Printer Buying Guide

Kai Ping Lew By Kai Ping Lew - updated July 28th, 2023
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Struggling to figure out the maze of printers and what the best option for you is? Whether you're an ambitious student ready for the academic year, a home office worker looking to streamline your workspace, or a parent aiming to enhance your child's learning journey, it's undeniable - a reliable printer is key! But, here's the thing: the choice can seem overwhelming, right? Which printer offers the best quality? Is it worth investing in certain features? This is precisely where our Printer Buying Guide plays its part. 

This Printer Buying Guide will break down everything you need to know when it comes to choosing a printer. You’ll be able to understand the difference between, say, an inkjet and a laser printer, or learn what DPI and PPM metrics actually mean for you. With this knowledge, you’ll be better equipped to choose a printer that fits your unique needs and lifestyle. By the end of this guide, you'll not only understand the core functionalities of printers and features that are worth your investment, but you'll also feel confident in making an informed decision. For some more specific suggestions, make sure you check out our article on How to Choose The Best Printer For Your Home and Office Printing Needs too.

Inkjet vs. Laser Printer

The first decision you'll have to make is whether you want an inkjet printer or a laser printer. Both have their pros and cons, with each being better suited to some use cases than others.

Inkjet Printers

Inkjets have adapted over time to become an affordable, reliable printer with many features for all types of users. Home offices with light printing needs would benefit from an inkjet printer mainly because of the low initial cost to purchase the printer. For office use, you'd be best to go with a model which has a 150-250 sheet main tray and a standard or optional second tray, for those that print often, as well as a dedicated output tray. An automatic duplexing (double sided) feature is also useful to have. Inkjet printers handle colour printing well making it a great choice if you’re printing graphics and images often. Better yet, the running cost when printing in colour is actually quite favourable compared to laser printers which will often be much higher for the same number of images. On the downside, inkjets tend to be average performers when it comes to speed.

Laser Printers

If you’re mostly printing documents in the home office with little need for image-printing capabilities, we recommend a laser printer. Laser printers cost more upfront, but they provide the best performance, are more convenient to use, and in most cases, have an overall cheaper running cost (as long as you’re not printing a lot of images).Laser printers combine fast speeds, sharp output and a low cost per page. You should consider a laser or LED printer if your needs include printing perfect text, printing exclusively on plain paper, and quick/frequent printing. Laser and LED printers create precise black text as well as coloured text very well, suitable for printing important documents. They work with laser compatible paper which enables the printer to handle high heat. Most laser and LED printers are faster than many inkjets and are designed to print high volumes of work easily.

What Does DPI Mean?

The DPI (Dots Per Inch) can be really important depending on what you're planning to print. DPI is essentially a measurement of how many dots a printer can place in a square inch, thus determining the level of detail in the final print. If your primary use will be printing text documents, a lower DPI, say around 300 or 600, will service your needs perfectly well. The text will appear fairly sharp and perfectly readable, which is ideal for most documents produced in a work or school scenario.

The story changes a little if you're planning on printing images, graphics, or photographs. For these, you’ll want a printer with a higher DPI, potentially ranging from 1200 to 4800. In this scenario, a higher DPI printer will help you achieve more detailed and vibrant images by capturing subtle color variations, distinct lines, and complex details beautifully.

Professional printing needs, such as high-quality marketing materials, graphic design pieces, or professional photography prints, take it a step further. If high detail and colour accuracy are your main concerns, don't hesitate to look for printers with a DPI of 2400 or even higher. Just remember, high DPI prints might use more ink and take longer due to the detail level. But if quality is what matters most to you, this trade-off can be worth it. Pairing a high-DPI printer with quality paper will only enhance the final output, ensuring the best results for your print needs.

What Does PPM Mean?

PPM stands for Pages Per Minute, and it's a standard measure used to determine the speed of printers. In other words, PPM tells you how many pages a printer can produce in one minute. For instance, if a printer has a speed of 10 PPM, it means it can print 10 pages in a minute. Keep in mind that this rate typically applies to printing in draft or normal mode. The printing speed will often decrease if you're printing high-quality images or documents as these require more detail and, subsequently, more time to print.

Consider your print volume when looking at PPM. If you're mostly printing a few pages at a time, a lower PPM speed will be fine. However, if you're regularly printing lengthy documents or have high volume printing needs - say, in an office environment or as a student with lots of papers to print - a higher PPM will be beneficial to increase efficiency and save time. But as with all specifications, balance is key. A printer's PPM shouldn't necessarily be a deciding factor on its own, but rather one of many features to assess based on your specific needs.

Consider The Printing Costs

When we think of the price we pay for a printer, many of us will first only think of the price of the printer itself, and then maybe the ink. But we should also consider the cost of running that printer and take into consideration what it might cost us in the long run compared to other printers. First off, let's cover the basic maths involved for working out the cost per print or C.P.P for short, this can be applied to everything from printing a small quantity of vibrant large photographs in full colour on special paper, or mass printing a large amount of simple black ink flyers for a promotion.

Each kind of printer, no matter which type you choose, has a running cost for each page you print. This is based on the price of the ink toner cartridges vs the yield for said cartridge and finally the cost of the paper you printing on, while factoring in the efficiency of the printer.

Cost Per Print - Inkjet vs. Laser (Black & White)

The starting calculation is the carrtridge price divided by page yield. Let's look at how this plays out with a simple black prints on a inkjet Printer cartridge VS a Laser Printers Toner.

  • Let's take a PGBLK Ink Catridge we'll call Ink Cartridge X (used for Inkjet Printers) which has 180 page yieldwith a RRP as $39. This works out as 39 / 180 = 22 cents per print
  • Let's take a Toner we will call Toner X (used for Laser Printers) whic has a 2200 page yield with a RRP of $139. This works out as 121 / 2200 = 6 cents per print

You'll want to use premium printer paper like this April Ekon A4 Premium Printer Paper which has a retail price of $9.15 at the time this article was written. Even though it's premium quality, at this price, it'll be suitable for regular everyday print jobs too. The formula is similar to the one above, with the cost on the paper first divided by the sheets, in this case, it's 9.15 / 500 for a cost at around .02 cents per print so we simply add this to the ink/toner cost above.

Printing 5 pages with this paper and the inkjet above is around $1.20.
Printing 5 pages with this paper and the laser printer above is around $0.40.

Cost efficiency really shines here with the laser printer for printing everyday documents in Black & White. Keep in mind, the actual cost will vary based on the type of ink and the paper you are using. 

Cost Per Print - Glossy Photos (Colour)

For photos, you'll likely use a glossy option like this HP Everyday Photo A4 Paper which has 100 sheets at an RRP of 22.21. Again we take the cost of the paper and divide it, in this case, 25 / 100 for 22 cents per print, but we are unlikely to print a photo using just a black cartridge right!? Let's quickly see how we would factor in a range of colour cartridges. The number of colour cartridges used can vary from printer to printer, with HP Printers frequently using a single Tri-Colour cartridge and Brother splitting the colours into individual packages.

As an example, looking specifically at the Brother LC73 range, we would need 3 different cartridges with our colour inkjet for photo prints, each with an RRP of $39 and a yield of 600 prints. We also need to factor in the black ink, for this model one has an RRP of $52 with a yield at 600 also. From here we add together all our costs, $39 X 3 + 52 which we then divide into our yields 600 - realistically, this may vary as you won't be printing an entire page full of every colour. Depending on how detailed your image is, you may get up to four times the yield. To make things easy and give us a rough idea though, let's go with 600 yield which will give us a cost per print at around 28 cents, taking this and again adding the cost of paper, which brings us to around 50 cents per photo printed in an inkjet printer. 

Once again, these costs will vary based on ink used, printer, and photo type but it gives you an idea of how to do the calculations yourself. Some printers require more cartridges and some cartridges will have different yields than others. The cost of colour ink for laser printers can also get quite expensive so if you'll be printing in colour frequently, make sure you weigh that up and do the same calculations for that before deciding if a laser printer is the best choice for you.

Factor in Yearly Number of Prints

Consider how many pages per year you will be printing, as this  may help you get the best value for money in the long run. With this in mind, you can choose a model printer with consumables that will match your output. For example, while a cheaper printer may seem like the most cost-efficient choice in the beginning, these may not be the most economical to run. In some cases, the more your printer costs, the more efficient the consumables. Important here also, is the expected life of your printer (most come with 3 year warranties now which is great!)

Looking at big business printer options like the HP Laserjet Enterprise 700 M775DN A3 Colour laser MFP CC522A which has an RRP of $6198 - it uses the HP Toner 651A CE340A Black Toner, this provides a yield of 13,500 pages and has an RRP of $301 - giving us an incredible CPP of around 0.02 cents! Let's assume that a print cartridge or toner lasts 2 years before expiring. So, if we're only expecting to print 20 pages per day for a full year total of 1,700, you're most likely better to go with a lower cost printer that has a cartridge yield more aligned with your expected prints per year. Take some time to do the math and you're sure to find the right one for you.

Cost of Ink

As I've mentioned, the cost will vary depending on the cost of ink. This will vary depending on the printer manufacturer, the type of ink, and the yield. Use our consumables finder to help figure out what type of ink the printers you are considering will need - this will help you get a better idea of the costs involved.

Find The Right Ink & Toner For You

Other Features to Consider

Duplexing

Two-sided printing (duplexing) helps to lower your printing costs. Printers offer manual duplexing where a mode provides prompts telling you how and when to rotate and reload paper to print on the reverse side. Many models offer fully automatic duplexing as well. If you will be duplex printing on a regular basis, this may be a useful feature for you.

Paper Trays/Capacity

To minimise paper loading, the number of sheets of paper your printer takes should exceed the number of pages you print a day, by a considerable amount. Typically a personal printer holds between 100-150 sheets of paper in a single tray. A business printer holds about 250 sheets of paper, minimum, where higher-end models hold about 500-1000 sheets. Some models include a specific photo tray in an attempt to cut down on paper swapping. If you're wanting to print a lot daily, printers are available with multiple paper trays, ideal for if you switch between printing on blank and headed paper. Depending on your needs, choose a printer with a paper tray that works for you.

Multifunction models

Multifunction printers are available which include a scanner, ideal for when you are wanting to create copies or digitise documents. Unless you are 100% sure you will only ever need to print, getting a multifunction model would be useful. You will benefit from their versatility and gain the ability to provide centralised document management, distribution and production in your home office.

Connectivity

There are multiple printer connection types for many modern printers, including, USB, Wi-Fi Bluetooth and Ethernet. Wi-Fi is essential on most home-office printers these days for simple, convenient and mobile printing purposes.

USB: USB has the advantage of plug and play technology. This enables a computer to identify a device, from which you can print your documents. Just about all computers on the market support the USB protocol. USB 3.0 standard offers faster speeds and backwards compatibility. Using a USB connection comes with the downfall that it is limited to only one device at a time.

Bluetooth: With Bluetooth you can achieve a connection without the need for wires. Bluetooth is well known for its uses with smartphones and audio systems. Due to its limited range which doesn't particularly suit many large offices, Bluetooth printing hasn't necessarily 'taken off'. To use Bluetooth, direct pairing between two separate devices needs to be done which may not be suitable or convenient for all users.

Wi-Fi: Wi-Fi has become the standard for wireless printing as it is easy to setup, versatile and offers a wide signal range. Most, if not all modern computers support Wi-Fi protocol, where inexpensive adapters are available for those few that don't. Wi-Fi also allows file sharing, shared printing and streaming, and the range improves regularly. 802.11ax is the latest wireless standard. To increase Wi-Fi convenience, new printers have the ability to print from tablets and smartphones. The only downside here is the potential signal interference that could occur, as well as the need for a wireless router.

Ethernet cable: Printers that include an Ethernet port give the ability to connect straight to a home office network allowing shared printing between multiple devices. The advantage being that more space is created as you only need one central printer for all users. The disadvantage being, each device must be connected to the network through cables, this can be costly and doesn't give much flexibility to use different devices.

Now that you're armed with all the information it's time to find the best printer for you, we hope this guide helps you on your adventure to purchase a new printer, now you can confidently shop the wide variety of printers for home and office available today!


Written By

Kai Ping Lew

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3 comments

KenB352

I need an inkjet printer for home use. Must be compatible with Win10 pro and have USB connectivity. Price in the region of $100. To go with my recently purchased HP EliteDesk 800 G2 mini, A grade off lease) bought from you last week. I w2ould appreciate your advice

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7 months ago Reply Report

Ben B (Head Office)

Hi Ken, I've filtered printer options for price range + HP brand to match your new PC https://www.pbtech.co.nz/category/consumables/printers/shop-all?fs=26555743 - All are good to use with Windows 10 Pro, but some, like that HP Officejet Pro HP+ 9012E Inkjet option do not include a USB cable in the box so be sure to grab one https://www.pbtech.co.nz/category/peripherals/cables/usb-cables/usb-a-usb-b-cables. Setup via USB is a little different from what it used to be, HP have some good guides on YouTube, here's a timestamp to the USB part = https://youtu.be/eWgB7_nY1Y4?t=143

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7 months ago Reply Report