The choice of a the best printer 2021 can sound easy, but once you start learning all available functions, which makes the choice quickly becomes a discouraging task.
Do you need a basic printer, or would you like to have scanning skills and copy too? How do you choose between ink and laser injection technology? What is the difference between the $ 200 model and the $ 500 model? Here are some pointers to help you find the correct printer category and the correct model for that type. (And if you have difficulty finding what you want in stock, since global supply chains continue to fight, check our guide for difficult-to-find technology).
How do you intend to use your printer?
Printers vary greatly based on whether they’re for a home or business use (or dual-use in your home and home office), what you want to print with them (text, graphics, photos, labels), and whether you need color printing or just monochrome.
Most printers are designed with business or home use in mind. Generally, business models and geared to text and usually graphics, while home printers (generally inkjet) support photos. Special purpose options include custom and almost custom photo printers and label printers. (Even among specialized printers, 3D printers are a special case, and beyond the scope of this discussion.) Even if you especially want to print photos, you may also want a printer that can do other things, so explain the entire scope of your printing needs before you buy.
The Most Common Types of Printers
Most printers are designed to print text, graphics, or photos. Generally, business models use laser technology and are geared toward text (and sometimes graphics), while home printers (generally inkjet) support photos. In this consideration, printers still vary greatly in output quality for this category. Some business printers can handle all three types of output well enough that they can be used for printing brochures and other internal marketing materials.
The two most common technologies, laser, and inkjet, increasingly overlap in capabilities, but there are still differences. Most lasers and LED printers (which are identical to lasers other than using LEDs for light sources) print higher-quality text than most inkjets, and almost all inkjets print higher-quality photos than most lasers—but both technologies have grown tremendously in recent years, and you might be surprised to know which one works best for your needs. Check out our in-depth discussion of inkjet vs laser questions for more.
Beyond the question of inside technology and output types, there are some finer categories of printers.
Home printers (estimated price range: $50 to $250) are almost exclusively inkjet and are built for low volume printing. They tend to be slow, and have high ink costs. They print photos better than text and graphics. Almost all are multifunctional (all-in-one) devices that can scan, copy, and frequently fax and print. If your budget is tight, here’s where to start looking for cheap printers.
Home-office printers ($100 to $400) are mostly inkjet and are built for low to medium volume printing. Most are multifunction printers. They are directed to print text and graphics on top of the photo. Paper capacity starts at about 100 sheets, and high-end models can hold up to 500 sheets. Most of these printers can also be used in so-called micro offices (up to five people), and many options are excellent for households, especially if a student prints a lot of paperwork for school.
Home-office printers are part of a business printer ($100 to over $2,500), which range from compact, single-function models for low volume use to humongous floor units that can anchor departments. The majority of business printers are lasers, although inkjets are making inroads into the market, and most are multifunctional devices. Many are monochrome and support text printing and graphics over photos.
For many businesses, the speed and capacity of paper are paramount. Cost is also a factor; Generally, the more expensive a printer is to buy, the lower the cost of printing per page will be. Bulk ink models have the lowest cost per page, and there are now ink subscription programs that subsidize ink and toner fees. Most business printers offer security features like password-protected printing, and some even use accessories like an encrypted hard drive or ID card reader.
The nearly dedicated photo printer ($400 to $2,000) is designed for professional photographers and photo enthusiasts. Although photo printers can print text and graphics, they are mainly for printing high-quality photos. Some printers are wide format with wide frames to accommodate large format paper, and many can print from rolls of paper as well. For precision color, they use up to a dozen ink cartridges. You will often pay more per page because of the amount of ink they use and the high-quality paper that delivers the prettiest results.
A small-format photo printer ($80 to $250) is a special device built to print only photos. Print sizes can range from wallet sizes to 5 to 7 inches; Note that many models can only print one size. Most are very portable, and come with batteries or accommodate those you buy separately.
Consumer-wide format printers or tabloid sizes, ($150 to $300) are useful when letter-sized or legal pages aren’t large enough. You won’t be able to print 24-by-36-inch output-sized posters on this model (at least, not on a single sheet without tiles), but this wide-format machine can perform 11-by-17-inch prints (and in some cases, 13-by-19-inch) in small amounts.
Label printers are built to produce paper or plastic labels. Some include label design software and connect to your computer, while many devices are self-contained, allowing you to design and print labels using a small built-in keyboard. Standalone label printer manufacturers offer a wide variety of colors and types of labels.
Do you need a one-function or all-in-one printer?
Most general-purpose home printers, and many business printers as well, are multifunctional models (aka MPs, or all-in-one). Other functions include some combination of scanning, copying, and faxing from your PC, self-faxing, and scanning to email. Office printers typically include automatic document feeders (ADFs) for scanning, copying, and/or multipage fax documents and legal-size pages. Many ADFs can handle two-sided documents—either by scanning one side, turning a page, and scanning the other side, or using two sensors to scan both sides of the page on one pass.
Some lawmakers offer additional printing options. Photo-centric inkjets can be printed on DVDs or other optical media. Web-enabled printers, both home, and office models can connect directly to the internet via your Wi-Fi network to access and print selected content without the need to work through a computer. Many Wi-Fi models allow you to print documents and images from a handheld device. Some models allow you to send email documents to a printer from anywhere in the world, and you can then print them. Our roundup of the best all-in-one printers will help you sift through the many options out there.
How much do you plan to print?
If you only print a few pages a day, you don’t have to worry about how many printers are designed to print, as defined by the recommended (not maximum) monthly duty cycle. (The maximum task cycle is the absolute most that the printer can print per month, whereas the recommended task cycle is how much it can handle without undue wear and tear.) However, if you print enough for a task cycle, don’t buy a printer that doesn’t include that information in its specifications. Find out how much you print by how often you buy paper and in what amount. Then choose a printer designed to print at least that much.
Also, consider the minimum and maximum paper sizes and whether you need duplexes to print on both sides of the page. For input capacity, a useful rule of thumb is to get enough capacity so you have to add paper no more than once a week. If you print frequently on envelopes, checks, or letterhead, look for a printer with multiple drawers so that your printing doesn’t slow down by needing to unpack regular paper and load your particular medium.
How Fast Should You Print?
If you only print one or two pages at a time, you probably don’t need a speed demon. In fact, most home printers aren’t built for speed. However, if you produce a lot of longer documents, speed is more important, and that means you may want a laser printer.
As a rule, a laser printer will be close to the claimed speed for text documents, which does not require much processing time. Inkjets often claim faster speeds than more expensive lasers, but usually don’t live up to this claim. Inkjet printers have been accelerating, however, and some recent high-end models (sometimes dubbed inkjet “laser alternatives” have been able to hold their own speeds against lasers at comparable prices. (See how we tested the printer.)
How Much Does the printer cost?
Be sure to check the total cost of ownership. Most manufacturers will tell you the cost per page, and many will provide a cost per photo. To get the total cost of ownership, calculate the cost per year for each type of output (monochrome, color document, photo) by multiplying the cost per page for the output type by the number of pages you print per year. Add three amounts together to get the total cost per year. Then multiply that by the number of years you expect to have a printer, and add up the printer’s initial cost. Compare the total cost of ownership figures between printers to find out which model will be the cheapest in the long run.
The high cost of printer ink has traditionally been a sore spot among home and business customers, but major manufacturers have introduced ways users can lower the cost of their per-page ink while maintaining their own revenue.
HP does this through its Instant Ink subscription program, where certain DeskJet, OfficeJet, Envy, and Tango printer owners can choose between three levels, paying a monthly fee to print up to a certain number of pages. (Levels are 50, 100, and 300 pages per month.) The same fee applies to black or color printing. HP automatically sends more ink when you run out. These programs can save you a lot of money, especially if you print most of them in color.
Other manufacturers offer printers that accept high-capacity cartridges. Model You Ship’s Divestment with large ink cartridges —in some cases, some sets of them—so you can pay extra upfront for the printer, but the ink supply will last a long time, and additional cartridges can be purchased at low prices. Tank Brother’s investment printers are similar, except that their high-capacity cartridges disassemble ink into the reservoir inside the printer.
Epson EcoTank and SuperTank printers use bottle ink that you (carefully) pour into an internal tank; Canon’s MegaTank printer also comes with bottled ink. Now there are even bulk-toner laser printers like HP’s Neverstop line. These models are primarily aimed at the office, but there’s no reason thrifty consumers who print a lot can’t afford them as well. (See more about how to save printer ink.)
How will you connect your printer?
USB ports remain ubiquitous on printers. Most office printers, and a growing number of home printers, including Ethernet ports and/or Wi-Fi, allow you to share printers with your home network. (If you’re having trouble with this feature on your current printer, here’s how to troubleshoot your printer’s Wi-Fi connection.) Printers that support Wi-Fi Direct (or its equivalent peer-to-peer protocol) can connect directly to most Wi-Fi-enabled devices.
Some printers can connect and print from a mobile device via NFC (near-field communication), simply by tapping a phone or tablet to a specific place on the printer, but NFC mode seems to be fading.
Most major printer companies now provide mobile apps so you can take photos with your phone and print them directly, without the need to transfer them to a computer first. Small format photo printers often support Bluetooth for connecting mobile devices and more. how to install driver.
Do you need printer security?
Printer security is often overlooked but at the peril of your business. Hackers can gain access to the network through printers, and sensitive documents on paper trays can be seen by prying eyes. Many business-centric models better incorporate password protection, so once users launch print work, they have to insert a PIN into the printer to release it. This ensures that confidential documents do not fall into the wrong hands.
In the case of a business printer, the firmware should be constantly updated, as it often fixes vulnerabilities, and each printer’s hard drive must be encrypted. Many manufacturers offer administrative tools to help IT departments ensure printer security.
How do you measure size and weight?
For the most part, the size and weight of the printer depending on its intended use, but even so, there are considerable variations. Make sure the printer will fit in a given space (in all three dimensions, including a paper in feeders and output trays that may need to be extended), and not too heavy to move around if you decide to renovate. Very compact printers are available for people who live and work in dorm rooms or other cramped spaces.
As a general rule, the larger the features you add additional paper trays, automatic document feeders, high-capacity ink tanks, and so on. If space is a concern, choose wisely when it comes to these add-ons.
Printer: Frequently Asked Questions
Should you buy third-party ink or a refill kit?
Third-party ink often costs much less than branded products. But be aware that it can come with an entire tank full of problems. First of all, there is no guarantee that you will get the same quality ink from a third party that you do when buying brand-name products.
Also, using ink that is not approved by the manufacturer can violate your warranty. And don’t think you can get away with secretly using that rebel ink: If your printer has an internet connection, it’s possible it could report your violation to a manufacturer. Sometimes, with firmware updates, we’ve seen the use of third-party ink “deauthorize” the use of aftermarket cartridges.
Many printer manufacturers now offer ink subscriptions, so new ink appears on your door when you need it. If it’s available for your model, it’s the best way to go.
Should you buy a cheap paper? What about recycled paper?
For everyday printing, a 20-pound paper brand store will usually serve well. However, you will get better results if you step into a higher-quality paper. For lasers, as well as for inkjet text and graphic printing, that means heavier weight and possibly brighter levels of white. For photos on inkjet, that means getting photo paper. Getting a brand of photo paper that matches your printer brand will usually be the best choice; Printer manufacturers design ink and paper to work together and often offer a variety of photo papers.
Recycled paper has also improved in quality, and there is 100% consumer post-content recycled paper for many uses, including cover stock and bright white paper suitable for business use.
There are other types of eco-friendly paper on the market as well, such as versatile paper made of sugarcane and photo paper made of cotton. Do your small section to save the tree and research environmentally friendly media options. Any modern printer will handle it well.
What is the best printer 2021 to use at home?
What type of printer you get for your home depends on what you plan to print. As a general rule, if you produce a lot of text-based pages, a laser printer will do the trick. If a color document or photo is on your agenda, you’ll want to go with inkjet. If you plan to do any scanning or copying, you should look to an all-in-one or multifunction printer. Decent AIO’s aren’t much more expensive than their printer counterparts alone, and they offer plenty of additional features.
Should you buy a refurbished printer?
Printing technology isn’t updated often, so buying a printer that’s a few years old won’t mean sacrificing any innovative technology.
If you are buying a refurbished or used printer, get it from a reliable source, make sure it has been repaired by the manufacturer, and look for a reasonable warranty and payback period. Here’s what to know before buying refurbished electronics.
So, which printer should I get?
Based on our advice above, and our top picks for various use cases below, you should be ready to shop around.
Keep in mind what you want to print, how much you want to print, and how much you’re willing to pay upfront and per page, and you’ll definitely find the right printer for you. If you replace an old printer, recycle it or donate it so it can be someone else’s refurbished bargain.
If money is tight, start with our pick for the best cheap printers, and check out how to save money with ink. If you’re shopping for business, we have the best business printers collected for you as well.
Printers vary widely based on whether they’re for home or business use (or dual-use in homes and home offices), what you want to print with them (text, graphics, photos, labels), and whether you need color printing or just monochrome.