Your Printer Buying Guide
The idea of a paperless office is really popular these days, but it’s not always possible.
The same applies to working from home – you might have the absolute desire to use as little paper as possible, but sometimes there’s just no way around that.
So you’ll need some kind of printer for your home office setup.
Also, because you’re working from home you probably need a printer that’s not only useful for business printing but can also handle all your family printing needs.
Let’s take a look at how you go about choosing a printer for a home business.
Understanding Print Quality
The quality of text or image a printer is capable of producing is measured in DPI, which stands for Dots Per Inch. The more dots per inch a printer is capable of, the better the quality you can expect.
The DPI rating for the color output from a printer is always 2x – 3x higher than the monochrome (black and white) output from a printer. That’s to be expected because printing a color photograph is a lot more complex than printing a plain-text invoice.
How many DPIs should your future home printer have?
If you’re only printing out black text then any printer capable of printing 600 dpi should be more than enough for your needs. If it happens to print at 1,200 dpi that’s fine too.
If, on the other hand, you want to print photos then you should make sure that your future printer is capable of at least 1,200 dpi color output, but ideally 2,400 dpi or higher.
How Fast Does Your Printer Need To Be?
Print speed indicates the speed a printer can produce a single page.
An entry-level inkjet device has a print speed of up to 7ppm(Pages per Minute).
Although some use half-page measurements – why would you measure half a page of printed content?
Marketers are weird.
A basic laser printer can output up to 20 pages per minute.
Now, there’s something you should know about those numbers – they represent text-only monochrome output.
That’s a fancy way of saying “text only”. If your documents typically contain both text and images you can reduce the stated PPM by 30%.
And if you’re printing complex, full-color photographs on a color printer, you can reduce the stated PPM by another 30%.
For businesses that require or use very little printed documentation, the page speed measurement is almost irrelevant.
But if you have to produce a lot of printed docs in a hurry then you’d be wise to invest in a printer (inkjet or laser) that has a PPM capability of at least 10 pages per minute.
Is It Better To Buy An Inkjet or Laser Printer?
Inkjet printers are a great choice if you’re printing a small amount of text-only or image-heavy documents. A laser printer is a much better choice if you have to print a large number of text documents.
Although the documents they print out might look pretty much the same, the technology used by each printer is very different.
An inkjet sprays tiny droplets of ink onto paper, but a laser device uses heat and an electromagnetic charge to “fuse” a very fine powder called toner to printer paper.
Inkjet printers are physically smaller, cheaper to buy, and less expensive to run, but only if you’re printing a small number of documents.
Laser printers take up more desk space, and have more expensive consumables, but are far more economical if you’re printing dozens or hundreds of pages of text.
Most people buying a printer for a home office will automatically default to buying an inkjet printer, and while the price tag might look attractive, they’re not always the best choice for a small business.
Especially if you have to run dozens of print jobs each day – that’s where a laser simply has a lower cost-per-page in comparison.
What Is A Supertank Printer?
A supertank printer is a type of printer that allows you to top up your ink via bottles of ink instead of using disposable cartridges.
So whenever you run out of ink you simply top up the built-in ink reservoir and away you go.
This type of printer offers an environmentally friendly solution to disposable ink cartridges and is actually more economical to run over the long term.
They cost more upfront than a standard inkjet, the max out at around 25ppm (not a big deal really), but they can suffer from clogs.
Unclogging a standard inkjet cartrdige is relatively easy but I would imagine that having to unclog an ink reservoir or feed lines is a messy experience.
What Will You Use Your Printer For?
This is the single most important question to ask yourself, and it’s the same question I asked you in the “How to buy a computer guide“. The reason I keep asking you to answer this question is because it will save you from spending way more money than you need to, and get a printer that’s perfectly suited to your needs.
So, take a few seconds to think about exactly what you’ll need to print.
Will it just be plain text documents, with the odd chart and some basic graphics? Or do you want a printer that can also produce high-quality photographic prints for either your business or your kids’ projects? In either of these scenarios, a basic inkjet printer should be more than capable of meeting your printing needs.
Or, will you have to print out hundreds of documents on a weekly or monthly basis, including handouts and presentations? If that’s the case then a laser is a far better choice because they’re designed for that type of work.
If you need to print in color then an inkjet printer makes sense.
But if your business only requires lots of plain text document printing then a laser printer makes more sense.
Printer Running Costs
The only real way to get an accurate answer to this question is to look at the cost of inkjet cartridges vs. toner cartridges and work out how many pages you’ll get from each one.
So let’s take the example of a typical ink cartridge costing $25, and capable of producing 250 pages of high-quality text. You then have a 10c average cost-per-page when using a printer of this type.
Laser owners can expect to pay around $100 for a toner cartridge, but it will be capable of producing at least 2,000 pages of high-quality text. That gives you a 5c cost-per-page when using this type of printer.
Lasers cost more to buy consumables for, but the lower cost-per-page more than makes up for that if you’ll have to print a whole heap of documents.
Inkjet printers pretty much always have a higher cost-per-page, but they’re the more economical printer for a home office if you’re only printing a handful of documents each week, or maybe even every month.
Laser printers are the cheapest office printer to run if you need to be able to print lots and lots of stuff.
Also bear in mind that the above examples only refer to printing text documents in black and white, but not in color.
The average cost per page for color printing with an inkjet is about 20c per page, and around 12c per page for a color laser printer.
Do You Need An Automatic Document Feeder?
An automatic document feeder (ADF) does exactly what it sounds like it does – automatically feeds documents into a device.
In the case of an all-in-one inkjet printer or laser printer, an automatic document feeder would feed documents to the scanner, which can then print copies of those documents if you need it to.
You’ll typically only find ADFs on large multi-function or all-in-one printers that are designed for use in a small office and not a home office.
With that said, if you’ll need to scan and print a ton of documents then a printer with an automatic document feeder might be exactly what you need.
But if not, don’t bother and save yourself some cash.
The Hidden Costs Of Home Printing
There are other running costs to consider too, and ones that computer retail stores won’t always share with you.
Well, it’s because if they told you the actual truth you’d never buy the printer.
If you use a basic inkjet printer to produce thousands of pages of text every month, it’ll die within a few months of you buying it.
Actually, it’ll probably stop working after a few weeks. Commercial inkjet printers might be able to handle high-volume printing, but a $50 printer will literally fall apart under that much printing pressure.
Laser printers are designed to handle high-volume printing, but they also have complex internal components that will need to be replaced if you’re a real printer hog.
How much does repair/servicing cost for this type of printer?
The tech guy is going to charge you anywhere from $60 – $80 for his time, and the parts might cost even more.
Watch Out For Cheap Printers
One of the oldest tricks in the books is when a manufacturer releases an entry-level inkjet printer for $30, which is just too much of a bargain to refuse.
So, you rush home with your new printer, set it up, print out 100 pages of stuff with the included cartridges.
Then it runs out, really, really quickly.
You get the store, find the ink cartridge you need, and check the price tag:
$35 per cartridge.
Your brand new “cheap” printer needs replacement cartridges that cost more than the printer cost to buy.
Manufacturers simply can’t make any real profit when they sell you a printer that costs less than a pizza and beers.
So, what they do instead is make their money back on the consumables i.e. ridiculously expensive replacement cartridges. That’s why I advise anyone who’ll listen to check the cost of the consumables for their printer before they buy it.
Does every printer manufacturer pull this stunt?
Nope, but never take anything for granted.
If you’re wondering why inkjet ink is so expensive, LifeWire have a decent article explaining why.
Oh, and if you’re wondering why the replacement cartridges last WAY longer than the original cartridges, it’s because certain printer manufacturers have been known to supply partially filled cartridges with a new printer.
Yes, really, and it’s something they call “priming”.
Do You Need Photo Printing?
Inkjet printers might lag behind laser printers in output speed, but when it comes to printing high-resolution photographs nothing can compare to an inkjet photo printer.
It’s not just about the printing technology used, but also the fact that laser printers are simply not suited to printing on certain types of paper, specifically photo paper. Now, you can get photo paper for this type of printer, but you’ll also need a color laser to print from.
The problem here?
Color laser printers cost way, way more than an inkjet printer capable of printing directly to photographic paper.
So, the main issue with using a color inkjet vs. laser for photo printing comes down to cost.
A photo-capable printer is also ideal if you have to print documents featuring high-resolution graphics or images, such as business proposals
What About Duplex Printing?
This is just a fancy way of asking if you need a printer that can print on both sides of a page- you can print double-sided.
It cuts down on the amount of paper you use, so you can reduce the overall cost of owning that printer. You’re also reducing your carbon footprint by using duplex printing.
Manual duplex printing
This is the annoying process of having to print one side of a document, then feed the pages back through again to print the reserve side. So, we can skip that “feature” because it’s not really a feature – it’s just a headache that results in lots of paper jams and wasted paper.
Automatic duplex printing
This does what it says on the tin – the pages that pop out of your printer automatically have both sides printed without you having to fiddle around with stacks of paper and some kind of messy feeder system.
My experience with auto-duplex printing on entry and mid-level inkjet printers has been mixed.
Sometimes it works great, but more often than not you wind up with a paper jam. And that’s a bad thing with an inkjet for more reasons than having to take the printer apart to get at the jam, but the paper feed rollers also get covered in ink.
Should You Buy An All-in-One Printer?
An all-in-one printer offers you an efficient way to get lots of printing and scanning functionality in a single inkjet or laser device.
This also means that you won’t need as much desk space
So, do also have the option of choosing an all-in-one inkjet or laser printer.
There was a time when printers that also included a scanner/copier were too expensive for the average Joe or Josephine, but times have changed.
These days it’s become pretty much impossible to buy a printer that doesn’t come with a scanner as part of the deal.
Are there any major differences between laser and inkjet MFDs (Multifunction) printers that you should be aware of?
- All-in-one laser devices tend to take up a lot more desk space
- They also tend to be more expensive to run
So it really comes down to how much money you want to spend and how much desk space you have.
As I said, it’s getting increasingly difficult to find a plain, old standalone printer these days.
Pretty much every printer seems to be an all-in-one type.
Are there any downsides?
Yes. The main one is that if either component (printer or scanner) stops working then you will have to replace the whole printer.
Should You Buy A Wi-Fi Printer?
Should you buy a wireless (Wi-Fi) printer?
If you only have a tiny office to work from, then it makes perfect sense to have your printer in another room. Even the smallest printers or multifunction devices measure 18 inches long by about 10 inches deep.
One thing to watch out for is that you can’t scan from most wireless printers or MFD’s
The device must be physically connected to your computer.
A common question people ask is: “But…do I need Wi-Fi in my home to print to a wireless printer?”
Nope, you don’t because you’re not actually printing via Wi-Fi to your printer – you’re printing directly to it via its own access point.
Another advantage of wireless printers is that they also allow you to print to them directly from your smartphone or tablet.
What’s The Best Printer For A Home Office?
There’s absolutely no way I can recommend one specific printer as being the most reliable above all others, simply because what you need from a printer is very different from what I need.
Here are some tips to help you out when buying a printer:
- Identify exactly what you need your printer to be able to do
- Decide if you need a color model or not.
- Stick to brands you recognize e.g. HP, Canon, Epson and similar brands
- Check the price of replacement toner or cartridges in advance
- Set a budget of at least $150 for a business-class inkjet printer
- If you’re buying a laser then a budget of $200 makes sense
- A mid-level multi-function device costs more, so give yourself a budget of $300