet access. Some are also set up for wi-fi, which requires no cables or plugs. Many of these printers allow you to set up a specific printing network separate from your main one. Another trend that many laser printers offer now is mobile connectivity, so you can print straight from your phone.
Duty cycle - The duty cycle is the number of pages the printer can safely print each month. The duty cycle for a laser printer will be much higher than that of an inkjet printer. On average, laser printers can handle anywhere between 50,000 and 200,000 pages per month, although it is generally recommended to stay well below that figure for safety with smaller home printers.
Size - Laser printers are larger than inkjet printers. A standard size would be somewhere in the range of 12 by 12 by 15 inches, although heavy duty laser printers can be even larger, at approximately 15 x 18 x 20 inches. Laser printers can also be fairly heavy, ranging anywhere from 25 to 60 pounds.
Color output - Laser printers generally use the CMYK color output scheme, because most toner is created in these colors. This color output uses cyan, magenta, and yellow to combine and make various different shades, which combine to black. This is more effective for text printing, which is what laser printers are designed for.
Text, graphic & photo quality - Laser printers are ideal for handling text-heavy documents, especially those with small fonts. This is because they create very crisp, sharp lines. Laser printers can also handle business level graphics, but they will not produce the same photo quality that an inkjet printer will.
Text, graphic & photo quality - Laser printers are available in both single-function versions, which do not offer scan, copy, and faxing services, or AIO versions, which do offer high-quality copying as well as scanning and faxing.
Speed - Laser printers are known for their incredible printing speed. Many have auto-duplexer features, which allow you to print on both sides of a page at once and speed things up even more. Laser printers can generally print anywhere from 15 to 45 pages per minute.
Functions & features needed - If you are planning on using your laser printer for high volume printing, it is very helpful to have large input and output trays, or even a stacker tray to separate copies. As mentioned above, it is also helpful to have an auto-duplexer. You will also want indicator screens or lights to let you know if you need to refill the paper trays or if there is an error.
Convenience & ease of use - For the most part, laser printers are very easy to use once they are installed, and they are very convenient because they print so quickly. However, they do need to warm up when you first turn them on, which can be an inconvenience. They are also rather heavy, which can make them difficult to set up.
Paper handling - Laser printers usually have relatively large input trays that can hold about 250 sheets of paper. Some high volume printers have multiple input trays as well.
Maintenance ink use - Toner for laser printers is relatively inexpensive and doesn’t need to be replaced often. Laser printers also do not waste toner during their maintenance processes, helping each cartridge last you longer.
Versatility - Laser printers are amazing for printing high volumes of text prints, and they also work well for medium grade graphics and photos. However, they don’t have the versatility to print high-quality photos or color graphics.
Power saving - Since laser printers are very fast, they work very efficiently, which does save power. Some, but not all, laser printers do come with a power save mode, which will turn off certain functions when not in direct use. However, laser printers do need time to warm up, which can use power.
Cost of ownership - Laser printers are expensive to buy upfront, with costs ranging around $150 to $400. Packs of toner cartridges usually cost around $25 to $50. However, the actual cost per sheet with laser printing is very low, at roughly two to four cents per page.
AIO printers combine essential printing functions with services like scanning, faxing, and photocopying. They are highly useful for both home and office use, and they come in both laser and inkjet versions. Here’s everything you need to know before buying your first AIO printer.
Connect options - Most AIO printers are designed to have a variety of convenient connection options. Most use wifi (wireless printers) to connect with your computer, and others can even connect with your mobile device to print directly. Some also have the option to print from memory or SIM cards, perfect for photographers. The latest AIO printers may even offer near-field communication, which will connect with your phone or tablet with just a tap.
Duty cycle - The duty cycle of an AIO printer depends entirely on whether it is an inkjet or laser printer. Inkjets can usually handle just a few thousand pages per year (or even over the course of its lifetime), while laser printers are usually designed to have duty cycles that range upwards of 100,000 pages per month.
Size - AIO printers are much larger than single-function printers, because they have to have room for all of the extra functions and trays. AIO printers can be as large as 1.5 cubic feet. They can also be very heavy, ranging anywhere from 30 to 70 pounds. You’ll generally need more than one person to install an AIO printer.
Color output - The color output system for your AIO printer will depend on whether you are using an inkjet or laser printer. Inkjets use RGB, while lasers use CYMK.
Text, graphic & photo quality - Since most AIO printers are designed for office use, or at least higher volumes than single function printers, they can typically produce above average quality for both graphics and text. Laser printers will handle text better, while inkjets will handle photos better.
Scan, copy & fax quality - AIO printers are designed to be able to scan, copy, and fax. Scan functions are very standardized, and don’t vary much between different types of printers. Laser printers can usually handle copying better than inkjets, because their static electricity technology creates crisper copies. The quality of the faxing on an AIO printer depends entirely on its connection speed.
Speed - AIO printer speed depends entirely on whether it is laser or inkjet. Lasers print at around 20 to 40 pages per minute, while inkjets range from 5 to 15 pages per minute.
Functions & features needed - This is an extremely important consideration to make when buying an AIO printer. Each model has its own specific combination of features, and you’ll need to decide what you really need. Many home users just need printing and scanning, while office users will probably need a full suite of printing, copying, scanning, and faxing. Photographers may also want to look for a printer that can connect with their camera.
Convenience & ease of use - Because they are larger than single-function printers, AIO printers may take longer to set up and be slightly more confusing to get accustomed to. However, once you have the printer set up, AIO printers are extremely convenient, because they can be used for so many different things. Mobile connectivity is a particularly convenient feature than many AIO printers today offer.
Paper handling - AIO printers generally have larger paper handling capabilities than their single-function counterparts. Many offer input trays that can hold at least 250 pages. They also usually offer large output trays, as well as feeder trays and flatbed scanning and copying.
Maintenance ink use - Inkjet AIO printers go through ink very quickly, and generally need to be refilled often. Laser AIO printers may need slightly more maintenance, but they don’t go through toner nearly as quickly.
Versatility - AIO printers are designed to be extremely versatile. They can print both text and graphics, as well as scanning, copying, faxing, and sometimes even more. They are a great option for users who rely on their printer for many different uses.
Power saving - AIO printers typically do offer a power saving mode for when they are not in use. They can also run multiple functions at once, which saves energy and time. However, each individual model is different, so it is very important to check the specs when making a purchase.
Cost of ownership - AIO printers range anywhere from $200 to $1000 to purchase. However, their running costs depend on whether they are laser or inkjet. Laser AIOs are much cheaper to run over time than inkjets.