How to Decide Which Home Printer to Buy
Home Printer Considerations
Buying a Home Printer: Matching the User's Needs with the Printer's Capabilities
Looking to get a printer for home use? Now that you have read our guide on the various printer technologies, you should know that it's usually a toss-up between an inkjet or laser/LED printer. Loosely speaking, inkjets are preferred if you print a lot of photos; but laser/LED printers are better suited (faster print speeds, sharper output) for documents.
Then again, within each category, there are so many printers that come in even more shapes and sizes (and prices, too). Thus, the next step is to identify exactly what type of user you are, and what exactly do you need a printer to do? Are you working from home, and need a printer that does it all; are you a student looking for an affordable printer to print your school projects; are you a homemaker who likes to print web clippings and recipes; or are you a photographer looking to print gallery-level photos at the comfort of your home?
Let’s take a look at the common scenarios that home users face:
1. You print fairly frequently, though all your prints are monochrome documents. You don't fax or scan documents (you always do that in your office).
In this case, what you need is a single-function printer. Since you won’t be printing color photographs or documents with colored images, it makes more sense to go with a monochrome model. While single-function monochrome inkjets can be had for as low as S$60, we recommend a laser printer because of its faster and higher quality monochrome text and graphics output. That's mostly true even when the inkjet is printing at the same resolution as the laser printer (as a loose rule of thumb, 600 dots per inch (dpi) is required for good quality text; the higher you go, the sharper it looks). Sure, the initial cost of a laser printer is usually higher than an inkjet printer, but you tend to save more in the long run, since a laser printer is more efficient on toner use, versus an inkjet's use of ink.
One model that you can consider is the Brother HL-2240D that retails for S$168 (we have seen it going for less at tech shows). With a 250-page paper tray and print speed of 24 pages per minute (PPM), the HL-2240D offers good value in a compact package that is smaller than some of its inkjet counterparts.
Alternative: If you rate affordability over quality (maybe you're just printing recipes), the cheapest printer you can buy is a single-function monochrome inkjet printer. But with printer prices on the downward trend in the last few years, there aren't as many such models in the market now.
2. You print family photos occasionally, and your children print school projects that contain colored charts and images from time to time.
In this example, a single-function color inkjet printer will help with saving more from the outset, but do consider an all-in-one machine too, since it hardly costs more these days, and the copying and scanning functions will come in mighty handy even if you were to use it once in a blue moon.
We recommend Inkjets over laser printers in this case as they are good at printing photos, not to mention colored charts and diagrams in your documents or term papers. For photos, 600dpi is usually enough. In some cases, a printer's 600dpi photo printout may actually look better than another printer's 1,200dpi printout. That's because when it comes to photos, it's not always about resolution. Things like printhead precision, paper type, and ink quality play a part as well.
Of course, when it comes to text, an inkjet printer may not fare as well as a laser printer. The mileage (number of prints) for ink replacements is also generally lower than laser toner replacements, so the cost of printing is higher if you decide to go the inkjet route.
Modern inkjet printers for the home start from very affordable prices, even for the all-in-one models. For example, the Canon Pixma MG3570 is going as little as S$149. It features automatic double-sided printing (so you don't have to manually flip the pages over), though it lacks an ADF and its print speed is quite average. Naturally, expect models with faster print speeds to cost more.
In the past, we usually recommended those on a shoestring budget to consider dropping frills like integrated Wi-Fi connectivity, but this is no longer the case today. Using the MG3570 as an example again, it supports Wi-Fi, AirPrint, and even has built-in copying and scanning functions.
Alternative: Most home inkjet printers support up to A4 printing and use a CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black) ink set. There are printers out there that offer more inks to get even better color output. An example would be the S$569 Canon Pixma iP8770, which adds a Photo Black ink to achieve neutral gray tones with reduced color shifts in color and monochrome prints.
3. You run a small business at home, and you print, copy, and scan documents frequently.
Naturally, we recommend an all-on-one machine in this case. As you already know, 3-in-1 multi-function printers (that do print, copy, and scan) are very affordable these days, so it doesn't make sense to get standalone devices for each function. In addition, do you receive or send faxes? If so, there are also AIOs that come with fax capabilities. Whether you should go for an inkjet AIO or a laser/LED AIO again depends on which printer technology's characteristics you value more.
Expectedly, AIO printers can also get very expensive depending on the features you choose. An automatic document feeder (ADF) is not a must if you don’t usually scan or copy multi-page documents. Neither is that memory card slot if you're comfortable with initiating the print job from a computer. In that case, you can consider using the savings to get a faster printer instead. Same goes for features like auto-duplexing, touchscreen panel, expandability options, wireless - do you need them?
Another important question to ask is: do you need to print in color? If you only print in black-and-white, there’s probably no need to buy a color AIO printer. Again, you can channel the savings to get a faster monochrome AIO instead. And don't worry - the scanner in monochrome AIOs can still scan in color.
For a jack of all trades inkjet AIO printer, you can take a look at the Canon Pixma MX927. It prints reasonably fast and well in both monochrome and color, and has a reasonable price tag. It's also a pretty good photo printer, so it's quite a suitable family printer too. Indeed, the flexibility of AIOs is why they're the most popular type of printers.
Alternative: If you decide that you need an AIO, and you rate fast document print speed and quality outputs above everything else, your best best is a laser/LED AIO printer. Since both laser and LED printers use the same underlying print technology, if you’re looking for that ‘laser’ quality output, there’s no reason to shun an LED printer. One of the better ones we've reviewed recently is the Fuji Xerox DocuPrint CM215 fw. Again, if you don't need to print in color, there are also plenty of monochrome laser/LED AIOs to choose from.
4. You are an photography enthusiast, and you wish to print professional quality photos at home.
Believe us, the best color inkjet AIO printers are capable of very high quality photo printouts - so don't discount them so fast.
However, if you need photo print quality that's good enough for display in a gallery, it's best to turn to dedicated photo printers like those in Epson's Stylus Photo series or Canon Pixma Pro series. Such printers are able to offer wider color gamut and excellent grayscale precision because they employ sophisticated ink systems (which can be as many as 12 inks), along with specialized photo papers. Catered for the pros who often want to print big, they also support A3+ printing.
Alternative: What if you're into photography (especially smartphone photography), but instead of a high-end photo printer, you're looking for something that you can bring about? Well, you can either get a compact photo printer like those in Canon's Selphy series, or a pocket photo printer that's gaining quite a bit of traction these days. With features like Wi-Fi and NFC, these small printers are easy to use and to share with family and friends.