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Printers: buyers' guide

The digital era has revolutionized the way we transfer and store information but sometimes only a hard copy will suffice.

If you’ve begun to look online for a printer your perfect make and model and narrow down your options but you’re feeling a little bewildered, don’t worry; we’re here to lend you a guiding hand. Have a read through our buyers' guide and get to grips with printers' features and specs before heading over to our shopping pages. 

Once you start getting a better idea of which printer may be a good option for you, and which features are important to you - from style, options and special features - you’re in a good position to compare prices and look through printer reviews

So, whether you’re a student looking to print essays on a cheap printer, a businessman who wants a printer with high-end specs to print reports and charts, or you simply want to print off some photos on a dedicated printer, your ideal printer is just a click away. 

Laser vs Inkjet

Inkjet printers are usually considered the best option for home printing; they can print photos, graphics and text in colour but can also print in black and white to save on running costs. Standard inkjet printers are ideal if you’re looking for a cheap printer for straightforward document printing. 

Inkjet printers make up the bulk of printer sales as they are generally regarded as an ‘all-rounder’ with the ability to print pretty much anything, from photos and essays to charts and diagrams. Inkjet printers can be slower and more expensive to run and text is often not as sharp as on a laser printer.

Best for:

  • Home use
  • Printing images
  • Versatility

Laser printers excel at printing text and multiple sheets and tend to be quicker than standard inkjet models but they can be bulky, heavy and noisy when printing. On the plus side, laser printers can be relatively cheap to run – with toner costing as little as 1p per A4 sheet, as opposed to Inkjets’ 2-5p. 

Drawbacks with some laser printers include not being able to print on photographic paper – meaning it’s not the best option for printing photographs - and not having auto-duplex, where the printer automatically prints on both sides of the paper. Laser printers can be set to print in both colour and black and white, with colour laser printers often significantly more expensive than monochrome printers.

Best for:

  • Office use
  • High-speed or high-volume printing
  • Printing text

Photo printers

A dedicated photo printer can be great if you plan on printing photo-quality images at the click of the button. Photo printers are usually nifty and space-saving, with print-outs that are dry to the touch as soon as they come off the printer. Costs can be very high and the printer lacks versatility, so bear this in mind when comparing features.

Best for:

  • Photo printing

All in one printers

All-in-one printers have all bases covered: scanning, printing, faxing and photocopying. Modern designs have wifi or web-enabled technology, meaning you can print specific documents directly from the web without the need to use your computer. Many also have an SD card slot, meaning you can print directly from a camera, and editing options so that you can remove red-eye and imperfections directly from the printer. 

All-in-one printers can be bulky and heavy so think carefully if you’re short on space or need a printer that’s easy to transport.

Best for:

  • Covering all bases

Compact printers

A compact printer is the next generation of printer. These printers differ from traditional models as they don’t use ink cartridges, instead printing using dye sublimation. Compact printers are smaller than traditional model and produce high quality photos but this comes at a high cost: printing packs are costly.

Best for:

  • Space saving

Colour vs. Black and white printers

A monochrome printer is a cheap alternative if you’re looking to mostly print text documents such as essays or reports. A black and white printer can be great if you’re on a budget and looking for a cheap printer that’s reliable. A traditional, monochrome laser model would be your best bet in this instance.

If you’re likely to need to print in colour shop for an inkje colour printer as this will deliver the best results for you.

Features to consider when comparing printers

Wifi/Bluetooth printers

Wireless printers use wifi or Bluetooth to set up a network, meaning you can print from multiple devices in a space – you don’t even need to be in the same room. Most wireless printers have a screen with step-by-step instructions on setting up the wireless connection when you turn on the printer.

Duplex printing 

Duplex printing allows you to automatically print on both sides of paper, saving you money. This is a great option for both office and home and is an ideal way of driving down costs.

Paper handling

If you’re looking to be able to print onto envelopes or cards look for a printer with a specific feed tray for different kinds of paper. Also consider the size of the tray if you print a high volume of documents; tray size can make the difference between reloading daily or monthly.

TCO

Total Cost of Ownership (that is, cost of ink and toner) is likely to be your biggest expense when investing in a printer. Costs vary from printer and manufacturer but as a general rule high yield ink cartridges can help keep costs down, as can separate inks for individual colours. For an estimate of cost of running add together the price of all ink and divide by the number of pages that can be printed. 

Look into refilling your empty ink cartridges to save on costs, and it may even be worth considering a more expensive printer if it means you can then get cheaper ink cartridges.

Resolution

Resolution refers to the number of dots per inch (dpi) – or occasionally lines per inch (lpi) - that can be printed horizontally and vertically. In general, a printer with a higher resolution will produce crisper and clearer results. This may be especially important when shopping for a printer that will produce the best images.

A resolution of around 1200 x 1600 dpi is around the average resolution for a printer.

Networking

A printer with inbuilt networking will allow the printer to be used by multiple computers in a home or an office. If you have a home network a printer’s networking capabilities should be something you bear in mind when selecting your perfect model. A printer with inbuilt wi fi for networking is so convenient and means no cables or having to switch computers every time you need to print.

What next?

Now you're up to speed with the latest printer specs, refine your search further on our shopping pages with the settings and filters in the left column. By narrowing down type, features and settings you can begin to compare models and styles. Select keywords or choose your budget to make sure you’re getting the best printer to match your, or your business’, needs. 

When you find an offer or deal that takes your fancy click the deal and you'll be transferred to the website of an indeoendent retailer where you can click and buy. Compare online retailers’ delivery options and costs before you buy, and be sure to check out reviews of the best printers you’ve shortlisted. Then all that’s left to do is click and buy.

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