How to buy the best printer
By Katie Waller
Inkjet or laser? Mono or colour? To find the best printer that will deliver high-quality prints at a pleasingly low cost, read on for our expert guide.
Know what you want? Go straight to our Best Buy printers for a great printer with the features you need.
What type of printer do you need?
Do you need prints fast, or is quality more important? What sort of documents will you print the most? Will you print from one computer, or lots of devices? And how much do printing costs matter to you?
Clarifying your needs will help you narrow down your selection. Our chooser tool can help you decide which type of printer will suit you best.
Printers can generally be split into two main categories, based on the technology they use: inkjet or laser.
They're also referred to in terms of their features - like wireless printers - or the tasks their best suited to - like home office printers. Below you can find out the characteristics of the different types of printers to decide which will suit you best.
How much should you spend on a printer?
You can buy a new inkjet printer for less than £50 and you don’t need to spend much more to get a good one. Our Best Buy printers start at around £40. For around £150, you'll get a high-quality all-in-one, colour laser printer.
Which? tests printers for every budget, ranging from affordable inkjet printers to business-ready laser printers. We assess their quality, speed and running costs, and go deep into their features and ease-of-use. Each has its place and purpose. We help you narrow down your search so you find the right printer for you.
Just need a decent printer that won't cost a fortune in ink? Head straight to our Best cheap printers to run.
Inkjet printers are great all-rounders. They can handle text-heavy documents such as a student’s coursework or minutes from a meeting, but they can also print photos – and do a better job of it than a laser printer. They’re quiet and unobtrusive, and they also take up less desk space.
However, inkjets are usually more expensive to run than a laser printer, costing you more in ink per printed page than you would pay for laser toner. That’s not necessarily the case with a few business-focused inkjet printers, but as a rule of thumb inkjets cost you less up front, but more in the long-term.
Pros Smaller and cheaper than laser printers, can produce good quality colour prints
Cons More expensive running costs, slower to print black text pages than a laser
Inkjet printing costs per page are higher than colour laser printers, but colour laser printers and cartridges cost more at the outset. If you'll print a lot, a colour laser printer should work out cheaper over time.
Laser printers shine when it comes to printing a lot of black text, and while colour models are more expensive than colour inkjets, they also produce professional-looking business graphics. They’re normally faster than inkjets when it comes to this kind of job, and can handle a heavier workload if you’re planning to print a lot of pages every month.
What’s more, while the toner cartridges are expensive, each one prints a lot more pages than an inkjet cartridge, so the actual cost per black-and-white or colour page is usually much less. However, laser printers are usually bulkier and noisier than the equivalent inkjet printer and will take up more space on your desk.
Pros Fast prints and good value printing for black-and-white pages
Cons More expensive to buy, bulkier and often noisier than inkjets
Choose a model from our round-up of the Best laser printers.
You can buy straightforward inkjet or laser printers, but a device that scans and copies as well won’t cost you a whole lot more. Most have wi-fi connectivity built-in so that you can print from several PCs or laptops, not to mention tablets or smartphones. Some include a fax function too.
Pros Can scan, photocopy and fax as well as print
Cons Tend to be larger models that take up more space
Get yourself a great all-in-one printer with our results of the Best all-in-one printers.
Wi-fi connectivity is now a given for all but the cheapest printers, which still need to connect directly to your PC or laptop via a USB connection.
In any case, it’s a feature worth paying for. Not only can you print from all the computers in your home, but many wireless printers will print from other devices, such as a smartphone or tablet. In fact, you can even print remotely, using bundled email-based ‘eprint’ services or services such as Google Cloud Print.
Pros Allows you to print from smartphones, tablets and computers wirelessly
Cons Traditionally more expensive, but prices have fallen
Find a great wi-fi printer from our round-up of the Best wireless printers.
The term ‘photo printer’ covers a wide range. To some it's an A4 all-in-one that’s really good at printing photos. To others it’s a dedicated compact photo printer that only prints small photos. Or perhaps you want an A3 specialist model with dedicated photo cartridges and high-resolution print heads for lab quality photo prints.
Photo printers usually have memory card slots and a USB connection on the front, so you can plug in your camera’s memory card or connect the camera itself and print away, with or without a PC.
You can read more about the Best photo printers here.
Pros Optimised for photo-sized prints
Cons Can’t guarantee better print quality than a more flexible regular printer
Some A4-sized all-in-one printers can print great small photos and they're more versatile than a compact photo printer because they can handle other jobs as well.
If you want to print large office documents, posters or photos to hang on your wall, then an A3 printer is the one for you. They cost more money and take up more desk space, but they can print on larger sheets of paper than your standard A4 printer. Some have a strong photographic or design focus.
If you think your photos look good at A4 size, just think how good they’ll look at twice the size.
Pros Ideal if you need to print at poster-size
Cons Take up significant space compared to regular printers
We've rounded up the Best A3 printers to help you quickly find the model for you.
Home office printers
Most manufacturers have both laser and inkjet home office printers in their range, designed to print a lot of text and the odd business graphic rather than photos, children’s homework or art projects. Whether they’re an inkjet or a laser, these printers focus on printing text pages quickly and efficiently and on keeping running costs down.
Find out more about the Best home office printers, and whether one might be the right printer for you.
Pros Fast prints, large paper trays and useful functions such as faxing
Cons Large models that tend to be more expensive
Many home office inkjet printers have an Automatic Document Feeder (ADF) on top – handy for scanning and copying multi-page reports.
Black-and-white or colour printers
Black-and-white inkjets are now pretty much extinct, but you can still save a little money by opting for a ‘mono’ (black-and-white) laser printer. These are cheaper to buy than colour models, and if you’re mostly printing black text on white pages, you’ll also find them nice and cheap to run.
Colour makes your printer much more versatile, however. On the off chance you ever need to print a photo or colour document, they're worth having.