Printer Buying Guide
Finding the Right Printer

These days, many documents and photos live on laptop drives or on cloud services. But you still need a great printer to make your vacation snaps or quarterly reports into physical realities you can hang on a wall or hand out at a meeting. Printers have become less expensive and increasingly tricked-out over time. You can pick up a basic inkjet for well under $100, or spend $400 for some models that come packed with additional features. Here’s how to find the best printer for your needs. 

Choose the Right Style: Basic or All-in-One

A basic printer's only function is to print. So if you don't need to scan, copy, or fax—or you own other machines to do those tasks—one of these is best for you. Models start well below $100. 

You can get a printer that also provides scanning, copying, and (sometimes) faxing capabilities. Many all-in-ones cost no more and take up little more space than a basic printer. And an all-in-one can be less expensive than several separate devices added together. Note that most all-in-one printers have fewer features than stand-alone scanners, copiers, and fax machines. If you need to do very sophisticated scanning, for example, a separate scanner will have more options. And speaking of scanners, always look for a model with a flatbed design, as opposed to one that scans through the paper feed. This will allow you to copy not only documents but also book pages and photos. A few all-in-one printers have built-in duplexers to automatically print on both sides of the page.


Choose Between Inkjet and Laser

Depending on what you print most frequently, your second choice is between an inkjet and a laser printer. Each has its strengths and weaknesses.


If you typically print a combination of text, graphics, and photos, an inkjet is the way to go. Most can print almost anything, and they particularly excel at photos.

Most inkjets output black-and-white text at 5 to 18 pages per minute but are much slower for color photos. Models we tested took from 1.5 to 4 minutes or longer for a single high-quality 8x10.

The cost of a color 8x10-inch photo ranges from 50 cents to $2. Printing a black-text page with an inkjet varies but typically falls between 2 and 10 cents.

Some inkjets can also make borderless prints, most commonly on 4x6-inch paper. If you plan to do this often, look for a printer with a 4x6 or second paper tray, which makes it easier to feed paper this size.

Printing a 4x6 snapshot can take less than a minute and can cost as little as 20 cents.


If you print only black-and-white text documents—and a lot of them—a laser printer makes the most sense.

Laser printers produce sharp black-and-white text but are not well suited for printing photos. Even models that print in color aren't intended for use with glossy photo stock or other specialty papers, and the photo quality is quite poor.

Lasers typically can't accommodate unusually sized papers, such as 4x6 or greeting cards, either.

Laser printers usually outperform inkjets in terms of speed, cranking out black-and-white text at a rate of 9 to 25 pages per minute.

Black-and-white lasers generally cost about as much as midpriced inkjet models. Laser cartridges, which cost from about $50 to $100, can print thousands of black-and-white pages for 1 to 6 cents per page. 

Interactive Video Guide

For more, watch our video below. You can skip to different chapters on inkjet printers, laser printers, features, or ways to save. 

Get Connected

Your printer can now be as connected as your other electronics equipment, communicating with devices across the room or anywhere in the world. Some printers allow you to print online content directly; you may also be able to send documents to your home printer from a remote computer.

Share Without Cables
Most home printers allow for wireless printing through WiFi, and some printers have Bluetooth and/or infrared wireless connectivity as well. That allows you to print from a laptop or phone without even getting on your WiFi network.

Print Without a Computer
A printer with PictBridge can connect directly from a digital camera, and some models can print and download photos right from your camera’s memory card.

Print From Anywhere
This new technology allows you to connect your printer directly to the web. You can give permission to anyone you choose to make prints on your home or office printer. Google Cloud Print and Apple AirPrint work from your phone, tablet, notebook, and any other web-connected device. 

Factor In Ink Costs

Printer ink may be one of the most expensive liquids you buy, especially when you consider that a lot of it never ends up on the page—printers use up ink for routine maintenance. To find out which models make the most of this precious commodity, check out the Maintenance Ink Use column of our printer ratings.

Illustration: Chris Philpot

Super-Tank Printers

Super-tank inkjet printers dispense with pricey replacement cartridges in favor of refillable reservoirs replenished with a bottle of ink. These models tend to cost more up front, starting at about $250, but save you money over time.

A bargain printer, such as the $130 Canon Pixma MG6820, may look like a huge bargain, but it’s less of a deal, considering it’d cost $750 over the course of three years.

Super-tank models offer a much better return on investment. The typical user (one who prints 35 pages per month) starts saving money after about two years of use. And after two-and-a-half years, reservoir-based printers such as those in Brother’s INKvestment Tank, Canon’s MegaTank and Epson's EcoTank lines are cheaper to own and operate than almost every printer in our ratings.

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