Buying a printer: how to choose the best printer for home or business

We show you how to pick the best printer for your home or for your small business, whether it's an inkjet or a laser printer

This printer buying guide covers inkjet printers and laser printers, as well as multifunction devices like scanners, copiers and faxes.

This printer buying guide covers inkjet printers and laser printers, as well as multifunction devices like scanners, copiers and faxes.

Ink cartridge costs

The cost of the ink cartridges for your printer is an important buying factor, and inkjet printers can quickly churn through a lot of ink. Before buying a printer, find out how many ink cartridges it will need, and how much they will cost. If you're buying a printer with individual ink tanks for each colour, then expect to pay around $20 for each cartridge. Cartridges for photo printers, which use high quality pigment inks, can cost $30 or more each.

If you mainly print office documents that use few colours, then your ink cartridges will last longer than if you are printing plenty of 6x4in photos. Most inexpensive printers use one black and one tri-colour cartridge, so if one colour in the tri-colour cartridge runs out, you have to replace the whole cartridge. Printers with individual cartridges have an advantage here, as you can replace each colour as it runs out.

If buying a laser printer, you need to find out how much the toner cartridges cost, and if other parts may need replacing over time, for example the drum unit or a waste bottle. Calculate how much you'll print each month, and what types of documents, and buy a printer that will fit those needs. The printer’s duty cycle is a rating that tells you how many pages the printer can print during the month without breaking down.

Connections

Most home printers connect to a computer (either your desktop or notebook) using a USB connection. Office devices generally have a USB connection and an Ethernet wired network port – this allows them to be connected to a network and shared with multiple computers simultaneously. Models with wireless networking also exist for home use. Other features to look for on inkjet printers include Bluetooth, which allows you to print photos off your mobile phone; PictBridge, so you can plug your digital camera into the printer and print photos off it directly; and memory card slots, which allow you to insert the memory card from your camera into the printer and directly print photos. Another feature to consider is a USB slot that allows you to print documents directly off a USB device.

Shopping Checklist: Printers

Inkjet printer An inkjet is the most convenient printer type for a household as it's small, relatively inexpensive and can print out regular documents as well as photos. This is what you should buy if all you need is something that will print the odd photo as well as Web pages and office-type documents.

Multifunction device Go for a multifunction device if you also want to be able to make photocopies or if you want to scan old photos and documents into your computer. Consider a model with memory card slots if you'll be printing photos; get one with a fax/modem built into it if you want to be able to send and receive faxes with it.

Laser printer Laser printers are ideal for office environments where many pages will be printed every day. Look for a monochrome laser printer if you'll only be printing basic documents, but if colour output of graphs is required then consider getting a colour laser printer.

Ports and slots Make sure your printer has all the necessary ports and slots that you want to use. For example, look for memory card slots that suit the type of memory card that your camera uses, so you can then simply plug the card into the printer to print off your photos.

Connectivity You'll need a printer with a USB port so that you can connect your printer to your computer. If you have a network in your home or office, you can also choose to buy a printer with a built-in Ethernet network adapter. This will make it easier to share the printer with multiple computers.

Individual ink cartridges An inkjet printer with individual ink cartridges for each colour makes sense because you can replenish each colour as it runs out. With a tri-colour cartridge, you will have to replace the whole thing when the cyan colour runs out, for example, even if there is still some yellow and magenta available.

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Campbell Simpson

Campbell Simpson

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