Printers: How we test printers
Which? test lab
Which? tests almost 3,000 products every year, including more home technology products than anyone else.
We look at new products as soon as they are announced, helping you to understand new technologies, and whether they are worth your money.
Which? is different because...
- Our tests are based on years of testing experience.
- We don't accept adverts in our magazines or website.
- We buy everything we lab-test.
- We're completely independent of any manufacturers.
What makes a Best Buy printer?
Which? exists to give consumers impartial advice, which means that if a product isn't any good we'll say so, without fear of penalty. Which? works for you, providing trustworthy advice without a hidden agenda.
We examine everything that matters across all products, including performance, features and how well they work in real life – so you'll know exactly what to expect. Our unique, comparative lab tests mean you can trust our Best Buy and Don't Buy verdicts and choose with confidence.
Printer testing in brief
Which? tests around 130 printers a year and we ensure that our guides only have the models that are currently available.
Which? tests a range of printers including small photo, colour inkjet, all-in-one and laser printers. We take the hard work out of choosing a printer with our rigorous testing for print quality, print speed, scanning, copying and ease of use.
We aim to ensure all the major brands are represented.
How we choose products for testing
Dedicated Business Researchers carefully select the products Which? tests, scouring the market for the latest releases and the most innovative products.
Our Business Researchers aim to cover a very high percentage of the market in any one product area. And, while we do test some premium products, we avoid testing those products which you would need a second mortgage to afford.
We take the following criteria into account when choosing printers:
- Popularity – we test printers that are the biggest sellers
- Brand reliability – we test more printers from brands that are reliable and tend to do well in our testing
- Innovation – we test new and innovative printers
- Cost – we typically test printers that cost between £30 and £200.
Trial Which? today to find out which printers we rated as Best Buys, or log in if you already have member access.
Ease of use
Our expert assessors test our products for their ease of use by running through everyday scenarios that replicate how you use your printer.
We first check how easy it is to set up the printer and install any necessary software, also looking at installing ink cartridges and setting up the connection with your computer or the internet where relevant. If it’s difficult to get any of this right you could be in for a tricky time with your printer.
We then look at everyday printing tasks such as loading paper and changing cartridges as well as various printing options such as double sided printing and changing between print quality settings. After inspecting the basic printing functions, more advanced features such as scanning, copying, printing from memory cards and network printing are tested to assess how versatile the printers are and identify the models whose menus are easiest to navigate.
Paper jams and replacing ink cartridges are often a source of frustration with printers, so we check to see whether a printer is likely to push you over the edge. Our experts look at how easy it is to remove paper from the printer if there’s a print jam and any potential problems with changing cartridges or toners including ink leaking or difficult locks and catches.
Our products undergo an extensive range of objective laboratory testing to assess performance.
Ink running costs
Printers can incur huge running costs so we test to find the models that give you the most prints for your money.
We set the printers running almost continuously, printing as many text, spreadsheet and photo pages as we can from three new sets of ink cartridges.
We gather high street and online prices for all of the ink cartridges used in our tests to find typical retail prices for each individual cartridge. It’s then a case of dividing the cost of the ink used by the number of text, spreadsheet or photo pages printed to find the average cost in ink per print.
Cost of printing occasionally
If you only print from time to time, your printer may use some of your ink to clean its print heads. This is ink you don't get to use on your prints, and leaving your printer off for just a day could have an impact on the overall amount of ink your printer gets through.
To highlight the cost of these automated ‘head cleaning’ cycles we introduced an 'occasional printing' test in September 2012.
We print text and graphics pages over a period of weeks, printing on some days and not on others and turning the printer off between uses, just as you might at home.
We then compare the amount of ink used and the cost per printed page to the cost of printing the same number of pages all in one go.
We've seen printers use over 500% more ink when printing occasionally, compared with printing pages in one go.
Our occasional printing test results can help you to find the most cost-effective printer if you only print from time to time.
Printers tested for occasional printing costs - Read reviews of the latest printers tested for occasional print cost.
Which? uses a panel of experts to assess print quality. We print a typical black-and-white letter, an 8x10-inch high quality photo, a spreadsheet and a colour document with a mixture of graphics and text.
We call it the ‘Portfolio test’ which simulates your most common printing habits.
We use the same print quality documents to establish print speeds. We time how long it takes to print a good-quality document – manufacturers often quote print times in draft mode, or at low qualities so we don't rely on their claims.
Photos from home printers can fade and deteriorate, so we check their durability for resistance to light.
Prints are placed in a light booth which is set up to simulate full daylight. The prints are left for 1,008 hours – equivalent to several months’ worth of daily exposure. These are then compared with a control set to identify printers that produce lasting prints.
We also test durability to moisture to see if text smears if you use a highlighter pen on it and also whether ink would run or bleed if a few drops of water got onto a 24 hour old photo print.
Scan and copy speed and quality
The scanning and copying functions of all-in-one printers are assessed by scanning and copying a magazine page, an 8x10-inch colour photo and a 3D object in the case of the scanners, which are all inspected and rated by our printer experts.
We check all products for energy consumption to make sure they don't cost you, and the earth, when they’re switched on.
We measure the power consumption of printers while printing black text documents and five minutes after a print job completes. We also take power measurements in standby and when the printer is ‘off’.
For the few portable models that can be run on batteries – such as some small photo printers and mobile models - battery life is tested as well as the amount of prints that can be made before a low battery warning appears.
Printers can be fairly noisy bits of kit, so our lab experts rate their noise levels before, during and just after printing.
All data sent back from our laboratories is carefully analysed by Which? staff so that the highs and lows of every product are revealed.
If anything does not add up with a product then we will retest it. If there's a fault we'll purchase a new product to see whether it’s a one-off issue, or symptomatic of a larger problem.
Standard printers are rated slightly differently from all-in-one printers because they don't scan or copy.
Standard printers - the score ignores price and is based on:
- Printing 85%
- Direct Photo Printing 5%
- Networking 5%
- Power Consumption 5%
All-in-one printers - the score ignores price and is based on:
- Printing 60%
- Scan and copy 25%
- Direct Photo Printing 5%
- Networking 5%
- Power Consumption 5%
|Which? star ratings|