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 like HP, Lexmark, Canon and others has ground prices to such absurd lows that you can now walk into a store and walk out with a brand new printer for $60.
But selecting a home printer among so many options can be tough, especially with all the convoluted terms that can complicate the process. With that in mind, we’ve put together a quick-and-dirty printer buying guide for selecting a home printer, with simple explanations of the most common terms and our recommendations for a majority of users.
The first question all printer buyers must tackle comes down to a simple matter of what 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. But printed text from inkjets doesn’t always look as sharp as from a laser printer, they’re typically slower, and they cost more to keep running.
Laser printers rule the roost in offices because they can print large volumes of text quickly, reliably, and on the cheap. And besides looking sharper than text from an inkjet, laser printouts won’t run when they get wet. Color lasers have also fallen into the range of affordability for consumers recently, but the cost of replacement color laser toner remains prohibitively high, making them a poor option for home use.
Unless you plan on printing novels or page after page of school reports, inkjet printers usually make the best bet for home users due to their flexibility. But for practical printers who just want to be able to read their printouts – not make an artistic statement with them – laser printers are still a best bet.
Both laser and inkjet printers often come built with a scanner bed up top, turning them into all-in-one machines: printer, copier, scanner and fax. Although you might not need all the functions, buying an all-in-one printer for home user makes a lot of sense, not only because it’s cheaper than buying a standalone scanner, but for the sake of saving room. Since all-in-ones are extremely common and manufacturers rarely charge much of a premium for them (HP’s cheapest goes for just $60) we highly recommend them for home users.
If you’re more interested in preserving family photos on paper than printing off homework assignments and pie charts, consider a dedicated photo printer. Though they lack the flexibility of multitaskers, the quality of prints is typically much better, and often rivals what you would receive from a kiosk or mail-order service like Shutterfly. The price you’ll pay for the convenience comes out in the print cost: Typically, photo paper and inks (dyes) are sold together in cartridges that can push costs to more than 30 cents per 4 x 6 print.