The key to finding the best printer for you is to determine what you will do with your device and the kind of volume you think you will be printing. Read our printer buying guide to learn everything you need to know before purchasing a new printer for yourself or your business, including types of printers, printer features, comparing business vs. home printers, inkjet vs. laser printers, etc.
Why Do You Need a Printer?
Printers allow you to accomplish a multitude of jobs, hobbies, and tasks. For students, printers are a great resource that can save time by reducing frequent trips to the library or creating near-endless materials for study. For office and business workers, printers provide smudge-free documents you need to get the job done or make a physical copy of important files.
You must first decide if your printer will be used for home or business-based tasks. Printers come in many more specific types, but the most significant distinction is between these two use cases.
Business vs. Home Printers
There are many kinds of printers ranging from highly specialized equipment to standard home appliances. Diving into the many minute differences between devices can quickly become confusing and turn the purchasing process into a nightmare.
That is why it is better to make the major distinction between home and business use printers. Once you determine where you will use the printer, you can use other more specific features to help narrow down your choice.
The main difference between home-use printers and business devices is the volume of work printed using the device. Otherwise, home printers and business class devices can share several specifications and features.
Home printers may also prioritize aesthetics over performance if keeping the feng shui of your office space is essential to you. Features commonly found in home printers include:
- Wireless or Bluetooth connection support.
- Touch display or on-device controls.
- Direct printing using removable storage.
Business printers are typically larger in physical size because of their exponentially more significant volume of work. That being said, modern technology has helped reduce the size of business printers significantly.
Working from home is more common than ever, and thus, the line between business and home printers is getting smaller. Still, the most important factor for business printers is the sheer volume of print jobs they need to accomplish. These devices can also typically copy, print, scan, and fax reliably at rapid speeds. Other features you may find in business-grade printers are:
- Massive monthly page limits upwards of 15,000 – 20,000 pages.
- Borderless printing options.
- Large, specialized print formats and page layouts.
Once you’ve determined whether you need a home or business printer, explore the different specific types of printers featured below.
Types of Printers
The most common printers include inkjet printers, laser printers, photo printers, all-in-one printers, supertank printers, and 3D printers.
Inkjet printers are versatile and commonly used to print photos in vivid color, office documents with crisp clarity, and for other everyday printing needs. The small nozzles of inkjet printers spray tiny, circular droplets of pigment-based ink onto paper fed through rollers to produce images.
While inkjets bring a lot to the table with versatility, their print speeds are generally slow to average, particularly in relation to laser printers. Also, inkjet printers hold less paper on average, which can be a problem if you’re looking to print in high volumes. Business-grade inkjets are usually a little faster than home models.
Inkjet printers used for printing images and photos produce optimal results using a dye-based ink that blends colors (magenta, cyan, and yellow), producing high-quality prints on many different types of paper. This printer type excels at blending colors and can often produce higher-quality prints over a laser printer.
You pay for the quality since inkjet cartridges cost more than laser printer toner. If you’re looking for print quality over quantity or don’t mind the cost of cartridges, inkjet printers are a great option.
While some small businesses or departments that do light printing can make do with an inkjet printer for their day-to-day needs, the workhorse for heavy usage use at home or in a small business is the laser printer.
A laser printer works by using light to beam an image of the text or photo that is being printed onto a rotating drum. The transmitted image attracts toner and the rotating drum transfers the image to the paper. The process generates heat and the ink is baked into the paper and dries almost instantly, resulting in crisp, smudge-free results.
There are two main types of laser printers. Monochrome laser printers use a single drum of black ink and is ideal for producing black-and-white printed materials. Color laser printers have four drums (one for each color), and many models have controls that allow for limiting color usage to specific applications, so color toner isn’t used as quickly.
It should be noted, though, that color laser printers are considerably more expensive than their black ink counterparts and color inkjet printers.
Laser printers produce professional-quality documents, colorful spreadsheets, and high-end graphics; however, they don’t produce the same quality for color photo printing as an inkjet or dedicated photo printer. That said, laser printers remain a great choice for high-volume printing because they produce pages faster than inkjet printers, and it takes so little time for printed laser pages to dry.
While inkjet printers can produce high-quality photo prints and some high-end models can produce stunning images, a dedicated photo printer will generate photos and images perfect for designers and professional photographers. Designed to only print photos, these devices have a compact design that takes up little space.
The ease of delivering media to a photo printer is another perk. Most photo printers have a card slot so you can take the photos directly from your camera to your printer. The latest photo printer models now also come equipped for wireless printing, so you can print directly from your mobile phone or tablet using a WiFi connection.
Most photo printers have an LCD color screen so you can pick and choose which photos to print. Most photo printers don’t require linking to a PC. However, the option is there as a download or software installation for many models if you need more than essential editing functions such as red-eye removal or black-and-white photo printing.
Most photo printers have a default size of 4×6-inch prints; some models have adjustable sizes for printing everything from wallet-size photos to 5×7-inch prints.
Photo printers use a few different technologies to print, including both dye and pigment-based inks. A newer method is thermal color printing, which uses heat to print on a special paper that reacts by displaying varying colors depending on the heat applied.
An ideal solution for a home office or small business that needs a printer, fax machine, scanner, and copier is an all-in-one printer, also called a multifunction printer or MFP. Many models can scan directly to the cloud for sharing and group editing of documents and most have Wi-Fi capabilities, so they can be accessed anywhere in the local network. The print quality ranges from comparable to inkjet produced to laser-quality documents.
All-in-one printers come in a variety of formats, and models can be either inkjet or laser printers. In general, inkjet all-in-one machines are more popular for household use, while laser versions are more commonly found in business settings (and are significantly more costly than their inkjet counterparts). Choosing the kind of color output you want can also be a great starting point to narrow down all-in-one printer options. Black and white printers can be cheaper.
When it comes to the functional capabilities aside from printing, these devices vary widely. Some are limited to scanning over a USB connection, while other models can do so wirelessly. All-in-one printers are generally a great choice when it comes to versatility, as they combine printing, faxing, copying, and scanning capabilities in a single device.
3D printers are still an evolving technology. These printers usually use a strong, lightweight thermoplastic called FDM to create three-dimensional objects. To get an idea of the weight, the same type of plastic is used to mold Lego modeling blocks.
3D printers need to be linked to a computer or connected via Wi-Fi and use the accompanying software to design and print a 3D rendering, one layer at a time. Printing can take anywhere from four to eighteen hours on average.
This type of printer is used for creating toys, parts, and realistic prototypes and models for demonstrations and presentations.
Also known as inktank printers, they are similar to inkjet printers in terms of functionality with one crucial difference: instead of ink cartridges, supertank printers consume bottled ink and hold it within their ink reservoirs, or tanks. A tube sucks up the ink within the tank and delivers it to the printhead.
These printers are ideal if you’re fed up with high ink costs and the plastic waste associated with standard inkjet printers. Plus, the tanks hold more ink than a standard inkjet cartridge, which means less printer downtime.
Laser vs. Inkjet Printers
Not sure if a laser or inkjet printer is for you? Here’s what to consider when deciding between the two printer types.
- How much you want to print– If you’re looking to print a lot of black and white documents quickly, a monochrome laser printer is best. The page yield for some laser printers can be 10x that of standard inkjet printers, plus laser printers often hold more paper than inkjet printers. There are also color laser printers, but you’ll probably end up paying more per page than you would for a standard inkjet page.
- What you need to print – If you want to produce photo prints or image-heavy documents with accurate and vibrant colors, inkjet printers are the way to go. Inkjet printers give you more flexibility in case you want to be able to print basically anything.
- The cost of printing (both financial and environmental)– Considering the difference in print yield between a laser vs. inkjet printer, a laser printer will save you money. Also, nonrefillable inkjet cartridges produce waste, another consideration for those trying to be more environmentally conscious.
- How fast you need to print – Laser printers can crank out pages at a faster clip than most inkjet printers. For business printing, this can provide a significant boost to efficiency.
- How much space you have for your printer – Inkjet printers generally have a smaller form factor than laser printers. If you’re strapped for desk space, it may be hard to accommodate a laser printer nearby. However, most printers can print wirelessly now so you can always place it in another room.
No matter which type of printer you choose, they will share some common specifications. Here are the printer features you should consider.
Many features may be considered functions, but when comparing devices, this specification refers to whether the printer can copy, fax, or perform duties past printing. Wireless connection options will also be listed with this specification, such as Bluetooth or network printing.
There will often be multiple print speeds listed for a single printer. This is because rates will vary depending on size and if the pages are in color or not. A typical abbreviation to find when looking at print speeds is PPM or pages per minute. For home use, this is a less impactful specification than when for business.
The most confusing specification when looking at printers is resolution. That is because it functions differently than with displays or other technology. For printers, the resolution is measured in dpi or dots per inch. Like with displays, these numbers will come in pairs, such as 1200 x 1200 or 4800 x 1200. A good rule to follow is that as the resolution goes up, so does the overall clarity of printed materials.
To put it plainly, the duty cycle of a printer is the maximum number of pages the machine can print without damaging the device in a given amount of time. This may be the single most important specification for business-grade devices and should always be considered when purchasing a printer.
Many variables play into a device’s duty cycle, so make sure to check that the specification applies to the type of jobs you need to print.
Ink Types/Print Method
One of the most front-facing specifications of printers is their print method or ink types. This refers to how the device creates images on pages such as heat, laser, or inkjet printing. Different materials have varying associated costs, and those can quickly add up as print job volumes increase.
Print methods can also play a key role in the quality of printed materials, and hobbies such as photography can require specific printing methods.
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