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Home printer buying guide: How to choose the best printer

Essays. Coupons. Last-minute directions to Grandma’s house. Whatever you need to print, there’s a home printer that can do it. And intense competition among competitors such as HP, Epson, Canon and others has forced prices to such absurd lows that you can now walk into a store — even your local supermarket — and walk out with a brand new printer for $60 or less.

But selecting a home printer can be tough given the sheer amount of options on the market, not to mention the convoluted terms that only seem to complicate the process. With that in mind, we’ve put together a quick-and-dirty buying guide for selecting a home printer, with simple explanations of some of most common terms and recommendations that will serve the majority of users.

Inkjet or laser?

The first question all printer buyers must tackle comes down to a simple matter of what and how much you plan on printing.

Color inkjet printers comprise the bulk of the market simply because they can print just about anything: Essays, pie charts, or glossy photos, you name it. And today’s inkjet printers and all-in-ones are fast, often with print speeds that rival or surpass their laser counterparts.

Laser printers are still a good bet for office settings when most of the printing that you need to do is in monochrome. For the most part, monochrome laser printers can be purchased at affordable prices, offer good print speed, and in some cases, provide prints at a lower cost per page than a color inkjet. But it’s not a given, and you have to decide whether to give up the flexibility that a color inkjet printer offers. Color laser printers are another option, but they generally have a higher cost per page printed than a color inkjet.

In the past, laser printers have offered a higher page yield per cartridge than an inkjet printer. That’s changing, however, with some newer inkjet printers offering as many as 10,000 printed pages from a monochrome ink cartridge and 7,000 pages or more from each color cartridge. That translates into a lower cost per page, and less frequent cartridge changes.

For home use, a multifunction unit makes a lot of sense, not only because it’s cheaper than buying a printer and a standalone scanner, but also for the sake of saving room. Since all-in-ones are extremely common and manufacturers rarely charge much of a premium for them (you can often find one for as little as $50-$60) we highly recommend them for home users.

Note: Soon, you may not have to decide whether to purchase a standalone printer or an all-in-one. While manufacturers continue to bring out new printer-only units for the office, many of the new devices being introduced for home users are all-in-one models, phasing out print-only models.

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