How to buy a printer?

The cost of laser printers has come down dramatically over the years, making it more of an easy purchase than ever.

For students and those just setting up a new home office, this means a mass printing device can be bought for very little initial outlay. For a busy office, a laser printer is a no-brainer. It provides the best text quality prints, the fastest speeds, and the most economical prints on a per-page basis.

If you’re in the market for a new laser printer or laser-based multifunction device, here are 10 things to consider before buying, ranging from what features you should be looking at, to the total cost of ownership.

1. Monochrome or colour?

Your first criteria is your basic need: ask yourself what types of documents you will be printing to determine the type of printer that will suit you best. If you only want the ability to print, and if you will only be printing things such as invoices or other monochrome documents, then all you’ll need is a monochrome laser printer. Go for a colour laser printer if you will also have a need to print colour documents on a regular basis.

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2. Types of functions

If you have a need for scanning documents, making copies, sending and receiving faxes, then you will need to consider a multifunction laser printer that can perform all of these tasks. Furthermore, you may want to look into other types of functions such as printing from USB sticks (file support can vary, so check the specs), scanning to USB sticks and network locations, and perhaps the ability to print and scan using Cloud-based apps.

3. Paper handling

Commonly, printers will handle paper up to the A4 size, so you will have to look for a specific model if you want to be able to also print documents on A3-sized paper. Things such as envelopes and heavier paper can be printed if the printer has a multi-purpose tray, and you will need to check the printer’s specifications to see exactly the weight of the paper that it can handle (in gsm), as well as the number of envelopes that can be loaded.

For a busy office, having enough paper in the printer at all times is a necessity. No one ever wants to be one to have to fill up the trays, so the best you can hope for is for the tray to not require regular filling. Look for a printer that has an appropriate capacity for the number of users who will be printing (many office printers come with a standard tray of 250 sheets). Also, look for a printer that can be expanded via a second or third tray to satisfy growing needs.

At the same time, look for other paper handling characteristics that may concern you. This can include the ability of the printer to print on both sides of the page automatically (via a built-in duplex unit), and also the ability to scan or copy multi-page documents via an automatic document feeder (ADF).

4. Connectivity

Read more: Brother multifunction inkjets: Cloud-connected business printers with A3 capability

USB is standard on all printers, but for an office environment, the key type of connectivity you should look for is Ethernet. This will allow you to plug the printer in to your network router and share it among the workers in your office. The printer’s driver will need to be installed on all the computers in the network that will require access.

Look for wireless connectivity (usually up to 802.11n specification) if you would like to set up the printer on your wireless network instead. Furthermore, look for Wi-Fi Direct capability if you would like to give mobile devices a way to communicate with the printer directly and print via an app. This can work with NFC functionality on some printers, allowing the direct connection to be set up by placing the device on the printer to pair it.

Ensure that the printer supports all the devices that will require access in your office, be they Apple devices, Android devices, or even Windows Phone.

Printing from Cloud services is also supported in many printers these days. Check up on the services that a printer supports, which could make it easier to print from places such as Google Docs, Dropbox, OneDrive, and other online services, without having to go through a computer or mobile device. Brother is one vendor that includes these types of services on its entire range of colour laser printers.

5. Ease of use

You’re probably used to the touchscreen on your phone, tablet, or perhaps even laptop. So why not go for touchscreen on a printer? A touchscreen can make it easier to navigate a printer’s menu system, especially if it has built-in access to apps that require the user to punch in their login details.

Ease of use can also encompass the swiftness with which the paper tray can be accessed and loaded, and the way in which the toner cartridges can be changed.

6. Toner cost and TCO

The initial cost of a laser printer may be very low these days for some models, but it’s the overall total cost of ownership that you need to be aware of.

This includes things such as the cost of replacement toner (for each colour), the yield of the toner (how many pages it can print), and the cost of any other consumables that are associated with the printer, such as a fuser (the unit that fixes the toner to the paper) or drum unit (which transfers the toner onto the paper). Many laser printers only have the one consumable these days, which is the toner.

You should also consider if a printer can take XL or super-high yield cartridges, which can offer a better overall cost per print and a longer duration before the toner needs to be replenished. Examples of printers with super-high yield cartridges include the Brother MFC-L9550CDW, which offers running costs of 3.2 cents per monochrome print, and 12.7 cents per colour print.

7. Noise emissions and power consumption

Noise emissions can be a hard one to evaluate unless you see the printer in action at a showroom or retailer with a low noise floor, but it’s something that you must be mindful of, especially when purchasing a big printer.

The noise when the printer’s engine starts up and churns through a print can be significant. Some printer manufacturers (Brother is one of them) list a noise level (in decibels) for different models, which you can use as a guide to figure out how loud it will be when set up in your environment. For example, the Brother HL-L2300D has a noise level of 49dB or less when printing.

Power usage should also be a consideration. In particular, you should look for a printer that has a deep sleep mode, and also assess how much power the printer uses when it’s actively printing. Look for a model that is Energy Star compliant.

8. Duty cycle

The duty cycle is the number of prints that the printer is rated as being able to print on a monthly basis. It’s a rating that should be looked at if you will be doing a large volume of printing on a regular basis. This rating can be anything from 1000-5000 pages, all the way up to tens of thousands.

9. Processor and memory

While it’s not easy to compare processors between laser printers, the quoted speed in megahertz can give a good indication of the power the printer has to process jobs and run its inbuilt functions.

Furthermore, the memory capacity (and a printer with upgradeable memory) is key if you will be printing from graphics and design applications, especially when using PCL or PostScript languages for printing, for which space is needed to store the print information as it is converted.

10. Overall size and ease of installation

A typical printer for an office can be bulky and perhaps difficult to move around without the help of another person. Consider the size of the printer in your purchase and where you will be installing it in your environment. You may end up wanting to look for a more compact printer that better suits your office space while still providing similar functionality. Furthermore, you might want to assess how easy it is to install its toner cartridges and load its paper, as this can help minimise maintenance time.

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Laser Printer Buying Guide

Favoured by businesses and organisations across the globe thanks to their impressive all-round performance, laser printers have only recently entered maturity, having been developed and released much later than other printer types, including the inkjet. Upon their arrival in the printing stratosphere, laser machines were only capable of printing in black and white, limiting their customer base to workplaces. Now however, laser printers have evolved beyond recognition, offering full colour output as well as a range of other features to rival inkjet machines.

Put their superfast speeds and cost-effective yields to one side however, and laser printers do have downsides and limitations. In order to make an informed decision on whether a laser printer would be the best fit for your individual requirements, it’s vital you consider the pros and cons of this particular type of machine before investing your hard-earned money.

In the following guide, we’ll weigh up the pros and cons of laser printers to help you better understand the benefits and disadvantages of the technology, so you can decide if this, or another type of printer, is ultimately the one to go for.

But first, let’s take a look at the technology behind laser printers, and find out how the machines actually work.

How Laser Printers Work

Much like photocopiers, laser printers use a high intensity light (in this case, a laser) to map out and make an exact copy of a printed page. Where laser printers differ from photocopiers however, is that they use electronic data sent from your computer to arrange the text or images to be printed on to the sheet of paper.

Once the printer has received this data from the device, an electronic circuit within the machine activates, and begins deciphering the data to figure out how to apply it correctly to the page. The same circuit then sends a signal to the corona wire, which is essentially a high-voltage wire that charges nearby objects with static electricity.

Using masses of static electricity (enough to stick hundreds of balloons to your woolly jumper), the corona wire charges the photoreceptor drum to the point in which it gains a positive charge across its entire surface.

While this is happening, a laser accurately draws the printed content on to the surface of the photoreceptor drum. The laser erases the positive charge at the points where it hits the drum, creating an area of negative charge in its place. Eventually the drum will be covered in an accurate representation of the document to print, made up of areas of negative and positive charge.

Next, positively charged toner particles are applied to the drum, sticking only to the areas which themselves have a negative charge. No area of the drum with a positive charge attracts any of the powdered toner, thus the image can be accurately applied to the paper.

A hopper feeds a sheet of paper towards the drum, first giving it a powerful positive charge using a further corona wire. As it moves past the drum, the negatively charged toner particles are attracted to the paper’s surface, where they remain as the sheet moves towards the fuser unit.

At this stage, the toner is only resting lightly on the paper’s surface; using a combination of pressure and heat, rollers fuse the toner to the paper, creating a permanent and professional finish.

Now that we know just how laser printers work, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty and weigh up the pros and cons of the technology.

The Advantages of Laser Printers

To showcase the benefits of owning a laser printer, here we list the various advantages of the technology.

They’re Incredibly Fast

Whether you buy a high end or affordable laser printer, you’ll be amazed by the speed of the thing. On average, laser printers are capable of tossing out around 30-40 sheets per minute — more than quick enough to handle all of the demands of a busy workplace.

They’re Crystal Sharp

Given the technology they employ in the print process, laser printers are celebrated for their accuracy and clarity — particularly when producing text documents. Though traditionally not known for producing full colour images, modern laser printers are getting much better at printing photographs and colour graphics.

They’re Extremely Hardwearing

While other printer types may tire and develop faults over time as a result of heavy use, laser printers are built to last, and rarely ever break down. Sure, you might pay more for the technology than other printers, but you’ll be rewarded with years of hassle-free service.

They’re Cost Effective

While replacement toner cartridges are more expensive to buy than inkjet cartridges, they tend to offer a greater page yield, with the average toner cartridge delivering over 1,000 sheets in some cases. This makes them really cost effective, particularly for those who print often and a lot.

The Disadvantages of Laser Printers

As with all types of printer, laser machines do have their disadvantages and downsides, which you should be aware of before choosing to make a purchase.

They Don’t Offer Great Paper Variety

Unlike inkjet printers, which can seemingly print on all and sundry, laser printers are limited to a small number of paper options, mostly just standard printer and copier style papers. If you wanted to print on thick card or glossy photo paper, this would be ill-advised due to the heat and pressure involved in the laser printing process.

They’re Expensive to Buy

Or should we say they’re more expensive than inkjets. Although it is possible to buy a decent laser printer for under £200, they aren’t as ludicrously affordable as some inkjet machines, which may take them beyond the budget of some buyers.

They’re Still Not Great for Photos

Although laser printers have come a long way since they first entered the market, and have greatly improved in terms of full colour production, they still fall short of inkjets when printing photographs. While inkjets can layer and blend colour using liquid ink dots, lasers are limited to a single layer of coloured toner — somewhat diminishing the depth and tone of the final result.

They’re Big

Sure, laser printers have shrunk from the room-stealing monsters they once were, but they’re still bigger than inkjets due to the amount of mechanical components they house. For offices and other workspaces this isn’t likely to be an issue, but domestic users with limited space may want to consider alternatives.

If you’ve considered all other options and decided that a laser printer is the machine for you, to view our extensive selection of laser printers and affordable toners and consumables.

If you’re shopping for the best printer for you, you’ve probably wondered what the differences are between inkjet and laser printers. Although both print technologies have their place in homes and offices, there’s a good chance that one will be better at meeting your needs than the other.

(Image credit: HP)

The basic distinctions here boil down to how each technology actually prints. This, in turn, has an impact on what a printer will do well, how expensive it is to print documents and photos, and how much you’ll pay upfront.

Inkjet vs Laser Printers: The Key Takeaways

  • Inkjet printers are usually cheaper upfront, but more costly to operate. If you don’t print much, it can be the more affordable option.
  • Laser printers are better for printing documents, while inkjets tend to be better at printing photos.
  • If you want to keep the cost per page as low as possible, laser printers are cheaper.
  • Inkjet printers generally take up less room than laser printers.

Printing Technology Basics: Inkjet vs Laser

While the most basic definition of printing is the same across both inkjet and laser printers – putting letters and images onto paper – the two methods achieve this result in very different ways.

Inkjets rely on liquid ink, deposited onto the page through a print head that uses dozens of micro-nozzles. It prints by putting microscopic drops of ink onto the paper. Depending upon whether that ink is dye or pigment based, the ink may change the color of the paper, or simply dry as a deposit on the surface of the paper.
MORE: All-in-One Printers: The Best for Less Than $200

Laser printers, on the other hand, rely on toner, which is a powder. The “laser” in laser printing is used to generate an electrostatic charge, which is used to transfer the toner to the paper, which is then bonded to the surface of the page using heat.

These two approaches will affect everything from how big a printer is to how expensive a single printed page is. Both technologies can be found in single-function, or all-in-one, printers, alongside scanning, copying and fax capability. Either one can be a good fit, so long as you understand the strengths and weaknesses of each.

Canon Pixma TS9120 Brother MFC-L2750DW XL
Printer Type Inkjet Laser
Rating 4.5 stars 4.5 stars
Price $149 $329
Ink/Toner Six cartridges (pigment black, dye black, photo blue, cyan, magenta and yellow) Monochrome
B&W Print Time 00:26 00:16
Color Photo Print Time 01:57 N/A
Dimensions 14.7 x 14.2 x 5.6 inches 16.1 x 15.7 x 12.5 inches
B&W Text printing 7.8 cents per page 3.75 cents per page
Color Printing 19.8 cents per page N/A

Inkjet vs Laser printers: Upfront Costs

When it comes to buying a printer, the cost of the printer is a big factor in the decision. Sure, you want certain features, but your budget will often make the decision for you.

(Image credit: Brother)

Inkjet printers tend to be much less expensive than laser printers. The technology is slightly less complex, and therefore less costly to manufacture. Besides this, most manufacturers sell inkjet printers at a loss, knowing that they can make up the difference in ink sales down the road. Sometimes it’s cheaper to buy a new printer than to buy a full set of new ink cartridges!

Laser printers, on the other hand, will rarely be sold for less than $200, and even the most budget-friendly models sell for $150 or more.

Now, the cost of printing should definitely factor into your thinking, but if you barely print, or if you’re more likely to make use of the printer’s scan and fax functions than the actual printing, you can find some very affordable options for as little as $50.

Takeaway: Inkjets cost less to buy, but you may pay more in the long run.

Inkjet vs Laser printers: Print quality

The specific qualities of liquid ink and toner powder also affect how well-suited they are for certain types of printing.

(Image credit: Canon)

Inkjets, with their dye- and pigment-based inks, do especially well at handling color, particularly for images and photos, which are more likely to involve subtle shades of color. The nature of liquid ink means that those mixtures are easier to reproduce on an inkjet rather than on a laser printer.

Laser printers are not always built to handle photo printing, relying instead on halftone dots to create certain colors on documents. Even those laser printers that can handle the higher-quality color for photo printing require specialized laser-printer-ready photo paper to do it, making it much less convenient than using standard photo paper on an inkjet.

However, laser printers tend to be better suited to printing text, offering crisp, clear letter forms that can’t be matched by most inkjets. Inkjet printing will often bleed slightly, and while print is legible, the individual letters won’t be as sharp in their detail when examined closely.

Ink also has a tendency to smear, and since inkjet prints continue drying after printing, the possibility of smudged documents is a problem that inkjet users need to anticipate. Since laser printers use a heat-transfer method, the print is set and smudge-proof the moment it comes out of the printer.

Takeaway: Laser printers are better for text documents, especially at high volumes, but inkjets have an edge when it comes to printing photos.

Inkjet vs Laser printers: Cost of printing

Another major difference is the cost of ink and toner. Liquid printer ink has been identified as one of the most expensive liquids on the planet, and is a highly engineered product. Designed to provide precise flow rates, to mix and bleed with predictable consistency and to dry within moments, all while providing colors that look just right – there’s a lot involved in printer ink. Because it provides a high-margin product that printer owners will have to buy again and again only encourages printer companies to keep you coming back for more.

(Image credit: Brother)

Inkjet printers vary in the cost-per-page, but tend to fall within the same general range. Black-and-white text will usually run at 5-10 cents per page, and color printing will run between 15 and 25 cents per page. The Editor’s Choice Canon Pixma TS9120, for example, costs 7.8 cents per text page (printing in black and white), while color prints are 19.8 cents per page.

Toner, on the other hand, tends to be less expensive on a per-page basis for laser printers. Though no less carefully made, the fact that toner comes in powder form makes it a much simpler substance to ship, store and use.

While individual toner cartridges are more expensive than ink cartridges, they print hundreds of pages, far exceeding the print yields offered on inkjet printers. As a result, plain-text printing costs dip below the 5-cent per-page mark, and color printing sits right around 15 cents.

For example, the Brother MFC-L2750DW monochrome laser printer prints for 3.75 cents per page with the standard toner cartridge rated to last 1,200 pages. Jump to a high-capacity cartridge, and that cost drops to 2.7 cents per page.

Toner also stores better over the long term. Ink cartridges can be stored for months if kept properly, but if you’re an infrequent printer, the liquids that fill your ink cartridge can dry out, leaving you with a useless cartridge that has printed only a fraction of the pages it was meant to. Since toner starts off as a powder, there’s no need to worry about itlosing its liquidity.

Takeaway: Laser printers offer cheaper prints per page, but toner is more expensive upfront. Toner is also the better choice for long-term use, since it stores better than liquid-filled ink cartridges.

Inkjet vs Laser printers: Printer Size

One more differentiating factor that printer shoppers may not consider when comparing printer types is size. Obviously, printers vary in size and design, but on the whole, laser multifunction printers tend to be larger and heavier than their inkjet counterparts. If you’ve got limited space on a desk or shelf, it will be easier to find an inkjet to fit in that smaller space.

(Image credit: Canon)

Inkjet printers have benefited from some significant advances in miniaturization, with features like print heads built into the ink cartridge. Some, like the HP Tango X are so small as to be portable, measuring just 9.7 x 15 x 3.5 inches and weighing a mere 7.5 pounds.

Laser printers, on the other hand, have to accommodate a larger print drum, laser module and thermal element, which all adds to the bulk. Add multifunction features like scanning and copying to the list, and laser all-in-one printers tend to be pretty bulky.

Takeaway: If space is tight, you might be better off with an inkjet printer.

Bottom Line

Deciding between an inkjet printer or a laser printer really boils down to what you want to use your printer for. Some people print a handful of pages a year, or print photos more often than text documents. Others may print reams of text, but rarely need a photo. Or they value long-term operating costs just as much as the upfront purchase price.

Inkjet printing is generally a better fit for the occasional printer. Ink will cost more on a per-page basis, but refills are cheaper than toner. Inkjets are also better suited for small spaces, since laser printers tend to be larger. It’s also the better option for printing images and photos, since ink offers richer color and fewer printing limitations.

Laser printing, on the other hand, offers the most affordable way to print a lot of text-heavy pages. It’s faster, too, offering finished, smudge-free pages in seconds. And if crisp, easy-to-read text is your priority, then go with a laser printer, which offers better text printing every time.

Sasi Ponchaisang

Essays. Coupons. Last-minute directions to Grandma’s house. Whatever you need to print, there’s a home printer that can do it. And intense competition among competitors such as HP, Epson, Canon and others has forced prices to such absurd lows that you can now walk into a store — even your local supermarket — and walk out with a brand new printer for $60 or less.

But selecting a home printer can be tough given the sheer amount of options on the market, not to mention the convoluted terms that only seem to complicate the process. With that in mind, we’ve put together a quick-and-dirty buying guide for selecting a home printer, with simple explanations of some of most common terms and recommendations that will serve the majority of users.

Inkjet or laser?

The first question all printer buyers must tackle comes down to a simple matter of what and how much you plan on printing.

Color inkjet printers comprise the bulk of the market simply because they can print just about anything: Essays, pie charts, or glossy photos, you name it. And today’s inkjet printers and all-in-ones are fast, often with print speeds that rival or surpass their laser counterparts.

Laser printers are still a good bet for office settings when most of the printing that you need to do is in monochrome. For the most part, monochrome laser printers can be purchased at affordable prices, offer good print speed, and in most cases, provide prints at a lower cost per page than a color inkjet. But you have to decide whether to give up the flexibility that a color inkjet printer offers. Color laser printers are another option, but they generally have a higher cost per page printed than a color inkjet.

In the past, laser printers have offered a higher page yield per cartridge than an inkjet printer. That’s changing, however, with some newer inkjet printers offering as many as 10,000 printed pages from a monochrome ink cartridge and 7,000 pages or more from each color cartridge. That translates into a lower cost per page, and less frequent cartridge changes.

For home use, a multifunction unit makes a lot of sense, not only because it’s cheaper than buying a printer and a standalone scanner, but also for the sake of saving room. Since all-in-ones are extremely common and manufacturers rarely charge much of a premium for them (you can often find one for as little as $50-$60) we highly recommend them for home users.

Note: Soon, you may not have to decide whether to purchase a standalone printer or an all-in-one. While manufacturers continue to bring out new printer-only units for the office, many of the new devices being introduced for home users are all-in-one models, phasing out print-only models.

Photo printers

If you’re more interested in preserving family photos on paper than printing off homework assignments and pie charts, consider a dedicated (single function) photo printer. Though they lack the flexibility of multitaskers, the quality of prints is typically better, and often rivals or exceeds the quality of what you would receive from a kiosk or mail-order service like Shutterfly. The price you’ll pay for this kind of convenience comes out in the print cost, however.

Many of the printers sold only for dedicated photo or graphic use are small-size units capable of printing photos up to 4 x 6 inches in size, or wide format models designed to print media up to 24-inches wide. Supplies for these specialty printers are also generally more expensive than those for the typical multifunction printer. Both Canon and Epson have models which print 8.5 x 11 inches and use five or six colors of ink to produce photos with greater color accuracy. And many all-in-one devices are capable of turning out photos up to 8.5 x 11 inches in size when you use the right paper.

Supply costs

Remember the mantra “give away the razor, sell the blades”? That century-old business model is still alive and well in the printer business, where many companies entice consumers with unimaginably low prices on their budget printers, knowing they can milk them over and over again when it comes time to replace the ink cartridges.

Research the cost of replacement supplies before you buy any printer to know what you’re in for when the initial cartridges finally run dry. Depending on how often you plan to print, it can actually be worth it to purchase a more expensive printer in order to buy into a cheaper line of cartridges. Also, look into the possibility of refilling your own cartridges, which can cost dramatically less than buying new cartridges every time. Keep in mind, however, that printer vendors now add tiny chips to their cartridges that track ink or toner life to make refilling more difficult.

Finally, investigate new models and ink plans. HP offers an Instant Ink program that automatically sends you cartridges when your ink runs low, and promises a fixed number of pages for a fixed monthly fee. Both Canon and Epson now offer “ink tank” models which you can fill from small bottles of ink, providing a very economical cost per page, while Brother has a number of printers with multiple cartridges in the box so you needn’t run out to buy refills for quite some time.

Duplexing (two-sided printing or scanning)

One feature that’s becoming very common, and that we consider a big plus, is automatic duplexing. Duplexing refers to printing or scanning both sides of the page without requiring that you manually flip the page over. On a printer, duplexing is accomplished by printing the first side of the page, pulling the page back through the printer, flipping it over, and printing the other side.

Many all-in-one devices with an automatic document feeder (ADF) for the scanner also have duplexing, allowing you to scan both sides of the page as the document feeds through the ADF. An all-in-one without an automatic document feeder can’t duplex scan without you turning the page over on the scan glass.

Duplex scanning is a major convenience if you frequently scan two-sided pages, like those torn from a magazine. And duplex printing is almost a must these days, helping you save paper when single-side printing isn’t necessary.

Networking capability

Today, nearly every printing device offers multiple connectivity options. USB has been the standard interface for years, and every computer has several USB ports. Because USB is generally a short, direct connection, it requires that the printer or AIO be located near the PC or laptop. There are some wireless routers outfitted with USB ports, however, which you can use to connect to a printer and thus enable wireless printing on a home network.

But most modern printers can now be shared by multiple devices via a network. That could be via Ethernet, where you connect a cable to the router or switch in your network. Ethernet also makes for a faster connection. However, this wired setup is more common in an office environment than in the home, so few low-end models will have a built-in Ethernet port.

More common is Wi-Fi, which has become the most popular method of home networking, and just about every new printer sold for the home or small business has Wi-Fi capabilities. Many even offer one-button wireless setup — if the router it’s being connected to supports it — making network pairing a snap. A new option called Wi-Fi Direct also lets you connect your printer to a laptop that supports it, without having to connect the printer to a network first. Wi-Fi is also used to connect many new smartphones, tablets, and digital cameras by select printers that support mobile printing, such as Apple’s AirPrint protocol. NFC (Near-Field Communication) is also available on some models, letting you connect your printer to a smartphone or tablet by simply touching the device to a specified area on your printer.

Memory Card slots, PictBridge, and the cloud

If you plan to print a lot of photos, consider a printer with built-in memory slots, Bluetooth capabilities, PictBridge, or cloud-based support. All will allow you to print photos directly from a camera or smart device, preventing you from having to transfer them to a computer fist. Memory cards can be popped out of the camera and into a slot on you printer. Some printers even have a multi-format card reader, while some support only the more popular Secure Digital, or SD, format.

PictBridge-enabled cameras, on the other hand, can be plugged into a printer with the same USB cable you might use to connect to a PC — assuming your printer is equipped with a PictBridge-capable USB port — while cloud-based connectivity allows you to send photos directly from Google Cloud Print, Dropbox, and other internet-based services. Just don’t overestimate the usefulness of these convenience features. You may still want to transfer your photos to a computer in order to empty your memory card, and most photographers will want to examine their prints on a bigger screen before printing them.

Many fully-featured printers, particularly AIOs, now offer internet-based features that let you access photos stored on sites such as Facebook, Flickr, Dropbox, and Google Drive, as well as remote printing and access to arts and crafts you can print out. Keep in mind that if your printer isn’t connected to the internet, you won’t be able to access said services or print to it remotely from devices such as a smartphone or tablet.

Paper handling

Every printer will feed on a fat stack of 8.5 x 11 paper, but what about legal envelopes, index cards, and glossy stock? Thankfully, many printers now include dedicated feed trays for printing on specialty papers with unusual sizes or different weights, which can make them easier to deal with them. Also consider the size of the input tray. Smaller trays, for instance, will require you to add paper all the time, while a 250-page hopper can make it a once-a-month affair.

Some models targeted at the home office user also offer an optional second tray, which lets you use a different paper stock, check stock, or just double the paper capacity so you don’t have to refill the paper supply as often.

Speed, resolution, and color claims

It used to be fairly easy for a printer manufacturer to make outrageous claims about how fast their printers were or what you could expect as far as page yield from an ink or toner cartridge is concerned. Today, however, nearly all vendors use a standardized set of tests developed and licensed to them by the International Standards Organization. The ISO test protocols provide a level playing field — all the claims and ratings are developed using the same document sets and the same test procedures.

The fly in the ointment is that these sets are what the ISO determines to be the typical kinds of documents used by an average business user. How applicable these results are to you will be is impossible to judge, especially if you primarily print photos and graphics, which slow down a printer significantly and burn through ink.

So use these specs as a basis for comparing one device with another, not as something you’ll necessarily experience in your use of the printer. And before you plunk down your money, read reviews and independent evaluations, and if possible, see actual printouts at a retail store to decide for yourself how quick a printer is, or how good the image looks. If you have settled on a specific brand, some companies even have buying guides for their models — just check out those from Canon and Epson.

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  • The best printers for 2019

Despite everyone’s move to digital paper, digital photos, and the cloud, we still all need to print a few things once in a while, and some of us need to print a whole lot all the time! To help you find your way through the maze of printer options available, we’ve compiled this Home and Small-Business Printer Buyer’s Guide, which profiles the best inkjet and laser models. As a rule of thumb, inkjets are great for small-volume printing that requires color, and are the only printers to consider for album-worthy photographs. Meanwhile, laser printers are vastly superior for large-volume printing, with color laser models suitable for business presentations.

For Spring 2019, we’ve updated this guide with a number of new models from Brother and Canon, which replace models we previously recommended, offering enhanced features and speed for around the same price. Our favorite printer is Canon’s wonderful G4210 Megatank printer, shown here. It’s a breath of fresh air in the printer business, with honest printing, no tricks or scams. It holds enough ink to print 6,000 pages, and replacement ink costs next to nothing. Yes, the printer is more expensive than comparable standard inkjets, but we believe transparency in pricing is important for consumers, and the high introductory price of this printer is offset by running costs of about half a cent per page, rather than the 25 cents most inkjets cost.

With that said, anyone needing ultra-fast or high-volume printing should absolutely go with a laser printer. Based on our extremely-positive experience with every Brother model we’ve tested, we’ve decided to recommend Brother laser models exclusively, including its feature-packed MFC-L8900CDW small office model shown below, which offers mind-blowing value for a true business-class model.

Note that we continue to take a stand on a subject that has caused a lot of consumer frustration over the years. Traditional inkjet printers have been sold at a loss by manufacturers, but they’ve been extremely profitable overall due to grossly-overpriced inkjet cartridges that were marketed with highly-inflated page output ratings. While we’re still recommending one traditional inkjet to meet the needs of users who need the lowest cost of entry possible, anyone who prints regularly should skip traditional inkjets all together, going either for a Canon Megatank or a Brother laser printer. Note that because HP went the furthest in its attempts to defraud consumers by remotely disabling printers that had been loaded with generic inks, we’ve removed all HP printers from this guide, and likely won’t consider recommending HP again for a long, long time!

We use Amazon’s real-time pricing engine, so displayed prices are always up-to-date. If you decide to purchase any of the products listed below, please support this website by using the links provided, which we provide for the US, Canada, UK, and Germany, with regional substitutions made where necessary.

How to Choose the Right Printer

What Type of Printer Is Right for You?

Picking the right printer can be tough, with so many features to choose from, and individual printers with almost any possible combination of those variations available. Here are some pointers to help you find both the right category of printer and the right model within that type, along with our top-rated reviews.

The three most useful ways to categorize printers are by purpose (general or special), intended use (home or office), and technology. Define your needs by all three categories, and you’re well on your way to finding the right printer.

Most printers, including most inkjets that manufacturers market as photo printers, are general-purpose models, meant for printing text, graphics, and photos. Special-purpose printers include portable printers, dedicated and near-dedicated photo printers, and label printers. (Even among specialty printers, 3D printers are a unique case, and beyond the scope of this discussion.) If you’re looking for a model to print, say, photos, consider whether you want to print only photos or want a printer that can also produce other kinds of output.

General-purpose printers tend to focus on photos if they’re intended for home use or on text if they’re intended for the office. Many all-in-one printers or MFPs are meant for the dual role of home and office printer (particularly for home offices), but generally favor one role over the other. Consider how you plan to use the printer, and pick one designed for that role.

The two most common technologies, laser and inkjet, increasingly overlap in capabilities, but there are still differences. The most important are that nearly all lasers (and laser-class models, such as solid ink and LED-based printers) print higher-quality text than nearly any inkjet, and almost any inkjet prints higher-quality photos than the overwhelming majority of lasers. Ask yourself whether text or photos are more important, and pick a technology accordingly.

Single-Function or All-in-One Printer?

For general-purpose printing, additional capability means choosing an all-in-one printer (AIO), also known as a multifunction printer (MFP). Those other functions include some combination of scanning, copying, and faxing from your PC, standalone faxing, and scanning to email. Office printers also typically add an automatic document feeder (ADF) to scan, copy, and/or fax multipage documents and legal-size pages. Some ADFs can handle two-sided documents, either by scanning one side, flipping the page over, and scanning the other side, or employing two sensors to scan both sides of the page on a single pass. (The latter is typically a more expensive solution.)

Some MFPs offer additional printing options. Web-enabled printers, both home and office models, can connect directly to the Internet via Wi-Fi to access and print out selected content without needing to work through a computer. Many Wi-Fi–enabled MFPs let you print documents and images from handheld devices. Some models let you email documents to the printer, which will then print them out. (In the last case, these functions might have a distinct name by manufacturer; for example, HP calls its email-print solution “HP ePrint,” while Canon calls its version “Print From Email.”)

Do You Need Color?

For a home printer, you probably need color, but for an office model, if all you print are business documents, there may be no reason to spend money on color output and the cost of maintaining four color toner cartridges versus one in black. Keep in mind, however, that many color lasers can print at high enough quality to make your own advertising handouts and trifold brochures, which could save you money compared with printing small quantities at your local print shop.

It’s rare to see an inkjet with anything but color capabilities, but Epson does offer a few inkjet models in its WorkForce line that are high-volume and monochrome-only. If you want to stick with single-color black printing, though, you’re otherwise looking at a monochrome laser or LED printer or MFP.

Space Considerations

Be sure to look into the printer’s size, and don’t underestimate just how big some of them can be, especially with trays extended. Even some home models can be uncomfortably large to share a desk with, and note that some printers with a small footprint can be tall enough to feel like they are towering over you. At the other extreme, we’re seeing a growing number of compact versions that can fit into tight spaces in apartments, home offices, and dorm rooms.

Connectivity

In addition to a USB port, most office printers and an increasing number of home printers include Ethernet ports, so you can share the printer easily on a network. Many also include Wi-Fi capability. Even if they don’t, if you have a wireless access point on your network, you can print wirelessly to any printer on that network, whether the printer itself offers a wireless connection or not. The printer just needs to be wired into the access point via Ethernet.

Printers that support Wi-Fi Direct (or its equivalent; some vendors use their own names for it) can connect directly to most Wi-Fi–enabled devices, even if your computer or handheld isn’t designed to support Wi-Fi Direct. We’re also seeing printers that can connect to and print from a mobile device via Near-Field Communication (NFC) by merely tapping the phone or tablet to a particular spot on the printer.

Output Quality

Printers vary significantly in output quality. You’ll want to consider output quality for text, graphics, and photos separately, since high quality for one kind of output doesn’t necessarily mean high quality for the others. Read deep-dive reviews like ours for the details.

See How We Test Printers

Speed

If almost everything you print is one or two pages long, you probably don’t need to concern yourself too much with how fast a printer is. If you output a lot of longer documents, speed is more important, which means you probably want a laser printer. As a rule, laser printers will be close to their claimed speeds for uncomplicated text documents, which don’t need much processing time.

Inkjet printers often claim faster speeds than more expensive lasers, but usually don’t live up to these claims. They have been getting faster, however, and some recent models can hold their own speed-wise against comparably priced lasers. Speedy inkjets will tend to be business-minded models; look into printers in the Canon Maxify, Epson WorkForce Pro, and HP PageWide Pro lines.

How Much Will You Print?

If you print only a few pages a day, you don’t have to worry about how much a printer is designed to print, as defined by its recommended (not maximum) monthly duty cycle. If you print enough for the duty cycle to matter, however, don’t buy a printer that doesn’t include that information in its specifications. Figure out how much you print by how often you buy paper and in what amounts. Then pick a printer that’s designed to print at least that much.

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

Cost Considerations

Finally, be sure to consider the total cost of ownership. Most manufacturers will rate 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 by the number of those pages you’ll print each year. Add these amounts 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 model will be least expensive in the long run.

For a head start on finding the right printer for your needs, check out our top picks below. We refresh the list monthly to include the newest high-rated products, but because of the large number of printers we review every year, not every top-rated product makes the cut. For the very latest reviews, and to search for more top-rated products, check out our printer product guide, as well as our favorite wireless printers, and our roundup of the best printers for Macs. You can also dig deeper—by print technology or paper type—and see our favorite inkjet, laser, and wide-format printers.