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Home Printer Buying Guide: How to choose the best printer

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PictBridgeMemory Card Slots, PictBridge, and the Cloud

If you plan to print a lot of photos, consider a printer with built-in memory slots, Bluetooth capability (although this is becoming rare), PictBridge, or cloud-based support. All will allow you to print photos directly from a camera or smart device, rather than transferring them to a computer and printing from there. Memory cards can be popped out of the camera and into a slot on the printer (some printers have a multi-format card reader, while some offer support SD – the most popular).

PictBridge-enabled cameras can be plugged into a printer with the same USB cable you might use to connect to a PC (if the printer is equipped with a PictBridge-capable USB port) while cloud-based connectivity allows you to send photos sans cables, directly from the Internet (such as Google Cloud Print, Dropbox, etc.). Just don’t overestimate the usefulness of these convenience features: Still, you may want to transfer your photos over to a computer to empty the memory card anyway, and most photographers will want to examine their prints on a bigger screen before printing them.

Many full-featured printers, particularly AIOs, now offer Internet-based features that let you access photos stored on sites like Facebook, Flickr, Dropbox, and Google Drive, as well as remote printing and access to arts and crafts you can print out. Keep in mind that if your printer isn’t connected to the Internet, you won’t be able to access said services or print to it remotely from devices like a smartphone or tablet.

Paper TrayPaper Handling

Every printer will feed on a fat stack of 8.5 x 11 copy paper, but what about legal envelopes, index cards and 4 x 6 glossy photo stock? Many printers include dedicated feed trays for printing on specialty papers with unusual sizes or different weights, which can make them easier to deal with them. Also consider the size of the input paper tray: Smaller trays will require you to add paper all the time, while a nice 250-page hopper or even dual trays can make it a once-a-month affair.

Screen Shot 2013-05-23 at 12.04.18 PMSpeed, Resolution, and Color Claims

It used to be fairly easy for a printer manufacturer to make outrageous claims about how fast their printers were or what you could expect as far as page yield from an ink or toner cartridge is concerned.

Today, nearly all vendors use a standardized set of tests developed and licensed to them by the International Standards Organization. The ISO test protocols provide a level playing field – all the claims and ratings are developed using the same document sets and the same test procedures.

The fly in the ointment is that these sets are what the ISO determines to be the typical kinds of documents used by an average business user. How applicable these results are to you will be is impossible to judge, especially if you make a lot of photo or graphics printing, which slow down a printer significantly and burn through ink.

So use these specs as a basis for comparing one device with another, not as something you’ll necessarily experience in your use of the printer. And before you plunk down your dollars, read published reviews and independent evaluations, and if possible, see actual printouts at a retail store to decide for yourself how quick a printer is, or how good the image looks. If you have settled on a specific brand, some companies have buying guides for their models; check out those from Canon and Epson.

Now that you know what you need, be sure to check out our expert printer reviews, our top picks for the best wireless printers and our guide on how to print from an iPhone.

(This article was originally written by Nick Mokey and published on 10-5-2011.)

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