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.

FAQs: Printers

What is the printer's total cost of ownership? Certain printer models might seem like they're good value, but the initial outlay is only part of the expense of owning a printer. The ink and toner cartridges will be an ongoing expense for the life of the printer, as will paper. Ask the sales person how much the ink or toner for a printer is gong to cost to replace, and also how long it is likely to last. As for paper, plain paper is relatively inexpensive, but glossy photo paper can cost up to $1 per sheet depending on its size and quality.

How many ink cartridges should my inkjet have? An inexpensive printer might have only two cartridges, one black and one tri-colour. Tri-colour cartridges aren't always a convenient option, as you have to replace the whole thing even if one colour runs out, so in that respect a printer with individual colour cartridges may be a better option. You can buy printers with four, six or even eight individual ink cartridges; the more cartridges, the better the printer's colour output will be. But unless you are after professional results, you won't need an eight-colour printer.

Can I print on T-shirts, create banners or perform other creative tasks with the printer? Check with the sales person about this. Most inkjet printers can handle iron-on transfers so you can print your own T-shirt designs, and many can also consume banner paper, for printing out large banners on special occasions. Your printer might be able to handle many other types of paper, so find out what options are available and how much they cost.

Is this laser printer upgradeable? Laser printers have memory that helps them store big and complex jobs. Most ship with 32-256MB, but ask if you can upgrade this and also find out if you can install a hard drive or flash memory. This will allow jobs and extra fonts to be stored on the printer and it could also facilitate printing documents from a USB stick. Ask the sales person what the best options are for your needs.

Can I refill ink cartridges? You can, and there are a few companies that specialise in this field. Using ink other than the manufacturers' supplied ink on some printers can cause the ink heads to clog up, or worse. Although you might save some money by refilling or buying refilled cartridges, you could end up with a damaged printer or less than optimal results.

Is this inkjet printer suitable for business use? Just because you want a printer for your business, you don't have to buy a laser. There are some inkjet models, especially multifunction-style models, that cater to small businesses and which offer good total cost of ownership.

Can I print photos without using my PC? Yes. As long as you buy a printer that has a PictBridge port and/or memory card slots. If both your digital camera and printer support PictBridge, you can simply connect your digital camera and use its menu system to select the photos you want to print. If your printer has memory card slots, then you can plug in the camera's memory card and use the printer's LCD screen to print photos off the card directly. Some cameras, and also printers, allow you to edit the photos, too, so you can crop and adjust the colours and brightness without using an editing program on your PC.

Will my printed photos stand the test of time? This will depend on the printer you choose. Ask the sales person to show you a model that uses ink that is splash-proof and durable. Some manufacturers rate their inks and papers as lasting up to 100 years without fading and also as being able to withstand accidental spills.

What else do I need to buy in order to use my printer? Not all printers ship with printer cables; ask the sales person if a cable is included so that you can connect it to your computer as soon as you get home. Double-check to make sure that all ink cartridges are included with the printer and ask if they are 'starter' cartridges. 'Starter' cartridges don't last as long as regular cartridges, so you’ll have to replace them sooner. You might also want to stock up on plain A4 paper for printing out everyday jobs, and glossy paper for printing our photos. Try to stick with the manufacturer's branded glossy paper, as this will give you best results.

Can I use a colour laser printer to print photos? Yes. Some models do produce good photo-quality results, but most don't produce quality that's close to the definition and vibrancy of an inkjet printer. If printing photos will be your main use for a printer, then an inkjet is definitely the best way to go.

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Campbell Simpson

Campbell Simpson

PC World
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