Running a business? Look at our guide to buying a laser printer. Need an inbuilt scanner, fax or copier? Read the multifunction printer buying guide. Buying for your home or small business? Have a look over the inkjet printer buying guide. Not sure what automatic duplex, Wi-Fi sharing or a waste cartridge is? Check out our guide to understanding printer specifications.
It's inevitable that sooner or later you will need to print something from your computer. It may be photos, school reports, bank statements, concert tickets you've ordered online or office documents. A good printer can make your digital photos sparkle or your school assignments stand out from the pack.
There are many models to choose from, and they can range in price from $60 to well over $1000, depending on the features and the technology.
Choosing the right printer for your needs and workflow is an important process. For example, if you seldom use a printer, then it's not worth getting a printer that will give you the best quality and fastest performance – you could choose a budget model that is perfect for occasional print jobs.
Inkjet or laser
Technologically, there are two types of printers that you need to be familiar with: inkjet and laser. A printer with inkjet technology releases ink through thousands of tiny nozzles in order to create well-detailed images on paper. A laser printer uses ink toner (which looks like dust), and an electronic charge, which helps attract the toner particles to produce the images you see on the paper, and a fuser to 'melt' the toner to the paper and make it stick.
Inkjets can vary in price from $60 to $1500, depending on how many features you need and what level of print quality you want. They can print at a much higher resolution than laser printers, making them well-suited for photo printing too.
Generally, an inkjet printer will have at least one colour ink tank and one black ink tank, which combine to produce the colours that you see on the page, although some printers have individual tanks for each colour and might also include more than three colours. Some models designed for high quality photo printing may have six individual colour ink cartridges or more.
A laser printer is useful if you have high volume printing needs – such as in the office – as its toner can print many more pages than even the largest inkjet tanks. Laser printers are also generally faster than inkjet printers for completing large print jobs.
There are two types of laser printers: monochrome, which will only print in black and white; and colour, which will print in colour or black and white. Colour laser printers are more expensive than monochrome lasers, and are generally bigger in size too, unless you opt for a compact laser printer.
A basic monochrome laser printer can be bought for as little as $70, while a basic colour laser might cost around $150. Prices will vary greatly depending on how fast the printers are and also what type of features are installed, such as an extra paper tray or a duplex unit for printing on both sides of the paper.
Laser printers are designed for work or home office environments but some small units are available for personal use, too. Laser printers are great for printing large jobs quickly, with crystal clear text. Many lasers don't print photos well at all, so if you regularly print out only pages of text and charts, and don't mind printing your photos at a store, then a laser printer may be a good choice for you.
If you want to buy a printer, and also need a device that can scan photos and documents onto your computer, then a multifunction printer is what you should consider.
Multifunction printers are basically a standard inkjet or laser printer, but with a flatbed scanner on top, where you can place the documents you want to copy or scan into your computer. Some models also have a fax/modem built in, so they can be used as a fax machine. The benefit of a multifunction printer is that it is an all-in-one device, so you don't use much desk space, nor do you need extra power outlets and computer ports to plug it in.