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Home Printer Buying Guide: How to choose the best printer

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Supply Costs

CartridgesRemember the mantra “give away the razor, sell the blades”? That century-old business model is still alive and well in the printer business, where many companies entice consumers with unimaginably low prices on their budget printers, knowing they can milk them over and over again when it’s time to replace the ink cartridges.

Research the cost of replacement supplies before you buy any printer to know what you’re in for when the initial cartridges finally run dry. Depending on how often you plan to print, it can actually be worth it to purchase a more expensive printer in order to buy into a cheaper line of cartridges. Also, look into the possibility of refilling your own cartridges, which can cost dramatically less than buying new every time. Keep in mind though, that printer vendors now add tiny chips to their cartridges that track ink or toner life to make refilling more difficult.

printer-duplexingDuplexing (Two-Side Printing or Scanning)

One feature that’s becoming very common, and that we consider a big plus, is automatic duplexing. Duplexing refers to printing or scanning both sides of the page without requiring that you manually flip the page over. On a printer, duplexing is accomplished by printing the first side of the page, pulling the page back through the printer, flipping it over, and printing the other side.

Many all-in-one devices with an automatic document feeder (ADF) for the scanner also have duplexing, scanning both sides of the page as the document feeds through the ADF. An all-in-one without an automatic document feeder can’t duplex scan with you turning the page over on the scan glass.

Duplex scanning is a major convenience if you frequently scan two-sided pages, like those torn from a magazine. And duplex printing is almost a must these days, helping you save paper when single-side printing isn’t necessary.

NetworkingNetworking Capability

Today, nearly every printing device offers multiple connectivity options. USB has been the standard interface for years, and every computer has several USB ports (we doubt many of you are still using computers from the early 1990s, when parallel ports were the norm). Because USB is generally a short, direct connection, it requires that the printer or AIO be located near the PC or laptop. (There are some wireless routers with a USB port, which you can use to connect to a printer to enable wireless printing on a home network.)

But most new printers can now be shared by multiple devices via a network. That could be via Ethernet, where you connect a cable to the router or switch in your network. Ethernet also provides the faster connection. However, this wired setup is more common in an office environment than in the home, so few printers except those in the high-end will have an Ethernet port built-in.

More common is Wi-Fi, which has become the most popular method of home networking, and just about every new printer sold for home or small business has Wi-Fi capability. Many even offer one-button wireless setup (if the router it’s being connected to supports it), making network pairing a snap. A new option called Wi-Fi Direct lets you connect the printer to a laptop that supports it, without having to connect the printer to a network first. Wi-Fi is also used to connect many new smartphones, tablets, and digital cameras by select printers that support mobile device printing, such as Apple’s AirPrint protocol.

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