In our increasingly digital world, you'd think we'd already have done away with printers. But we still rely on them and many families still have one on hand for printing documents, tickets and the like.
Since you generally can't test them out in-store, we've tested hundreds of printers for you so you don't end up with a dud. Our experts assess things such as print quality (for colour, black and white, and photo printing), printing speed, scanning and copying, ink/toner use and ease of use.
Our experts share tips on which printers to avoid and what to look for to find your Prints Charming. Plus, we'll explain how to decide which sort of printer is best for your needs and how you can avoid paying too much for ink and toner.
Worst inkjet printers
1. Canon Pixma TS3160
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 53%
- Price: $59
- Yearly ink/toner cost: $292
You need to stay in the black to use this printer: not only will you spend $292 on ink and toner each year, but it also costs more than 10c per text page, and it won't print at all if there's no black ink.
And if you can get it to print, unfortunately you'll only end up with prints not-so-charming: our experts scored it just 38% for printing quality.
Taking a finger-drumming 54 seconds to start printing from being switched on, you'll be left like Cinderella at Officeworks, bemoaning, "some day my prints will come…"
Read the full Canon Pixma TS3160 review.
2. HP Smart Tank 457
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 55%
- Price: $499
- Yearly ink/toner cost: $41
Scoring a dismal 47% for printing quality and just 54% for printing speed, this printer also has very poor Wi-Fi performance, no ethernet, no USB PictBridge, no wireless PictBridge and the main tray holds fewer than 100 sheets.
On a positive note, while this multifunction inkjet printer is more expensive upfront than other models, it has very low relative ink and toner costs, and will cost you less than 5c per text page and less than 80c per photo.
Read the full HP Smart Tank 457 review.
3. HP Deskjet 3720
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 55%
- Price: $59
- Yearly ink/toner cost: $798
At $59, this HP printer might seem like a steal – until you realise how expensive it is to print from. Our tech experts estimate that it will cost you an epic $798 in ink and toner each year (based on our average-use scenario of 1000 mono prints, 250 colour document prints and 250 full-colour photo prints over the course of a year).
For that amount of upkeep, you'd expect immaculate printing results, but sadly this printer doesn't deliver: it scored just 50% for printing quality and 43% for printing speed.
One good point is that it can print from mobile devices by Wi-Fi, which is just as well – it's so noisy that you wouldn't want to be sitting next to it while it prints.
Read the full HP Deskjet 3720 review.
Worst laser colour printers
1. HP Colour LaserJet Pro M283fdw
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 63%
- Price: $449
- Yearly ink/toner cost: $569*
This multifunction printer may churn the prints out quickly, but the quality of said prints leaves a lot to be desired: it scored just 51% for print quality. It's pretty good at scanning, but not great at photocopying.
That speedy printing certainly comes at a cost, too: it has very high relative ink and toner costs, and uses a whopping 377 watts of power when printing.
Read the full HP Colour LaserJet Pro M283fdw review.
*The yearly ink/toner cost is based on 1000 mono prints, 250 colour document prints and 250 full-colour photo prints over the course of a year.
2. OKI C532dn
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 64%
- Price: $495
- Yearly ink/toner cost: $1006
It may be quick, taking just 25 seconds from turning on to printing, but this standard printer's other positives are unfortunately few and far between.
It'll cost you more than $2 per photo print and chew through your electricity: it uses 391W while printing and 20.6W while idle. It's also quite noisy, and scored a disappointing 57% for print quality.
Read the full OKI C532dn review.
3. Brother HL-L8260CDW
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 65%
- Price: $449
- Yearly ink/toner cost: $336
Another speedy operator that disappoints on quality, this printer only takes 27 seconds from powering up to delivering poor prints (it scored just 56%) for print quality. But at less than 5c per text page, perhaps you'd be prepared to overlook its poor-quality printing.
But don't let this printer's failings put you off the Brother brand – other models from this company perform well in our tests.
Read the full Brother HL-L8260CDW review.
CHOICE test officer Scott O'Keefe puts a printer through its paces.
Which printer type should I buy?
Choosing the right printer can be a confusing process. Before you start shopping around, consider how you plan to use the printer.
"Printers can be quite specialised these days, from cheaper models aimed at only occasional use, to ink-tank (not cartridge) models designed for high output at low cost per page, plus models designed to print high-quality photos," says Steve Duncombe, CHOICE Computer editor.
It's important to be realistic about what sort of printing you are likely to do most, and what features are essential for youSteve Duncombe, CHOICE Computer editor
"Then there are the multifunction printer models that have a wide range of extra features, from scanning and copying to faxing (yes, people still do this!) and more.
"So it's important to be realistic about what sort of printing you are likely to do most, and what features are essential for you, and do your homework to find the right sort of printer to do that job – which is where our printer buying guide comes in."
How to save money on printer ink and toner
Don't just look at the upfront cost of a printer before you buy, our experts warn. "Ink is usually a bigger component of total cost than the printer itself," says tech content producer Ben Bridges.
Ben shares seven hot tips to avoid spending too much on printer ink:
1. Inkjet cleaning cycles use more ink
Inkjets have to keep the jets clear, which they do with a cleaning cycle if the printer hasn't been used recently, or has been switched off. This uses up ink, which adds to the cost of ownership. Laser printers don't have to do this.
2. Printer price vs ink price
People sometimes look at the price of the printer and the price of ink – and think it's cheaper to buy a new printer. It generally isn't: new printers nearly always come with a reduced supply of ink, so you won't be getting the full complement if you buy a new printer.
3. Can you use compatible inks?
Some printers prevent you from using 'compatible' inks that are generally much cheaper than the manufacturer's ones. They're now obliged to include a statement on the box that they don't work with compatible inks – my advice would be to avoid these printers.
4. Refillable cartridges
On a positive note, there are now plenty of 'bottle' printers where you refill the cartridges from bottles. They are much cheaper to run, but more expensive to buy – another trade-off.
5. Colour cartridges
There are a few printers with a single 'colour' cartridge, so when one colour runs out, you have to replace the whole cartridge. These are best avoided.
6. Ink levels
An inkjet printer can tell exactly how much ink is left in an inkjet cartridge (by shining a light through it, essentially). But lasers have no real way of measuring the toner left, so they just count the pages printed and tell you you're running out when the number comes up. In actual fact, you may not be.
7. Photo printing
If you want to print photos, you really need special photo ink. Magenta and cyan both fade in the light, so if you put your photos on the fridge, they'll eventually turn yellow.
Our laser and inkjet printer reviews let you see how much a printer will cost you in toner and ink each year, plus how much ink they use for cleaning – and much more.