Some companies print hundreds of photos, charts, and memos each month to find the printers that deliver the best performance and value. Our sensory panelists closely studied documents and photos from each printer. We weight in cartridges before and after printing to check ink usage. We measure how much electricity each printer uses. We even drop water on photos to test for water resistance. So if you’re shopping for a printer, this guide will arm you with expert knowledge to pick the model that best suits your needs.
The first thing to keep in mind: models with the smallest price tag could cost you more overtime when you factor in ink. There are two main types of printers: inkjet sand lasers. Lasers were the leaders, known for printing high-quality text fast at a low price per page, but inkjets are catching up to lasers when it comes to speed and quality, making them the most popular type of home printers.
When choosing between the two, it’s best to think about what you’ll be printing. Inkjets are versatile. They accept a variety of paper types and sizes, perfect if you’re printing anything from photos and greeting cards to text documents. The best inkjets we’ve tested can print color photos with the same quality you’d get at a drugstore or online service. Many are also excellent at producing black text.
Inkjets come in two types: regular and all-in-one. Regular models only print and cost $30 to $300. All-in-ones can also copy, scan, and some can fax. They save space and are often cheaper to buy than separate devices. They run $50 to $500.
Inkjets use droplets of ink to form letters, graphics, and photos. Some have one cartridge that holds the cyan, magenta, and yellow inks, plus a second one for black. Others have a separate cartridge for each of the four colors. Some inkjets have even more cartridges with other colors which can enhance photos. Separate cartridges can be more economical because you only have to replace individual colors as they run out.
Most inkjets can print black text at 3 to 19 pages per minute but they’re much slower for color photos. One to eleven minutes or more for a single high-quality 8×10. The cost of printing that 8×10 can range from $0.75 to $2, including ink and paper. Printing a 4×6 snapshot can take less than a minute and cost as little as $0.25.
We test inkjets to determine how much they cost to operate by checking how much ink they use when they’re printing and when they’re not. That’s because inkjets use ink for routine maintenance chores like cleaning the printhead. To find out how much they use, we print a total of 30 pages of text and color graphics intermittently over a four-week period, turning the printer off between print jobs. Some barely used any extra ink while others used more ink to clean the printhead than it took to print our 30 test pages. Check our ratings to avoid ink guzzlers.
If you’re printing mostly text documents, a black and white laser printer is your best choice. They can quickly print top quality black text and use a toner cartridge instead of ink cartridges. Toner is ultrafine powdered ink. It’s more efficient than liquid inkjet cartridges because toner isn’t wasted during printer maintenance. Laser printers work like copy machines, forming images by transferring toner to paper passing over an electrically charged drum.
When it comes to speed they can print 8 to 20 black-and-white pages per minute, and each page only costs $0.02 to $0.05 to print. A basic black and white laser printer will cost you $80 to $400. For an all-in-one model that can scan copy and possibly fax, you’ll pay about $100 to $500.
Laser printers also come in color. In our test, we’ve noticed a few print photos well, but generally, you wouldn’t want to print photos on glossy paper using a laser. Color lasers can also wind up costing you more than an inkjet since they use four toner cartridges instead of just one. Color models that only print run $150 to $400. Color all-in-ones cost $200 to $700.
Our surveys show that most people connect their printers using Wi-Fi that allows you to print wirelessly from your computer, tablet, or smartphone. But printers still offer a USB port for connecting to a computer if going wireless isn’t an option. Some printers have a memory card reader which lets you print images from your digital camera without using your computer or Wi-Fi. LCD screens are a helpful feature for navigating a printers menu.
An adjustable paper feed allows you to print on various sizes of paper. Models geared toward photographers may offer a special tray just for 4×6 photo paper. Some have an auto duplexer that allows you to print on both sides of the page.
The price of printer ink is the number one gripe among printer owners according to our surveys. So here are some tips on how to save, and not just on ink. If you’re not printing photos, consider adjusting the settings on your printer. A lower quality draft mode uses less ink. Consider alternatives to cartridges. A few printers use refillable tanks instead. Buying the ink in bulk will help you save money, but it can be messy.
Several printer manufacturers and office supply stores have programs to recycle cartridges and some even offer credit for them. To save on ink and paper, use more of the page before printing. You can decrease the document’s margins, use a smaller font size, or avoid double line spacing. Also, save the good card stock or resume paper and color ink for the final draft and use plain paper and black ink for works in progress.
Want to save energy? Our tests show some models use less than others. We measure this by plugging printers into an AC source that tells us how much power a printer uses when idle and when printing.