How to buy the best printer

How to buy the best printer

by Katie Waller

Inkjet or laser? Mono or colour? Stand-alone printer or all-in-one? We help you answer all these questions to find the right printer for you.

How much?

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 £65. Around £150 will net you a high-quality all-in-one, colour laser, or Best Buy photo printer.

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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 type has its place and purpose. If you’re looking to buy a new printer you need to start by asking yourself two questions: what do I want to use it for and which devices do I want to print from? Here we’ll help you answer both those questions, and help you narrow down your search so that you find the right printer for you.

Take a look at our Best Buy printers to discover the printers that Which? recommends.

Think about your needs

Before you even write a shortlist, think about what you want to use your printer for. 

Do you need to be able to scan and copy as well as print? What sort of documents will you print the most? Do you need prints fast, or is print quality more important? What devices do you want to print from? Will your printer sit in one room attached to a computer, or do you want to print from a range of PCs, laptops and devices over your home wi-fi network? 

Clarifying your needs will help you narrow down your selection.

Inkjet printers

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

Laser printers

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

All-in-one 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

Wireless 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

Photo printers

The term ‘photo printer’ covers a wide range. To some it means 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 at the other end of the scale it’s an A3 specialist photo printer with specially-designed 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. An A4-sized printer is more versatile than a compact photo printer because it can handle other jobs as well. 

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

A3 printers

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

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

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’ 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, and you’ll be surprised how even business reports or meeting notes can be improved by a splash here and there.