How to choose a printer
There are more printers available, at a wider range of prices than ever before. Here’s what you should consider when trying to choose the right one for you
Inkjet or laser?
Laser printers want to convince us that they’re as home-friendly as their inkjet counterparts, while some inkjets are as fast as laser printer. So which of these very different animals is right for you? Laser printer toner cartridges last several thousand pages but cost a fortune. Color models tend to slowly use up the color toners even if you only print black, then refuse to print at all when any of them is empty. This makes color lasers awkward if you only print occasionally, and even for higher volumes they don’t necessarily work out cheaper to run than inkjet to run. They do offer crisper text and solid color graphics, but aren’t great for photos.
For most of us an inkjet is the best choice, or a budget mono laser for black only.
It’s more common than ever to find printers with a scanner stuck on top.
There are differences in quality and speed between scanners, so always read our reviews. For everyday occasional photocopying and digitizing paper documents, any ‘multi-function printer’ (MFP) should be fine. A few models still support faxing.
Most printers can accommodate 250 A4 sheets in their main tray, but others only fit 100 (sometimes in a vertical hopper on top, which isn’t as neat). Many MFPs now have an automatic document feeder (ADF, see image above right) for the scanner, typically taking 25 sheets, which is great for multi-page copies. It’s rarer to find a ‘straight-through’ rear paper feed, which avoids the need for thick card to wrap around rollers, so most printers are limited to about 300gsm (grams per square meter) paper. A few A4 printers, notably made by Brother, can print single sheets of A3, but full A3 and larger printers are much pricier.
Laser and inkjet printers have things in common, but are very different animals
A printer can connect to a PC via a USB cable; to a PC or router via an Ethernet cable (meaning you can share it with other devices on your network); or to PCs and mobile devices via built-in Wi-Fi.
Most Wi-Fi models support AirPrint (Apple’s technology that allows printing from iOS apps) and Mopria (for compatible Android apps). A few rely on the printer manufacturer’s own app, which will also let you scan pages from an MFP to your phone or tablet.
The Xerox Phaser 6022V color laser printer, but a full set of refills is well over.
Until all printers fill up from bottles like Epson’s EcoTank, cartridges will remain pricey
Ink and toner costs Our reviews always work out the cost per page for you based on current prices for official ink or toner cartridges. Roughly, expect around 2.5-4p for black text or 7-10p for color. These figures are useful for comparison, but the industry standard definition of a ‘page’ assumes there’s not much on it, so in fact a fullpage photo could use dozens of pages’ worth of ink or toner. Printers also waste ink/toner in maintenance tasks.
Larger ‘XL’ cartridges save money.
Tank systems such as Epson’s EcoTank can work out even cheaper, as well as creating less waste. With HP’s Instant Ink option you pay a monthly fee and ink arrives in the post whenever you’re running low, but to be sure of saving money you’ll need a clear idea of how many pages you’re likely to print.
Unofficial ‘compatible’ cartridges often work fine, and can save money.
But printer manufacturers hate you using them, so expect your printer to harangue you about using an unapproved cartridge. Heavy users of color laser printers, for example, can easily save hundreds of pounds by finding a reliable brand of compatible toner.
MULTIFUNCTION CENTRE BUYER’S CHECKLIST
WHAT YOU NEED TO KEEP AN EYE ON WHEN SHOPPING FOR A MULTIFUNCTION PRINTER.
An automatic document feed, which typically sits on the top lid of the printer, saves a lot of time for scanning and printing documents that are more than one page. Even better if it supports two-sided scanning and printing.
There are certain industries where faxes are required as a legality for transmitting certain types of information electronically.
As such, several MFCs designed for work use continue to offer this function.
Wi-Fi is pretty much standard on a modern MFC, but it’s also worth checking whether mobile device printing is supported for iOS and Android. Other things to look for are support for connecting USB drives, an SD card slot and Ethernet.
USB CABLE IN THE BOX
If you don’t have a wireless network to connect the printer to, you may need to revert to an old-school wired connection, in which case, it’s worth checking whether a USB cable Is Included. Alternatively, some printers support Wireless Direct, which allows fora wireless connection without a Wi-Fi network.
Check whether each colour (black, cyan, magenta and yellow) has its own separate ink cartridge, otherwise you’ll have to buy a whole new pack every time a single colour runs out.
The speed specs listed for printers typically use the ‘fast and dirty’ draft quality, which is why they’re typically a lot faster than what you can achieve day-to-day using the normal print quality.
MFCs can balloon in size due to all of the functions they combine, so you’ll need to factor this size in when purchasing – will you have enough space to house it in your home office or workspace?
If you use one of the main cloud services for file storage such as Google Drive, Dropbox or OneDrive, it’s worth checking whether the MFC can print and/or scan directly to these services.