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Printer Buying Guide: How to Choose the Best Printer for You
January 30, 2021
Reading time: 10 minutes
Like so many tech devices we use today, the perfect printer choice is often as unique as the person or organization using it. From simple and streamlined devices to high-speed juggernauts, there are many different types of printers on the market today.
While shopping for a printer may feel overwhelming, there’s one important thing to keep in mind: the features you prioritize will have a huge impact on your long-term satisfaction. In our printer buying guide, we aim to use those features to help you narrow down which printer you ultimately buy next so you are happy for years to come.
Our guide will focus on these features:
Color or B&W
Single or multifunction
Inkjet, laser, or tank printer
Duty cycle and recommended monthly page volume
Support for XL cartridges
HP Instant Ink
But first, let’s examine some of the major use scenarios that will help determine what’s the best printer to buy for your situation.
What are the different printer uses?
For families, a home printer can quickly become a busy central hub. Low-noise features help minimize distractions when printing big school projects, while multifunctionality helps you handle family photos, medical records, travel documents – the list goes on. Solo households may require fewer features, but multifunction printers don’t always cost more or take up more room than a single-function device.
2. Home office
With more and more professionals working remotely, there’s an increasing amount of pressure on the typical home office printer. In most work-from-home scenarios, it’s best to find the ideal balance between print speed and paper capacity. You can also avoid extra costs (and trips to the local print shop) by picking a multifunction printer.
3. Small-to-medium office
For offices with small or medium teams, you’ll benefit from expanded administrative features like job queueing and fax support. The great speed and capacity of laser printers also help prevent traffic jams, guaranteeing you won’t have to stand in line or find something else to do while a colleague prints. In this case, we recommend larger options with multifunction features.
The need for effective workflow and administrative features is especially apparent in a large or expanding business. In these cases, individual print systems may have to perform a variety of tasks for an entire office. Administrative features and multifunction are often assumed, including fax, photo, copy, scan, and color printing. Many organizations prefer laser printers for efficiency in large-scale operations.
Top features to focus on when shopping for a new printer
From print speed to duty cycle and more, these are the top 10 features to keep in mind as you search for a new printer for your space.
1. Print speed
Typically measured in pages per minute (ppm), print speed is a key feature on all printers that varies widely from one type to the next. Smaller devices designed for low-volume routines may print 5 ppm in some settings, while enterprise models may produce 70 ppm or more in just about any format.
If you only print single-page documents now and then, you probably won’t mind slower print speeds if it translates to a smaller and more affordable device. Professionals and business users should always check the ppm numbers when searching for the best type of printer. The higher the number of pages, the faster you can get back to your other tasks.
While print speed is especially important, it isn’t the only factor that impacts turnaround. Format plays a role in determining speed, too, particularly when you choose between a color vs a black-and-white printer.
2. Color or B&W
Many printers have different print speeds for color versus black-and-white prints. For most printers, it takes longer to print an accurate, detailed rendering in color. Instead of simple black text with unprinted white space, color prints present more complexity, particularly with images and photos.
Fortunately, the difference is usually just a small ppm difference. And as technology improves, this difference is getting even smaller with newer printers. If you produce a lot of color prints, make sure to check both ppm numbers for any device you’re interested in.
3. Single or multifunction
A single-function printer only offers print functionality, which has a few distinct advantages including lower cost at checkout and over time, faster print speeds, and slimmer measurements. They’re particularly well-suited if you outsource your bigger print jobs, and for offices that print a heavy document load but scan and copy with other devices.
The HP OfficeJet Pro 8210 printer is a great example that supports both color and black-and-white prints, at speeds of 18 ppm and 22 ppm respectively. It’s designed for high-volume printing, with support for up to 5 users and HP’s specialized efficiency features.
A multifunction printer adds scanning and copying to basic print functions. Some even fax, although that has become less common since the demand for fax capabilities has lessened apart from finance and healthcare industries. That means you can print, scan, and copy documents to produce high-quality copies, all from one device.
Another specialized multifunction feature is photo support. Multifunction printers designed for photos provide extra accuracy and quality when producing nuanced color images.
Still the most common and familiar printer configuration, inkjet printers use liquid ink to recreate an image or text on paper. Generally speaking, inkjet printers are lower in initial cost and produce higher quality images since they blend the ink colors more seamlessly than their laser printing counterparts. Plus, many have small builds so they fit into home and home office spaces more easily.
But because the ink disperses into the paper a minute amount, they are not a suited to exact lines and diagrams. For that application, a laser printer may fit the bill better.
One of the most versatile inkjet models available today, the HP ENVY Photo 7155 All-in-One printer offers strong turnaround times and multifunctionality. Plus, you’ll enjoy support for high-yield cartridges and HP Instant Ink compatibility.
First introduced by HP in 1984, HP LaserJet printers use static and heated toner to produce their prints. Even though the initial price of the device might be a little higher than an inkjet printer, HP LaserJet printing can be significantly more affordable in the long run if you print high volumes since laser toner is less expensive than inkjet ink. These printers provide faster turnaround times and capacity for enterprise applications, too.
Accuracy is the other area where laser printers outdo their inkjet cousins. Fine lines for diagrams and charts, especially in black and white prints, benefit from the precision of laser printers.
HP Smart Tank printers either both ink or toner tanks to cut back on the need for replacement, providing a much more efficient print routine in terms of time and materials. Tank options can provide thousands of printed pages, making them ideal for small to mid-sized businesses that want to streamline.
How much paper do you need your printer to store? How many pages can its output trays handle? What types of paper can it handle? If you frequently produce large print projects, you may want to consider a more robust printer with additional room for higher capacity standard trays, or even add-on trays.
In addition to great turnaround and multifunction features, the HP OfficeJet Pro 7740 Wide Format All-in-One printer handles oversized paper formats and packs in tons of room for storage. It even features high-yield cartridge support and full fax functionality, so you’re prepared for almost every eventuality.
6. Duty cycle and recommended monthly page volume
Features like monthly duty cycle and recommended monthly page volume show you how much print volume a printer can handle. While duty cycle indicates a maximum, stress-tested output level, your monthly print volume should average as close as possible to recommended volume.
Monthly duty cycle varies widely across devices. Some home and home office printers may be rated for 1,000 pages per month, which may seem like a lot when your biggest print jobs are a page or two at a time.
At the same time, some of the largest enterprise printers support up to 200,000 pages or more per month for a busy office hub. The recommended volume is usually around 10% of that max output number, so make sure to check both closely. You want to only hit the higher end every now and then to ensure the longevity of your printer.
7. Energy efficiency
You can cut back on monthly costs by focusing on devices with better efficiency stats. You can check the “Energy Efficiency” field under product specs to find the associated ratings. The most efficient printers feature some combination of ENERGY STAR®, EPEAT®z, and/or CECP certification.
8. Overall costs
When calculating the cost of purchasing and owning a printer, you’ll want to factor in all the lifetime costs.
Initial purchase price
Ink or toner costs
Maintenance and downtime
Savings on outsourcing
Cutting corners on the purchase price of your printer may cost you more down the road, especially if you miscalculate and try to print large projects on an underpowered device. Make sure you get a printer that is powerful enough to do the tasks you need it to do. Also, while a multifunction device may cost more up front, you may save time and outsourcing costs over the long haul.
There are plenty of ways to save on ink or toner. (Check out our article giving you some tips on ink and toners savings here.) And buying an energy-efficient printer will make every print job less expensive. Also, consider that limiting downtime by prioritizing quality and reliability in your printer goes a long way toward keeping your company productive or your home frustration-free.
The features you prioritize will have an impact, too. Make sure you plan for growth and potential routine changes. Proper upkeep and sensitivity to your device’s recommended volume both help keep maintenance costs down.
9. Support for XL cartridges
Ink and toner cartridges determine a big chunk of your annual print budget. The majority of HP printers support some form of high-efficiency cartridge feature, including XL and high-yield cartridges. These options may provide as much as twice the total print output compared to a standard cartridge.
They’re also more affordable than buying standard cartridges at regular intervals. Check your printer’s product specs to see what type of cartridge it supports, or browse the HP ink and toner store to see the best compatible options for your printer.
10. HP Instant Ink and HP Plus
You may see HP Instant Ink as a highlighted feature on many HP InkJet printers, and it means the device is compatible with our subscription cartridge service. There are four plans to accommodate users with a range of printing needs.
But how does HP Instant Ink work? Simple. It automatically monitors ink levels and ships a replacement cartridge before you run out. Your subscription cost is based on pages printed, which makes color printing particularly economical when paired with this service. Read our full guide, HP Instant Ink Review: Everything You Need to Know, for more details and full pricing information.
The question of “What printer should I buy?” varies from one person to the next. If you print a lot, you may need a laser printer in your home or office. But if you’re working at home, printing less frequently, and print photos, your best bet is likely an inkjet printer. With so many options at a wide variety of price points, it’s easier than ever to find the perfect printer for your unique needs.
About the Author: Dwight Pavlovic is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Dwight is a music and technology writer based out of West Virginia.
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