A high-quality printer can be a multifunctional tool for professionals and students alike. Whether you only print photos and documents occasionally or your office sees a lot of high-volume print jobs, you can find office tools that will fit your situation. Our printer buying guide will help you know just what to look for in a great printer for your home or office.
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Choosing a Printer
For the home user, it’s beneficial to have a printer that can handle everything from homework to stationery to photos. Built-in memory card readers and Wi-Fi capability are great features for easy sharing.
For a Small Business or Home Office
From scanning documents and faxing invoices to printing color-rich brochures, an all-in-one inkjet printer can juggle the demands of a business. If you use multiple devices to handle your business matters, a printer that features mobile printing capabilities might be a good idea for getting work done when you’re on the go or out of the office. Or, consider a printer that can handle wide-format printing for creating large-scale documents, such as posters, flyers or spreadsheets for a presentation.
For the Photographer
For photos that rival what you’d get from mail-order service, look for a dedicated photo printer. These printers allow you the convenience of printing photos whenever you want, right from your home.
For the Student
For printing term papers or your thesis, an inkjet laser printer is equipped to crank out pages of crisp text and detailed images. Dedicated apps are perfect for sending documents to your home printer, even if you’re at the library, class or a study session. And Wi-Fi allows multiple users to share the same printer.
Features to Consider
Wi-Fi printing is a handy feature if you want to share your printer between multiple computers. In some ways, it’s similar to wired USB printing as it requires you to install appropriate printer drivers on your computer before you can print to it. By connecting over a wireless network, your printer is available to other computers and devices with the appropriate driver. This type of connection is great for a home with more than one computer or a small business.
Typically, both inkjet and laser printers print on letter- and legal-size paper, and have input and output trays that can hold at least 100 sheets of paper. Printers with multiple paper trays can hold a lot more pages, which will help reduce how often you’ll have to refill the trays.
There are a couple of ways that printers can move paper through the feed. Some draw the paper from the front of the printer using rubber rollers to guide the paper out of the tray and through the printer. Top-load printers, on the other hand, use gravity to move the paper down through the feeder and out the front of the printer, which is a good choice if you know you’ll be printing on stiff media or other types of paper that can’t be bent.
Duplex printing is both a time and paper saver because of its ability to print on both sides of a page. Printers that provide duplex printing will often use a reversing automatic document feeder, which allows for duplex scanning and then prints double-sided pages without you having to turn the paper over and refeed it into the machine.
When shopping for a printer, you may see some terms that indicate output speed. PPM (pages per minute), sometimes referred to as CPM (copies per minute), determines how many pages per minute your printer can push out. The higher the number of pages, the faster the printer can print or copy your document. If you’re shopping for a photo printer, you’ll see the term IPM (images per minute), which goes by the same principle.
Touch-screen LCDs make it easy to navigate your printer and quickly input data such as the number of pages you want to print, the e-mail address you want to send a scan to, or the paper tray you want to use.
It can be a hassle to transfer your photos onto your computer just to make a few prints. With PictBridge, you can print photos directly from a digital camera without needing to upload them to your PC or laptop first. Simply plug your camera into your printer using a USB cable and select the photos you’d like to print.
Built-in Memory Card Reader
You can also look for a printer with a built-in memory card reader that supports formats like Secure Digital, MultiMediaCard or Memory Stick Duo. This allows you to easily access and, with some printers, edit your photos all without using a computer
- Inkjet printers
- All-in-one inkjet printers
These workhorses are built to print large volumes quickly and at a low cost per page. Like copy machines, laser printers use static electricity and toner (powder) rather than ink to transfer images and text onto paper. While high print speeds and cost efficiency are the biggest advantages of laser printers, there are other benefits as well. Because the toner is already dry, you won’t have to wait for it to dry and it won’t smudge on your paper. And, if you’re looking for convenience and versatility, an all-in-one laser printer is a great option.
- Laser printers
- All-in-one laser printers
Specialty photo printers are designed to produce high-quality photos that rival what you would get from a professional printing service, at a comparable or lower cost. One of the biggest benefits of a photo printer is the convenience of printing photos immediately, without the hassle of making a trip to the store or waiting for them to arrive in the mail.
Photo printers allow you to print directly from a compatible digital camera via PictBridge (a special type of USB connection), and some models also accept CompactFlash or SD cards, or memory sticks. Many even let you perform editing right from the printer, such as cropping, red-eye removal and more.
From printing 4″ x 6″ photos to holiday cards, pictures for scrapbooking, CD and DVD covers and much more, a photo printer can help you explore your creative side.
3D printers do just as the name suggests: they print in 3D. Using materials such as plastic, resin, or powder, a 3D printer melts the material and releases it into thin layers that stack on top of each other to build a 3D printout. No longer just a tool of the future, 3D printers have become more accessible to anyone from creative professionals to the average consumer. From kitchen gadgets to custom toys, you can watch your designs come to life with a 3D printer.
Many printers use three ink colors — cyan, magenta and yellow, or CMY — for printing in color. Oftentimes, these printers use a tricolor ink cartridge (sometimes called ink tanks) and a separate black ink cartridge for monochrome printing. Others add black to create a four-color model, CMYK, for producing high-contrast images.
It’s helpful to think about the replacement costs when you’re choosing a printer and how much you’ll be printing on average. If it’s a color printer, does it accept individual ink cartridges? If it accepts only tricolor cartridges, you’ll need to replace the whole cartridge when just one color runs out. On the other hand, this might not be an issue if you plan to use your printer primarily for black-and-white printouts.