Despite our lives becoming increasingly paper-free, the need for printed documents still lingers – think school assignments, important documents, home-made party invitations and signs for lost cats. And while faxes may have (mostly) gone the way of the dodo, scanned documents are definitely still a thing.
They're the kind of appliances that, when you need them, you really need them – and fast. So when you're looking to buy a new one, you'll want to make sure it delivers perfect prints every time with a minimum of fuss.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of printers out there that will do the job for a while but die when your child is right in the middle of printing out a 10-page essay for their final assessment. Or ones that will refuse to print in black and white because the cartridge is out of yellow ink. (Seriously, what is that about?)
So we've rounded up the best inkjet and laser printers, plus multifunction models with scanners, to help you choose the best printer for your home.
Price doesn't always equal performance
CHOICE experts have put more than 80 printers through their paces in our labs to see which ones perform the best. We also calculate running costs for each printer, based on how much it costs to print photos, black and white text pages, and colour graphics pages.
Time to ink again?
Although printer prices range from as little as $59 all the way up to $999, the purchase price isn't always a good indicator of how much you'll spend: ongoing ink and toner costs can add up to many times the purchase price. And sometimes the cheaper printers (if they use more ink) can cost you more in the long run than pricier models, so buying based on the price tag isn't the best way to go.
For instance, a $99 HP printer will cost you $1044 each year in ink and toner*, making what seems like a cheap printer a rather expensive proposition.
Sometimes cheaper printers (if they use more ink) can cost you more in the long run than more expensive models, so buying based on the price tag isn't the best way to go
"It really comes down to the build quality of the printer," says Peter Zaluzny, CHOICE printer expert. "Some just use ink much more efficiently than others, particularly in the cleaning cycles. The big savings come with models that support continuous ink supply systems or CISS for short – this a fancy way of saying refillable ink."
Nor is buying the most expensive model a guarantee of good performance – we've tested plenty of expensive models that just don't deliver good-quality prints, plus some cheap models that blow the exxy ones out of the water.
Consider overall cost – not just purchase price
Ultimately, we suggest you consider the overall cost of a printer (purchase price plus ongoing ink and toner costs) before you make a decision to buy.
"People who only print things occasionally typically need to weigh up the costs of buying a printer versus a print service," says Peter. "If you're going down that route, you also need to consider travel expenses and the time required to get to and from the print shop. It may be cheaper to use a service but it will eat into your free time."
*Yearly ink/toner cost is based on our average use scenario of 1000 mono (black and white) prints, 250 colour prints and 250 full-colour photo prints over the course of a year.
What type of printer should I buy?
The array of printer types can be mind-boggling. Laser or inkjet? Colour or mono (black and white)? A standard printer, or a multifunction one that also scans and copies? Here's a brief breakdown of the different printer types.
Standard vs multifunction
Standard printers do just one thing – print. If you sometimes need to scan or photocopy documents, a multifunction printer is a good option: they let you print, scan, copy and even fax.
You can pick up a separate scanner for about $150, which could be a good solution if you're looking for a cheaper option to complement your standard printer.
Inkjet vs laser
Inkjet printers are good for everything from documents to photos, delivering high-quality prints across a range of paper types. With some models, you can end up paying a lot for ink. But some manufacturers are now making inkjet printers with refillable tanks, which is a cheaper and more environmentally friendly option.
Laser printers don't deliver as good a quality in terms of printing, but they use less ink than most inkjets when printing and cleaning. Plus, they don't have ink heads, which means they're less likely to clog even if they've not been used in a while.
"Inkjet printer technology has improved to the point where some models can rival laser printers for efficient ink usage," says Peter. "But if you're only going to print monochrome documents most of the time, an inkjet is probably overkill."
How to decide which printer is best for you
Everyone's needs, budgets and preferences will be different, so unfortunately there's no simple answer to which printer is your best bet.
The type of printer you need depends on what you plan to use it for, and how often. To learn more, read our guide to how to buy the best printer.
Once you've worked out which type of printer you need, check our expert printer reviews. You can filter by brand, price, model type, printer type, maximum paper size and yearly ink/toner cost to find the best printer for your needs.
If you're asking yourself whether you even need a printer, we can help you make a decision on that too: Should I print at Officeworks or buy a printer?
The best printers and scanners from our tests
We independently test and review new printers and scanners in our onsite labs. Models that achieve a CHOICE Expert Rating of 70% or more, and a score of more than 70% for print quality, receive the 'CHOICE Recommended' seal of approval.
Our detailed printer and scanner data is available exclusively for CHOICE members. If you're not yet a member, join CHOICE to get instant access to all our expert, independent reviews.
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