How to choose the best home printer

There are hundreds of different printers to choose from. Because of huge competition in the market from the likes of HP, Canon, Epson and other brands, you can take home a good, reliable printer for less than £50.

So, whether you need to print out concert tickets, university projects or precious photos of your kids, there are lots of printers available which will do a great job without you having to take out a bank loan first! In fact, the choice can be extremely confusing, and convoluted terms can also complicate the process. We’ve put together a simple guide for buying the perfect home printer, and we’ll break down the jargon to make your experience even better!

Which is the best home printer – Inkjet or laser?

How much will you be printing? That’s always the first question you should ask yourself. If you’re going to be printing out documents virtually every day, as opposed to the odd page here and there, this will determine the type of printer you need. There are basically two types of printers to consider. Colour Inkjet printers are the most popular as they can print more or less anything to a high standard, from photos to essays. Inkjet printers have come on in leaps and bounds over the last few years, and the modern all-in-ones are fast. They often have print speeds which can match those of ‘better’ laser printers.

Laser printers are popular in busy office environments and are perfect for monochrome printing. The price of monochrome laser printers has come down a lot in recent years and they are now affordable and really good value. They offer good print speeds and generally provide lower-cost prints than a colour inkjet printer.

When you’re thinking about the best home printer the decision you have to make is: Do you give up the flexibility which a colour inkjet printer provides? Colour laser printers are another option to consider but you have to bear in mind that the cost-per-page is generally higher than a colour inkjet.

Laser printers have traditionally been more cost effective, having higher page yield per cartridge than an inkjet printer – but that’s now changing. Some of the newer inkjet printers can deliver up to 10,000 pages from a single monochrome ink cartridge, and upwards of 7,000 pages from a colour cartridge. This means printing works out at a much lower cost per page. So it’s definitely worth thinking about if you need to print decent amounts on a regular basis.

What is a multifunction printer?

This is a printer which can scan, fax and print. These are known as “all-in-ones” and are available in both inkjet and laser models.

If you’re working from home, then a multifunction printer makes sense, as buying one will be much cheaper than opting for a separate scanner. It will save you money and won’t take up extra space. As all-in-ones are now really commonplace, they are extremely competitively priced (and so you can pick one up for less than £50). These are highly recommended for home users as they are convenient and excellent value.

Having a scanner on hand as part of your printer combo is particularly useful, as it means you can scan documents directly to your computer. Faxing has largely faded away, and is probably still only used in an office environment, so the added value of the included fax isn’t great.

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Photo printers

If you’re a fan of preserving your family photographs on paper rather than keeping them on your laptop or mobile, then it may be that a photo printer is for you. Photo printers are single function, which means you can’t print off homework assignments or documents – it’s photographs only! Of course, this means that they lack flexibility – but the plus side is that the quality of the prints they produce is extremely high. The cost of the prints though, will be higher with a photo printer than using an inkjet printer.

Many printers which are specifically for photo or graphic use tend to only be capable of producing prints that measure 6 x 4 inches. But there are wide format photo printers available which can print up to 24 inches wide. You have to bear in mind that dedicated photo printers are more expensive to run than the average multifunction printer. Epson and Canon both have machines which print 8.5 inches x 11 inches and can produce prints of a very high quality. It’s also worth considering getting an all-in-one printer for your photo printing, as they can also handle 8.5 x 11 inch prints.

Speed and resolution

PPM: This means “pages per minute”. This tells you roughly how many pages can be printed per minute (of course, this figure also depends on how much text features on the page). Some printers provide two ppms – one for black-and-white, one for colour. If you’re looking for a home printer, then the time issue of print-per-page is not usually a factor. Average black-and-white ppm is around 15-20 pages, whilst colour ppm is usually between 10-15 ppm.

DPI: This means “dots per inch”. It refers to how many dots of ink the printer applies to a single square inch of paper. This information is useful if you want to check how good a printer is regarding capability of high-resolution printing.

Duty Cycle: This refers to the number of pages per month your printer can reasonably handle. Your own expected number of pages per month should be well below this number. If you go over the duty cycle number, the printer will possibly experience more wear and tear. In most cases, a home printer won’t be put under such pressure.

These specs can be used to compare one device with another. However, if you’re looking for other features from a printer, they will just be a part of your decision.

Supply costs

Many companies are still selling their printers incredibly cheaply, making their profits with the regular and necessary supplying of ink. But the cheapest doesn’t always mean it’s the best home printer. It’s important to research the cost of replacement ink and supplies before you buy the printer you fancy. Sometimes it can be worth buying a more expensive printer if the cartridges are cheaper for that model. It is also a good idea to check out the costs of refilling your own cartridges which can cost much less than buying new cartridges every time. The possible downside is that some manufacturers now add tiny chips to their cartridges which track the life of ink and toner to make refilling more difficult.

It is always worth checking out brand new models and ink plans. HP has an Instant Ink program which automatically sends you cartridges when your ink gets low, promising a fixed number of pages for a fixed monthly fee. This program has been incredibly successful and is worth looking into, as it can provide you with large savings. Both Canon and Epson offer “ink tank” where they will supply you with small bottles of ink, which is very economical. Check out all the options available to make sure you get the best deal and enjoy regular savings.

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Duplexing (two-sided printing or scanning)

There is also something called automatic duplexing, which is worth considering. This is where both sides of a page are scanned or printed on, without you manually having to flip the page over. This has become very common and has resulted in increased sales for the machines that have this convenient function. If you regularly have the need to scan two-sided pages (such as magazine articles) then duplex printing is a no-brainer, and it also helps you save paper.

Networking capability

Pretty much every printer these days offers multiple connectivity options. With USB generally being a short, direct connection, the printer needs to be located near the laptop or PC. However, wireless is commonplace now, and there are routers with USB ports which you can use to connect to your printer. Wireless printing on your home network provides total convenience.

Virtually all printers today can be shared by multiple devices via a network. This could be via the Ethernet, where a cable is connected to your router. Using the Ethernet gives you a faster connection so is worth considering. This wired set-up is probably more suitable in an office than it would be in your home, so not many cheaper models have a built-in Ethernet port.

The most popular method of home working is Wi-Fi and virtually all new printers have Wi-Fi capability. There are different connectivity options such as Wi-Fi Direct which enables you to connect your printer directly to a device, like the Apple AirPrint system for example. You can also connect to a smartphone or tablet. All these relatively new developments enable you to print remotely.

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Memory card slots and more

If you’re the sort of person who prints out photos then it would be beneficial to get yourself a printer with built-in memory slots and Bluetooth capabilities. These will mean you can print photos from your camera or smart device without you having to go through the process of transferring them to your computer first. It’s an easy process to take a memory card from your camera and put it into a slot in your printer. There are also printers on the market which have a multi-format card reader, whilst others support a Secure Digital (SD) option.

What is PictBridge?

Cameras which are PictBridge-enabled can be plugged directly into a printer with a standard USB cable. Your printer, of course, must be equipped with a PictBridge-capable USB port. If you get yourself a printer with cloud-based connectivity, you can send photos straight from Google Cloud Print, Dropbox and other internet-based services. Despite the convenience factor of these features, it may be that you still want to transfer your photos on to your computer so that you can examine them on a large screen before you actually print them.

These days there are lots of printers on the market which allow you access to photos stored on Facebook, Flickr, Google Drive and Dropbox. Of course, to use these options, your printer will have to be connected to the internet. That also applies if you want to print remotely from devices such as your smartphone.

Paper handling

Many newer printer models have dedicated feed trays, which means you are not limited to printing on just A4 paper. You can also print onto envelopes, index cards and speciality papers. They also have an input tray which can handle various volumes of paper. There are trays which require you to add paper over and over, but there are others which can take up to 250 pages at a time. A few models have the facility to double the paper capacity, so you won’t have to refill the paper tray as often.

Printers for the paperless home

No matter how much you may want to be a paperless home, there are always those times when you might need to scan something or print out the occasional document. If you are trying to cut down to the bare minimum then you need to go for a smaller, compact printer which won’t take up much space. There are several compact printers which are designed to work from your phone or laptop and can fit almost anywhere.

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