Though you may get away with using the office printer for personal use now and then, there comes a point where it's much more convenient to buy your own. There are plenty of good quality printers that don't cost a lot of money upfront, but that's not the only expense you need to consider.
Some cheap models use a lot of ink, which can end up costing more over time than a more expensive (but more efficient) model. Before buying, you need to have a rough idea of the volume and type of documents and photos you plan to print over the course of a year. Then you can find a printer to suit your needs that won't cost you a fortune in the long run.
When you're in the market for a new printer, printing quality is the most important thing to consider, followed by annual ink costs. The other aspects in our test, such as printing speed, copying and scanning scores, are important but only apply to specific scenarios.
Give some thought to how often you'll use the printer, as this will determine how much of a factor annual ink costs will be. For example, you may find a low-cost printer that uses a lot of ink, but if you only print a few documents from time to time, then ink costs may not wind up being all that expensive.
By that same token, if you regularly print monochrome and colour documents, then a higher priced model with very good ink efficiency may end up costing less over time. Once you've figured this out, you can dig into the different printer types.
When we test printers, we determine ink or toner life by running the printers almost continuously to calculate cost per page and long-term running costs. This is based on our average use scenario of 1000 mono prints, 250 colour prints and 250 full-colour photo prints over the course of a year. This can help you determine whether the initial recommended retail price (RRP) of the printer or recurring ink costs are more important.
Low RRP: If you don't plan to print very often, then a low cost, high scoring printer from our test results will be fine. Though annual running costs might be high, your usage scenario is likely to be well below what we use to calculate ink expenses when we test.
Low annual ink costs: If our typical usage scenario mirrors your needs, then look for a high-scoring printer with low annual ink costs. These tend to have a higher price tag, but you'll ultimately save money compared to many low-cost printers.
Below are two examples from our test results that help demonstrate the difference in costs.
|Annual ink/toner cost
|Total cost over 3 years
|Print quality score
There are two types of printers:
- standard printers have no additional functions
- multi-function printers (MFP) include scan and copy functions and are much more versatile, but they generally come with a higher asking price.
Within these two broad categories are a range of features that vary between brands and models. These include photo printing, refillable ink wells, eco modes and more. These features and specifications are included in our test results comparison table.
These days the two main ink delivery systems are pretty comparable in most respects, but there are a couple of key differences worth keeping in mind.
A good inkjet printer produces sharp, vibrant, top-quality prints across a range of paper types. Ink costs can be high, but the best models can really make your graphics pop, so to speak.
Laser printers can't match the quality of a good inkjet model, but they typically use less ink when printing. They can also print faster and don't have ink heads, which means they can sit idle for longer periods without clogging issues.
Inkjet and laser are the two main printing technologies.
Continuous ink supply systems, or CISS, use a modified ink cartridge that's easy to refill. Not only can you top them up whenever you need to, but colour models let you refill individual tanks if one is running out faster than the other. Traditional printer cartridges, which combine colours, are basically ineffective once one colour runs out. This happens regardless of how much ink is left in the other vessels.
This is far and away the most economic way to print. So, what's the catch? CISS-enabled printers typically have a high RRP. But the long-term savings will likely make up for that.
We independently test and review new printers in specialised labs to find out which ones deliver the best performance, and which ones will be cheapest to run. If you're not yet a member, join CHOICE to get instant access to all of our expert, independent reviews. If you're already a CHOICE member, log in to unlock this article and read about the best cheap printers we've tested.
Printers that achieve a CHOICE Expert Rating (our overall score) of 70% or more, and a print quality score of more than 70%, receive the 'CHOICE Recommended' seal of approval.
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