When it comes to at-home printing, the ongoing costs of paper and printer ink (which in some cases can set you back a staggering $8306 a litre) might make you wonder – would it be cheaper just to print everything at Officeworks for as little as 8c per black-and-white page (A4, 80gsm)?
Well, the answer really depends on what and how much you print.
"There are plenty of reasons for printing at home, and plenty for using Officeworks (or somewhere similar) and for most people, it will be a bit of both," says CHOICE content producer and printer expert Ben Bridges.
Here, we help you decide which option is best for your needs.
If you print a lot of A4 documents, you'll probably save money overall by printing at home.
You should buy a printer if…
1. You print a lot
If you print lots of documents over the course of a year, when you work out the costs of your printer, ink and paper, you'll probably save money overall by printing at home.
For example, when we calculated the yearly cost of printing at home using an HP Envy 5030 multifunction inkjet printer (including ink and paper costs) and compared that with printing at Officeworks, we found that once you printed more than roughly 350 pages, it became cheaper to print at home.
Of course, the exact costs will vary depending on the type and price of your printer, which is why we always recommend that you think about your printing needs before buying one.
"Everyone needs to look at their own usage," says Ben.
You can also look at the cost-per-page figures on our printer reviews to get an idea of at-home printing costs compared with printing at Officeworks, bearing in mind that Officeworks will print A4 black-and-white 80gsm prints for 8c a page. (For the full list of printing options, see Officeworks' print and copy price guide.)
That said, if you had a one-off 300-page project you needed to print, you might find it quicker and easier to do this at a professional printers.
"A professional printer (including Officeworks) would be better because they can also handle the covers and binding, which could be difficult at home," says Steve Duncombe, CHOICE's technology editor.
CHOICE tip: Can't decide between a mono, inkjet or laser printer? It helps to work out what you need the printer for. Our guide to buying a printer includes a list of questions you should ask yourself before heading to the checkout.
2. You value convenience
Not everyone wants to spend time and money travelling to and from their nearest store whenever they need to print something. And given the piecemeal way most of us print, a couple of pages every other day equals a lot of trips.
And despite the fact that many Officeworks stores are open until midnight, most parents would probably prefer to print their child's school project (which has, of course, been left till the last minute) in the privacy of their own home, instead of rushing out at 11.30pm in their PJs, USB stick in hand.
In contrast, printing at home is instantaneous and certainly more convenient – especially if you don't live near an Officeworks or similar print shop.
"There is certainly a convenience factor to having a printer at home, even for occasional printouts of various text or graphics pages and photos," says Steve.
3. You just want one
If you only print occasionally, printing at Officeworks will generally be cheaper in the long run.
You should print at Officeworks if…
1. You don't print very much, very often
If you rarely need to print, popping to your nearest Officeworks to print the odd A4 document every couple of months will generally work out cheaper in the long run.
But Ben says there are ways to lower the costs of printing at home if you're a casual printer.
"If you don't print much, but still want the occasional letter, consider a mono laser printer," he says. "These are generally cheaper than colour printers and are economical on ink.
"If you need to scan or copy, choose a multifunction printer. And if you want any casual colour prints, it's probably cheaper to go with an inkjet than a colour laser – especially if you ever want a quick photo-paper print of the grandchildren to stick on the fridge."
2. You want to print photos
The popularity of photo book services is on the rise, but many people still like to have prints of their happy snaps.
And while an inkjet is the best type of printer to print photos at home, "you really need to use 'photo ink' if you don't want them to fade to yellow," says Ben.
"But not many people are going to keep photo magenta and photo cyan cartridges as well as the standard ones."
Which is why it's usually better to print photos at Officeworks or another professional printing service than at home.
3. You need something professionally printed
If you need to print things for professional use, or need to print anything larger than A4, you can't expect the same quality from any home printer that you can get from a professional service.
"It's not just the print quality, it's the paper too," says Ben. "Then there are considerations like printing up to the edge of the paper, or printing on A3.
"For anything you want to look professional, Officeworks or a professional printer will be worthwhile."