What to Consider Before Buying a New Printer

Figure out the basics before investing in a device

With so many home and office printing options available, choosing the right one for your needs can be challenging. Should you get an all-in-one (AIO), or will a single-function printer be enough? Will an inkjet printer handle your print load, or do you need a laser printer?

Whether you're shopping for a basic model to handle the occasional homework essay or online receipt, a home office unit, or a fleet of printers for your company, here are the main factors to consider before buying a printer.

This article looks at general printing categories to help you narrow your search. Check out our in-depth printer-buying information when you're ready to get specific in your printer search.

Home vs Office vs Professional

Home vs. Office vs. Home Professional

Your first job is to assess the type of 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 globally oriented 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 can be stored as compactly as possible to make room for other devices and furniture.

Printer prices can vary wildly. After you identify a printer you like, check similar models by other manufacturers to see if there's a big cost difference.

Inkjet vs. Laser

In general, there are two main printer categories: inkjet and laser.

Inkjet Printers

Inkjet printers use cartridges of black or cyan, magenta, and yellow ink to print documents and photos. 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.

Inside an inkjet printer
frankieleon / CC BY 2.0 / Flickr

Laser Printers

Laser printers use toner cartridges and a complicated drum set up 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 couple of 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. 

Document vs. Photo Printing

Both inkjet and laser printers print high-quality documents and photos. If you want to create stunning, true-to-life photos and art, buy a dedicated photo printer. Photo printers use specialized inks and high-gloss photo paper to make lab-quality prints of your images. 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, especially, tend to use a lot of ink when creating a document. If you print a photo with an inkjet printer, you run the risk of smudging and ink bleeding due to long drying times. Laser printer toner doesn't get the same amount of rich color saturation. While it's possible to print in color toner, laser printers are better suited for tasks like printing visual aids for meetings.

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

All-in-One vs. Single-Function

All-in-one printers, also known as multifunction printers (MFPs), 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 quickly create and send reports and images. These printers are also great for artists who work with traditional media and digital art programs. For example, sketch and draw on paper, then scan the image into your favorite program to do line art and coloring.

Single-function printers do only one thing, print. Single-function models are ideal if you have school-aged children who need 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

Mobile Printers

Consider if you'll need to print on-the-go. Mobile printers are lightweight and compact. 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 is great 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, print last-minute papers in your car and be ready before class.