Whether it’s documents, presentations or your favourite family photos, the ability to print out what’s on your computer is pretty much essential.
But today’s printers will do more than just reproduce what is on the screen. They can also scan documents or images and photocopy and fax them too.
However, with lots of different machines on the market, ranging from £20 to more than £300, there’s a lot to think about before splashing out on ink.
Our guide below will help you decide which type of printer fits your needs the best, as well as offering a handy guide to some of the jargon you will come across when shopping for one.
What are the differences in printer types?
There are various printer types to consider once you have asked yourself ‘What do I want to print?’ and ‘How often do I want to print it?’
- Inkjet – The most common printer, which sprays drop of ink onto the paper to form words and images. The ink is cheaper but may not last as long. These are best for personal use at home.
- Laser – Works like a traditional office photocopier, using a special toner to imprint a dry image on paper with higher quality results than Inkjet. The toner is more expensive than traditional ink but lasts longer. These are best for home office or business use.
- Photo – These can either be standalone, simply for producing high-quality images, or have the same technology built into a mixed function printer, which has been optimised for the job. Standalone ones may work out more expensive per print.
- Single Function – A printer that is designed purely for text use or for printing images. These can be either Inkjet or Laser.
- Multi-Function – A printer that can do more than one thing, for example scan, copy and/or fax or also create photos. These can be either Inkjet or Laser and are also commonly known as all-in-ones.
What are all these extra functions?
While there are a few single-function printers still available, the majority on the market are multi-function. It’s worth noting though that single-function models, whether for text or pictures, often produce better quality results, simply because they have been designed for a specific purpose.
Most multi-functions now include scanning and photocopying options as standard, while some incorporate faxing, even though it is a dated technology.
What other cool features can I get?
Higher end printers often have an LCD screen or touchscreen to make controlling what they do – and scrolling through menu options -easier and far more intuitive.
Most also come with a memory card reader and/or USB slot. This allows you to print pictures without ever needing to switch the computer on. Just insert the memory device, straight from your digital camera for example, and follow the instructions on the printer’s screen.
Depending on the model of your printer, you can also do things like ‘clip printing’ to create a still from a home video, ‘duplex printing’ to use both sides of the paper and the latest HP devices even allow you to email them, printing out attachments and messages directly.
Borderless printing, as the name suggests, takes your image right up to the edge of the paper.
Should I think about a laser printer?
Often these models can be bulkier and more expensive than regular printers, but they are also faster, and create higher quality results. If you do a lot of printing they can be more cost effective than some inkjets. They are great for creating impactful documents making them better suited to businesses than individual users.
Laser printers are available both in mono (black and white) or colour and can be either single-function or multi-function.
How does the printer connect to my computer?
There are two ways. Wired printers connect to your PC or Mac via a traditional USB cable. Generally you will need to buy this separately.
Wireless printers work via your home Wi-Fi network and while slightly more expensive, have many advantages. They do not have to be next to, or even in the same room as, your computer and if you’re using different computers and laptops around the home, they can all print from it.
Apple’s AirPrint technology – allowing wireless printing from iPhones, iPads or an iPod touch – currently works with some HP ‘ePrint’ models and is expected to work with other manufacturer’s machines in the future.
Which brands are the cheapest?
When it comes to the printer itself, prices often vary more based on features and quality than the brand. But it is the cost of replacement ink cartridges you need to be most aware of.
This will be your major running cost throughout the printer’s life and it can range wildly.
One way to keep costs down is to find a printer with three single colour cartridges for the Cyan, Magenta and Yellow inks that make up the rest of the colours.
This means that when one runs out, you just have to replace it instead of replacing a combined and more expensive mixed colour cartridge. That way you’re not wasting ink that hasn’t run out and is still inside.
Some manufacturers also offer extra large cartridges, which in the long run, cost less than buying two single smaller versions.
Kodak claims to be one of the cheapest to run while Lexmark has also just released a £5 black ink cartridge, but it is only available on some models.
Is there such a thing as 3D printing?
This is an emerging technology allowing you to print 3D images from any digital camera. For example, Kodak has a function where you take two pictures, from slightly different angles, and run them through software provided with the printer.
It converts your two snaps into one 3D image and prints this out as an ‘anaglyph’, a picture that becomes 3D when viewed through glasses.
What else should I consider?
It’s always worth seeing what bundled software comes with your printer. Each brand will offer something different from photo-editing to apps. This can allow you to do things like panoramic prints, by combining images together.
Noise can be a factor also but it’s one you might not experience until after you’ve purchased the printer. So speak to friends and read reviews to get an understanding of how loud the product could be.
The speed the printer works at is defined by Pages Per Minute (PPM) and will be shown for both colour and mono options. But this is based on draft prints and is therefore not representative of the various printing modes, which could include a very fast draft version or an ultra high-quality one.
Resolution gives an idea of the highest quality available and is measured in DPI or Dots Per Inch. The greater the number, the better the quality.
Finally, always check out how many sheets of paper you can load into the printer at any one time. If you’re planning on printing regularly, a large tray, or even an additional one, will save you re-filling it constantly.
Many multi-function printers will also have a document feeder allowing you to scan or photocopy multiple pages automatically, rather than placing each one separately on the glass.
Dots Per inch (DPI)
The higher this number, the higher the quality of your final print. This is especially important when it comes to photos. It is also known as the Resolution.
A technology found on many digital cameras allowing you to plug them straight into the printer using a USB cable.