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Printers: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Right One

Printers: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Right One

Linsey Knerl
Reading time: 10 minutes
Printers are one of the most asked-about tech products on the market. They offer so many possibilities these days with varying features and functions. And if treated with care, a consumer model printer can last many years. That’s why it’s essential to pick one that you can see yourself using for the life of your computer or longer.
However, picking the best model can be challenging. With so many options available, where should you start? Bigger and more expensive isn’t always better, but can a cheap model meet your needs?
Whether you need one for home, business, or your college years, having a variety of choices ensures that you can get just what you want and save money in the long run. Owning a printer is more affordable than ever before, too. You can expect to pay less per printed page than computer owners before you, even when using high-quality ink.
From inkjet to laser printers, here’s what you should know before deciding on the right product for you.

Basic types of printers

Before you set foot into a store that sells printers, you should know that there are essentially two types of printers for consumers: inkjet and laser.

Inkjet printers

An inkjet printer is the type used most often for printing and copying in the home setting. Your typical photo printer or all-in-one printer is most likely an inkjet.
Inkjet printers come with at least four colors of ink: cyan (blue), magenta (red), yellow, and black. The three colors may come in separate cartridges or be bundled together into one. An inkjet printer puts ink on the page quickly and usually needs little drying time. You can expect it to be dry to the touch by the time it comes out of your printer.

Laser printers

Laser printers are what we’re used to seeing in industrial office settings. Now available for home use, they use a more sophisticated drum and toner cartridge to add the toner powder to the page in just the right design. You’ll most likely see laser printers for home use that just do black-and-white prints, but there are color printing options available, too.

A newcomer approaches: ZINK printers

One other printing technology is the ZINK® (Zero-Ink®) printer, which uses a thermal printing method to activate the paper. There is no ink in this process because the special paper is what makes the colors and designs. This printing option is available in select portable printers and in camera/printer combo products, such as the HP Sprocket photo printer.
The HP Sprocket can easily fit into a purse or backpack, taking up no more room than a smartphone. Print from your connected mobile device at the touch of a button, edit photos from your phone, and share with friends. The photos print out on unique sticker paper so that you can keep those moments on a laptop, notebook, locker, or calendar.

Printing for home

Home printers are a common purchase that often happens at the same time as the purchase of a new laptop or desktop. While generally smaller than those aimed at businesses, they offer many of the same perks.
Some of the features that home printers now offer include:
  • All-in-one features, such as printing, scanning, copying, and even faxing
  • Multiple paper trays and duplexing
  • Double-sided prints and collating
  • Wireless and/or Bluetooth connectivity
  • App-enabled tech that allows the user to print from their tablet or smartphone
  • Touch screen controls
  • Direct printing without a computer with USB or SD card slots
  • HP Instant Ink technology designed to trigger a new ink shipment before you run out
Home printers are also more aesthetically pleasing than in the past. The HP Tango printer, for example, offers a slim design that seamlessly blends into the home environment when not in use. It’s also the first “whole home smart printer” and can communicate with your Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, and other smart devices.
You can’t tell if a printer is suitable for home use just by looking at it, though. Check the specs of any printer to make sure that it’s rated for use outside of a commercial building. The FCC has rules in place that each printer must be clearly marked as to whether it’s okay to use in a home or a home office environment.

Photo printers

Do you want trips to the photo lab to be a thing of the past? Today’s photo printers make printing kiosks and mail-order copies obsolete. It’s now possible to print brilliant, full-color prints right at home in the most popular sizes for less than five cents each.
You won’t need any fancy software or editing tools to get the rich photos you want either. Photo printers are designed to take your special moments from your phone or computer and place them into your hands in seconds. You can even print your favorite memories directly from your personal social media feed.
One favorite aspect of photo printers is that they offer great value because they do more than just print photos. This gives you a way to print virtually any document you choose so there’s no need for the typical family to own more than one type of printer. Print your photos anytime you want, and then use your printer for homework, letters, legal documents, and other important copies.
Photo printers are also modestly-priced and accessible to all budgets. The HP ENVY Photo 7155 all-in-one printer is just one example of a bold photo printer with a small price tag. It also offers all-in-one functionality and prints at up to 14 pages per minute.

What students want in a printer

Even if you start looking at a printer for use in high school, student printing needs are different once you reach college. While many campuses offer free printing at central locations like the library or student center, there’s an advantage to making copies of papers and important projects right in your dorm room.
When shopping for the best printer for college, ask these questions:
  • How many copies do I need to make in a week?
  • Do I need copies from my computer? Or just my mobile device or tablet?
  • Will I need to print photos often?
  • How portable does my printer need to be?
  • How much room do I have?
  • Am I sharing my printer with a roommate or friend?
Printing in school can mean a variety of tasks, from printing term papers to making your own stunning photo prints. The freedom and flexibility that comes with having your own printer in your dorm or apartment is a perk students love. Just think, you’ll be able to make copies of your important projects without having to wait until the library opens.
Students may just want to print for fun, however, and that’s where products like the HP Sprocket 2-in-1 come in handy. It’s a printer and camera in a single take-along device, making it perfect for your next party. It also makes capturing and printing photos absolutely seamless. This HP Sprocket is a savvy choice for creating instantly-printable memories at any social gathering.

Printing for business

Consumers have much to consider when picking a printer model, but how does this differ for those choosing between office printers? While many printers perform similar tasks, the science behind them can vary quite a bit.
When deciding between a laser printer vs inkjet printer, there’s much more to consider than price. HP offers more than one hundred models of printers, and that’s just for the home or small office. Their features are numerous and include:
  • Printing, scanning, copying, and faxing
  • Borderless printing
  • Large-format printing
  • Two-sided printing
  • Up to 20,000 monthly pages
  • Ethernet, wireless, and Apple AirPrint functions
  • Space-saving features
The printers available for today’s entrepreneurs and businesses are more compact and powerful than ever. You no longer have to stick them in a corner due to massive size requirements. They’re also easy to use and maintain without the assistance of a professional office equipment company. Anyone can run them.
Here are just a few of the lines available to consider:
  • The HP OfficeJet Pro 6968 all-in-one printer is perhaps the most economical small business printer. It has all-in-one features, efficient printing speeds, and high-yield ink options. It’s perfect for the small office or home business.
  • When only laser printing will do, consider the HP LaserJet Pro M402dne. This budget-friendly model does just one thing - print - but it does it at speeds of up to 40 ppm with absolute precision. This printer uses HP toner cartridges with JetIntelligence, so you get your money’s worth.

Best printers on a budget

For the average computer user, a printer may be a second thought. While a popular and sometimes necessary accessory, most consumers spend the bulk of their money on the computer itself. That’s why inexpensive printers will always be in high demand.
Price isn’t always the only indicator of quality either, and focusing on overall value will give you a better buying outcome. This is why many consumers consider an inkjet model the best home printer for modest budgets. With an impressive print quality, efficacy, and a low cost of ownership, it’s reasonable to have a printer in every home or office without dedicating a large chunk of your office supply costs.
Whether you are trying out your first printer or you want to add another without breaking the budget, everyone seems interested in low-cost ink printers. Fortunately, the options for those who want to spend less are plentiful:
  • The HP DeskJet 3755 all-in-one printer is the world’s smallest all-in-one printer and is also incredibly affordable. With all the features you need and a simple design, you can’t go wrong with this well-priced printer.
  • Try the HP ENVY 5055 all-in-one printer for brilliant photo-quality prints at a modest price-point. The simple WiFi setup process will have you printing in less than a minute. The user controls are also intuitive enough for anyone to master.
  • Finally, the HP DeskJet 1112 printer is an economical dream. Priced well below the competition, this print-only model holds up to 60 sheets at a time and delivers print speeds of more than 7 ppm.

Additional ways to save

Even with printers costing less than ever before, it’s wise to look at more ways to stretch that dollar. One option for savvy consumers is to look into refurbished printers. Note that not all refurbishing is the same, and some companies do not spend as much time and care in repairing their models as others. You’ll want to get a solid warranty and performance guarantee from any refurbished printer that you buy.
A less risky way to buy is to look for printers on sale. HP® has weekly online specials for its wide range of computers and accessories, including inkjet and laser printers. Sign up for their email alerts to be the first to be notified of new HP printers on sale. This is the best way to get the best deal before the most popular models sell out.
One final way to save big on printing is with the ink you buy. Selecting one of the many HP Instant Ink compatible printers is the easiest way to spend less per page, whether you want color or black-and-white copies. With automatic shipments of ink for one low monthly subscription price, you’ll never have to compare ink prices again.

Best questions to ask before you buy

Considering the many types of printers on the market, finding the best pick can be overwhelming. Here are some additional questions to ask before you start the shopping process:
  • How many pages per month will I print?
  • Do I need color prints? Will black-and-white work?
  • What connectivity options do I want (wireless, Bluetooth, or Ethernet)?
  • How many people will be accessing the printer?
  • Where will I put it?
  • Do I want more than just printing functions? How about scanning, faxing, or copying?
  • Will the printer need to communicate with my other connected devices?
  • Is app or mobile printing tech needed?
There are likely other questions you’ll have as you start the shopping process. By answering these to start with, however, you are setting yourself up for success.

Tips for buying your best printer

Everyone has a vastly different set of expectations when buying a new printer, and there is no one-size-fits-all advice to give on choosing one. In fact, you may find that your needs change from year-to-year, as well. To ensure that you buy the best printer for your lifestyle, you should have an idea going into the shopping experience of what you can’t live without and what features may be negotiable.
Generally, it’s possible to get everything you want in a printer. However, if price is your top concern, be prepared to rank your preferred features in order of importance. Models are being released every year, so what may not be included in this year’s new printers may be a reality very soon. Don’t forget about sales and rebates that can help you get into the next level of printing for the same, low price.
To make it easiest to compare HP printers, consider seeing a floor model in store. Or you can use an online comparison tool to see your favorite picks side-by-side. You can easily use search filters on the HP Store to narrow down all the options by your must-have features, such as print volume, technology, and connectivity.
Finally, ask if you can see the printer in action. There’s nothing like experiencing the printing for yourself, and a demo lets you know things you can’t tell by looking at the box, such as how quiet the printing is and what your photos will look like in various print modes.

About the Author

Linsey Knerl is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Linsey is a Midwest-based author, public speaker, and member of the ASJA. She has a passion for helping consumers and small business owners do more with their resources via the latest tech solutions.

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