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20 September 2021

How to buy the best printer

Our expert guide explains how to identify the best printer to deliver high-quality prints at a pleasingly low cost, whether you want a basic black and white printer, or a colour all-in-one printer that can scan and copy too.
FW
Felix Wilson
Printer next to laptop

The most important question to consider when buying a new printer is, should I buy an inkjet or laser? 

Inkjet printers are typically cheaper up front, but cost more to run, while laser printers are pricier to buy but can produce quality prints faster and more cheaply.

Other key questions include whether you want to scan and copy as well as print. Are happy with just black and white or do you want to print in colour? And do you want wireless printing features, such as Apple AirPrint? 

Video: how to buy the best printer

Watch our video to find out how to buy the best printer for you.

What type of printer should I choose?

Printers can generally be split into two main categories, based on the ink technology they use: inkjet or laser. 

They're also referred to in terms of their features, such as wireless printers, or the tasks their best suited to, such as home office printers. 

Below we've explained the key characteristics of the different types of printers to decide which will suit you best, whether you're looking for a simple printer to churn out black and white documents quickly, or want to print high-quality images. We'll also highlight the types of printer that will help you keep printing costs down in the long run.

Alternatively, take a shortcut straight to our expert pick of the best printers to suit a range of needs and budgets. 

How much should I spend?

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.

The more you spend, the more features you'll get from your printer. But, these days, even an all-in-one printer/scanner with wi-fi and Apple AirPrint could only cost you £40. For more than £100, you'll get home-office features such as an automatic document feeder, or automatic double-sided printing.

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? See all tested models in our full printer reviews.

What is an inkjet printer?

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 than a laser. 

However, inkjets are usually more expensive to run than laser printers, 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

Get a great inkjet printer with our round-up of the best inkjet printers.

What is a laser printer?

Man looking at colour print

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.

While they can produce good graphs and charts, colour laser printers aren't much good at printing photos. Stick to an inkjet if you're likely to print off your holiday snaps.

  • 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.

What is a tank printer?

Tank printers do away with cartridges. Instead they have refillable tanks of ink, which you replenish with a special kit. As they're often inkjet models, you'll find colour tank printers, as well as some mono ones which just print in black and white. They have little windows into the tank on the front of the printer, which you can easily monitor to see whether the ink is running low.

There are only a couple of tank laser printers: HP's Neverstop Laser range are the first laser models to use cartridge-free technology.

Tank models tend to be more expensive to buy up front than a traditional inkjet model – but they'll make up for it with print-cost savings. Tank printers tend to be extremely economical to run and can save you hundreds over the course of a couple of years. 

  • Pros Extremely low running costs, inkjet models can produce good colour prints
  • Cons Can be expensive to buy 

Find out which printers have the lowest running costs in our guide to the  best cheap printers to buy and run.

What is an all-in-one printer?

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 so that you can print from several PCs or laptops, not to mention tablets or smartphones. Some include a fax function, too.

Some all-in-one printers have an automatic document feeder (ADF) on top, which is handy for scanning and copying multi-page reports.

  • Pros Can scan, photocopy and fax as well as print
  • Cons Tend to be larger models that take up more space

See the best all in one printers, and other models, in our printer reviews. Or, get the lowdown on wireless printing in our wireless printing explained guide.

What is a photo printer?

A small photo printer, an A4 printer, and an A3 printer side by side
The term ‘photo printer’ covers a wide range of devices. 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.

  • Pros Optimised for photo-sized prints
  • Cons Can’t guarantee better print quality than a more flexible regular printer

Read more about the best photo printers.

What is an A3 printer?

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 a standard A4 printer. Some have a strong photographic or design focus. 

  • Pros Ideal if you need to print at poster-size
  • Cons Take up significant space compared with regular printers

We've rounded up the best A3 printers to help you quickly find the model for you. 

Black and white or colour: what should I go for?

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, so you'll need to weigh up the savings against the likelihood you'll want to print photos or colour documents. 

Should I consider a wireless printer?

Wireless internet, or wi-fi, is an excellent feature to look for in your new printer. It enables you to connect it to the internet without needing a cable, meaning you can place your printer where you like in your home. 

Once you have connected your wireless printer to the internet, you can access a range of online services, such as the free mobile printing apps offered by the big printer brands – HP, Epson, Canon and Brother.

Other online features to look out for include Apple AirPrint, enabling you to print from Mac, iPhone and iPad devices more easily, and Cloud Print, enabling simpler printing from Google programs and services.  

Find out more in our in-depth guide to wireless printing

Where to buy a printer

When buying a printer, make sure you're handing your money over to a reputable seller. Check the retailer's returns policy and pay attention to customer feedback and reviews. For more details on shopping online safely and arranging refunds for faulty products, see our advice on shopping online

Amazon, Argos, Currys PC World and John Lewis are some of the most searched-for printer retailers at the time of writing. We’ve included links to these retailers handpicked because of their stock availability, best value price or warranty options. 

  • Amazon – has hundreds of printers in stock, but try to stick to models that are fulfilled by or sold by Amazon if you can – it’s much easier to resolve issues if something goes wrong.
  • Argos – offers a wide range of inkjet and laser printers. Great if you're on a budget – prices start around £30 and you can get free same day in-store collection at selected Sainsbury's stores. Brands include HP, Brother, Epson and Canon. 
  • Currys PC World – stocks a reasonable range of home printers. Prices start as low as £25 and go up to a few hundred pounds for high-end printers. But remember, if you find the printer you want cheaper elsewhere Curry's promises to match or beat the price of all other retailers. 
  • John Lewis – stocks lots of different types of printers including inkjet, colour laser, mono laser and all-in-one models. You'll get a free of charge two year warranty when you buy your printer and you'll also be offered technical support from their in-house team.

Printer ink cartridge recycling 

Ink and toner cartridges account for a huge amount of waste plastic – with tens of millions going straight into landfill every year in the UK alone. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce this.

Recycling printer ink cartridges for charity

Services like Recycle4Charity allow you to send in your used cartridges for recycling – including some third-party models – free of charge. Depending on the cartridge, they’ll then donate an amount (usually between 10p and £2) to a charity of your choice. That doesn’t sound like much, but so far the charity’s raised more than £1.5m and saved more than 375 tonnes of cartridges from landfill.

Recycling printer ink cartridges by post

Most printer manufacturers offer some form of free recycling service – although they’ll only recycle their own brand of cartridges. This usually involves either putting your cartridges in a pre-paid envelope or printing off a Freepost label using your own printer (a real Catch-22 if you haven’t got a new cartridge yet). Some schemes require that you save up several ink cartridges before sending them back. That cuts transport emissions, but it could also mean ink cartridges rattling around your home for years if you don’t print very often. 

What happens when I recycle printer ink cartridges? 

When you send cartridges back to the manufacturer, they’re broken down into raw materials, which are sold on and made into other products. So, your used cartridge could soon be living a second life as a water bottle or clothes peg. HP is currently the exception, as it uses these raw materials to make new ink cartridges.

Recycling printer ink cartridges near me

Many supermarkets and office supply stores have designated recycling points for ink cartridges, so you can drop off cartridges if you’re in the area shopping already. Similarly, many local recycling centres will accept ink cartridges of all kinds. Recyclenow has a useful search filter to help you find somewhere in your local area.

Ditching printer ink cartridges altogether

Another way to reduce ink cartridge waste is to stop using them altogether. Ink tank printers, which use refillable ink reservoirs instead of cartridges, have stormed our Best Buy tables in recent years. They’re often much more efficient with ink – some models cost just a few pounds a year to run, where cartridge models could cost over £100 to print the same amount. The catch is that they’re usually expensive to buy, though they often work out cheaper over the lifetime of the printer. See our ink tank printer reviews for more information.

Saving printer paper

When it comes to reducing paper waste, the feature to watch is ‘duplex printing’. This allows for automatic double-sided printing, potentially cutting your paper budget in half. If you don’t have duplex printing, you can often manually flip the page, but that can be a pain for larger documents. Recycle your paper where possible.