Know your Printers: What’s the difference
Buying a new printer can be slightly confusing, due to the sheer amount on the market, more than anything else. This means that you may come across conflicting opinion as to which one suits your needs the best.
These days, printers come in a wide price and capability range and in order to determine which is best for you, it’s necessary to think first about what you need it for. If you only ever print out things off the internet for reference, or letters, then it’s unlikely you will need a high-end printer, as you will not use all of its functionality.
Likewise, if you want a scanner too, but don’t want to pay extra, then you can get a multifunction printer that will carry out a variety of tasks and is suitable for use in the home. However, for an office that produces a high volume of paperwork, you will need something a little more robust that’s purpose designed.
Types of printer
There are 2 main types of printer: impact and non-impact. For the most part, modern, commercial printers fall into the non-impact category; inkjet and laser, these can also make up a part of a multi-function printer, which these days can also be wireless, have the ability to read memory cards and print photos.
Impact printers, such as dot matrix, are rarely used outside of industry these days so we will not be going into much detail on these. As the names suggest, impact printers work by hitting the paper with a print head, whilst non-impact printers don’t touch the paper at all.
When shopping for a printer, you may come across other ‘types’, such as deskjet and officejet, but you needn’t worry as these are brand names more than anything else. However, officejets, made by HP, are often more expensive as they are designed for office use and are usually bigger.
Office machines also stretch to the large multifunction machines that can be found in commercial print shops and libraries. These are usually rented and can carry out numerous functions on various sizes of paper. These functions include: photocopying, high-volume printing, document preparation and so forth and are unlikely to look good in your living room.
Wireless printers can be inkjet or laser and allow you to connect your computer(s) wirelessly. These have become much more popular since people began using Wi-Fi in the home.
Network printers are business machines which are connected to the office network so that everyone in the building who is connected to the same network can use it.
Which printer should you buy?
As mentioned above, this will depend heavily on what you’re going to use it for. Laser printers are great if you produce a fair amount of paperwork and they have reduced significantly in price over the past few years.
Whilst it used to be the case that you wouldn’t get much change out of £1000 for a laser printer, these days, full colour lasers can be found for less than £100. However, if you want to print out a lot of high quality photos, then a laser isn’t for you as inkjets produce clearer images due to the way the ink ‘sits’ on the paper, rather than being ‘burnt’ onto the paper like a laser.
People who produce a lot of documentation often go for a black and white laser printers to keep costs down, as replacement toners are expensive. However, they do last significantly longer than inkjet cartridges, which is why they are a good idea for those producing a lot of documents.
Printer to buy checklist:
- Do you need colour
- Will you be printing your own photos
- Do you expect to print documents more than a couple of times a day
- Do you need a scanner
- Wireless or wired – do you have a laptop or a static computer in one room – what other devices do you have that might use a wireless printer (smartphone, tablet)
- Do you need card-reading capability
For home use, multifunction printers are very popular and these can be found in both laser and inkjet models, so decide if this is for you first. However, bear in mind that a laser multifunction is likely to set you back a lot more than an inkjet.
If you have to have colour and don’t have a great deal of money to spend, then an inkjet is your best bet. Some of these can be found for as little as £25, but you will of course get what you pay for.
It’s worth asking when shopping for printers if they have disposable or fixed print heads too. This is because a fixed print head can be more expensive to replace than the initial cost of the printer, should they fail.
It’s also worth looking at which inkjets perform best on ink, as cartridge prices can soon add up if it goes through a lot and choosing a printer because it’s cheap could be a false economy.
For home use, especially in these days of connected devices, it’s a good bet to go for a quality multifunction printer, as this is likely to do everything you need. You don’t tend to see many stand-alone scanners anymore and since fax is also dying quite rapidly, buying a multifunction will ensure that you have everything you need, especially if it’s wireless too.
This will mean that you have the option of scanning, printing in black and white or colour, printing photos, connecting without wires and everything you could possibly need for the basic home office.
If speed is important to you and you are going to produce a lot of work, then a laser multifunction will do the trick, although you will pay more. It’s worth looking into the cost of toner cartridges too as some of the low-end laser printers will need these replacing quite quickly.
There’s no mystery to choosing a printer, it just so happens that there are an awful lot on the market, making for confusion around which is best. However, there are so many models that it’s difficult to pick out any one of them and say ‘this is the best’ as so many of them are on a par.
The best thing to do is read reviews, check out cartridge prices, think about how you will use it and then go shopping!