6 Things to Consider Before Buying a New Printer

Figure out the basics before investing in a device

Printers are crucial for personal and office functions. However, choosing the right one for your needs can be challenging with so many home and office printing options. This buying guide will help you decide which printer to buy based on your needs, budget, and lifestyle.

Home vs Office vs Professional

6 Things to Consider Before Buying a Printer

You must evaluate a few key factors before deciding on the right printer. As you shop around, you'll see that printers come in various sizes, prices, and form factors with varying price points. Your specific needs will dictate the printer you buy.

Here are the key areas to consider before investing in a new printer:

  • How much will you spend?
  • What are your printing needs?
  • Do you need a basic single-function printer?
  • Do you need to copy, scan, and fax?
  • Do you need a specialized photo printer?
  • Do you need to print on the go?

How Much Should You Spend?

Printers come in a wide assortment of prices, so evaluating your needs and buying a printer with the necessary features is essential. You'll also need to consider operating costs when you buy a printer. For example, you may need to purchase ink cartridges or laser toner.

Here's an idea of what you can expect.

Price Range What You Can Expect
> $100 For this price, you'll likely get an inkjet printer. Most will copy and scan as well. These printers are usually ideal for one to five users, use regular photo paper, have a resolution of around 4800 x 600 dpi, and print at about 8 ipm (B&W) and 4 ipm (color).
$100 - $150 You'll find inkjet and some photo printers in this range. You may also find some lower-level laser printers, although they will probably print only black and white. A typical inkjet printer in this range will have all-in-one capabilities, print speeds of up to 14 ppm, and print resolution up to 4800 x 1200 dpi.
$150 - $250 A typical laser printer in this range will feature built-in Wi-Fi, print speeds of up to 36 ppm, and a print resolution of up to 2400 x 600. A typical inkjet printer in this range will feature all-in-one capabilities, print speed up to 20 ppm, and up to 4800 x 1200 dpi resolution.
$250 - $500 Features will vary widely. You may see an inkjet color all-in-one with wide-format capabilities, 25 ppm speeds, and up to 4800 x 2400 optimized dpi resolution. A laser printer in this category may offer mobile and cloud-based printing, 40 ppm speeds, touchscreens, and energy efficiency.
$500 + You'll begin seeing printers with more enterprise-friendly features, such as color laser multifunction printers with automatic duplex capabilities, networking features, and more.

After you identify a printer you like, check similar models by other manufacturers to see if there's a significant cost difference.

What Are Your Printing Needs?

Your first job is to assess the workload you'll need a printer to handle. Some printers can print thousands, or even tens of thousands, of pages in a month. These office-style printers work well for small businesses and global offices.

If you're a home-based professional or a student, you may need a printer that handles a light workload, such as monthly expense reports, term papers, and other simple documents. If you plan to use a printer sparingly, look for a printer with a small loading tray that you can store as compactly as possible to make room for other devices and furniture.

Consider these factors if your business needs networking functionality, multifunction capabilities, and fast page-per-minute speeds.

Do You Need a Basic Single-Function Printer?

Single-function printers do only one thing: print. Single-function models are ideal for children to write and print essays or other assignments. These printers are also perfect if you occasionally print documents, such as online shopping receipts and confirmation emails for personal records. Single-function models tend to have smaller loading tray capacities, lower-volume printing capabilities, and an attractive price when you need to print on a budget.

Single-function printer with a small form factor

Do You Need to Copy, Scan, and Fax?

Consider an all-in-one printer if you need your printer to do double or triple-duty. All-in-one or multifunction printers (MFPs) can print, copy, scan, and fax. These printers are great for small businesses, home-based professionals, students, and larger offices. Consider an MFP if you handle multiple document types and projects and need a way to create and send reports and images quickly.

These printers are also great for artists using traditional media and digital art programs. For example, sketch and draw on paper, then scan the image into your favorite program for line art and coloring.

Do You Need to Print on the Go?

Mobile printers are lightweight and compact, and some have built-in batteries for printing on the go. Most models fit into a backpack or laptop bag for travel. Mobile printers also connect to mobile devices and laptops using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth for printing with or without an internet connection. This feature is excellent for professional contractors who travel to places that don't have a reliable network connection.

Mobile printers are also a good choice for commuter college students. These printers can print essays or other assignments when students don't have access to (or time to run to) the on-campus computer labs. With a compact, mobile printer, you can print last-minute papers in your car and be ready before class.

Do You Need a Specialized Photo Printer?

While you can print photos with other printers, consider a dedicated photo printer to create stunning, true-to-life images and art. Photo printers use specialized inks and high-gloss photo paper to make lab-quality prints. Some connect to your social media accounts, such as Facebook and Instagram, to print candid shots.

Inkjet and laser printers are best suited for printing documents. Inkjet printers use a lot of ink, and you risk smudging and ink bleeding due to long drying times if you print a photo with an inkjet printer. Laser printer toner doesn't get the same amount of rich color saturation and is better suited for tasks like printing visual aids for meetings.

Inkjet vs. Laser Printers

The two primary printer categories are inkjet and laser.

Inkjet Printers

Inkjet printers print documents and photos using black or cyan, magenta, and yellow ink cartridges. You'll likely use an inkjet printer in your home or dorm because these printers are affordable and easy to set up. Inkjet printers print high-quality photos using pigment-based inks and print higher concentrations of color than other printer types.

The type of paper you use for inkjet printing also affects ink smudging and bleeding.

Inside an inkjet printer
frankieleon / CC BY 2.0 / Flickr

Laser Printers

Laser printers use toner cartridges and a complicated drum setup that fuses the toner to paper to produce documents. Toner cartridges handle larger workloads than ink cartridges and are better suited for office settings.

cartridges of toner for laser printers
antpkr / Getty Images

Inkjet and Laser Printer Costs

Consider printing costs when choosing between inkjet and laser printers. Laser printers are expensive, and so are toner cartridges. However, the toner can last up to a year, depending on the workload.

Inkjet printers are more affordable, as are ink cartridges. The tradeoff is that the cartridges hold a small amount of ink and last a few months under light workloads.

Ink cartridges are prone to clogging if not used often. Dried ink can congeal on the print heads, causing error messages, frustration, and blotchy documents or photos. 

Who Should Buy Which Printer Type?

There are no hard-and-fast rules about what printer type you should buy. However, some typical buyers for the various printer categories include the following:

  • Inkjet printers. Inkjet printers are ideal for several category types. Low-end to mid-range inkjet printers are excellent for families, home offices, and small offices. Most of these will have multifunction capabilities for your scanning and faxing needs. Higher-end (around $1,000) inkjets are well-suited to small businesses and workgroups, especially with unlimited free ink deals.
  • Laser printers. Since laser printers can output extensive amounts of monochrome and color documents for multiple users, they're better suited to office and enterprise use. Higher-end models feature comprehensive functions, including collating, stapling, printing from USB, printing and scanning via cloud-based apps, and more. However, home office users may also prefer lower-end laser printers for their quality and features.
  • Photo printers. Dedicated photo printers are the purview of professional photographers and graphic artists. A high-end photo printer is likely $1,000 or more and features paper rolls and wider paper options.

What Should I Do After Buying a Printer?

After buying your new printer, you'll need to:

  • Set it up. Set up the printer according to manufacturer instructions, printer type, and location, and connect it to your network via Ethernet or Wi-Fi.
  • Purchase necessary accessories. You should stock up on inkjet cartridges, laser toner, and various paper types for different functions.
  • What should I do if the inkjet printer's output is streaked?

    If you’re experiencing inkjet printer output streaking, try cleaning the inkjet printheads. On a Windows PC, go to Control Panel > Hardware and Sound > Devices and Printers. Right-click your device > Properties > Maintenance > Clean Heads, and follow the instructions. On a Mac, go to System Preferences > Printers > Options and Supplies > Utilities.

  • How do I make decals with an inkjet printer?

    To make decals on an inkjet printer, purchase waterslide decal transfer paper. Print the image onto the specialized paper. If it’s clear paper, use a craft knife to carefully cut a quarter-inch border around the decal. If it’s white paper, there’s no need to cut a border. Place the decal in a bowl of water until you can slide it easily between two fingers.

  • What is a monochrome laser printer?

    A monochrome laser printer is a laser printer that can print only in black and white. They are more economical than color laser printers, making them a laser printer option for home or home office use.

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