Printer Buying Guide
Whether you're printing for fun or have a home office we've got all your printing options covered, from inkjet to laser printer to all-in-one or dedicated photo printer. And we've explained how it all works so you can choose exctly what's right for you.
Just click onto one of the links below to find out more.
What printer would suit you?
What printer is best for you?
Inkjet printers are a hot favourite when it comes to home computing thanks to good quality prints and affordability. They create images by firing thousands of small drops of ink onto the page to create images and text. The more drops per inch (dpi), the higher the quality.
They're good for printing text, emails and other simple documents and can print in colour and black and white.
Bigger than inkjet printers, laser prints use static electricity to attract and hold toner to the page for faster, high quality, high-volume, smudge-free printing at home or in the office. They're perfect for printing text but for frequent photo printing or high definition prints, a photo printer would be a better choice.
These space-saving machines combine an inkjet printer with a scanner and a photocopier and sometimes a fax function too. Ideal for small businesses and home offices with many of the latest models featuring cutting-edge web technology so you can print web pages directly from the printer.
Perfect for printing colour photos and great for documents too. You can print standard 6 x 4 and A4 photo prints that fill the entire page. Most photo printers let you connect your digital camera's Pictbridge TM lead for instant prints.
Look out for printers with multiple memory card slots and a built-in LCD preview screen so you can select and edit your shots directly- no need to turn on your PC.
What about the features?
Printers produce documents with varying amount of detail (or resolution) which is measured in dots per inch (dpi). The higher the dpi figure, the greater the detail and the better the print quality. A dpi of 300 x 300 will produce decent letters or text documents, a minimum of 1440 x 720 dpi will give you good quality photo prints.
Shown as pages-per-minute (ppm) , this indicates the printer's top speed when printing a page of simple black and white text ,with more complicated text and photos taking longer to print. The higher the ppm, the faster you're finished
Look out for an all-in-one printer which has a built-in fax if you regard this as a vital business tool. Even better if there's back-up memory so you don't miss a thing if the paper runs out mid-transmission
Printers with this feature provide you with a straight forward way to scan documents or pictures directly to email or onto a PDF file. It's also a great way to restore family photos of yesteryear - scan them in and print them off on glossy paper so they look as good as new!
No annoying white space around the edge of your prints with borderless printing - just great images that extend right to the edge of the paper for professional looking photo prints.
Negative and slide scanner
A transparency adaptor in the lid of some top-end all-in-one printers will let you scan 35mm film negatives and slides - great if you have lots of old photos you want to digitise
An ADF is great if you need to do a lot of photocopying or fax long documents - ideal if you're running your business from home. Just load your documents into the feeder (normally found at the top of the printer) and it will automtically feed the paper through the machine without you having to hang around to supervise this.
USB or parallel cable?
There are two ways to hook up your printer to your PC - via parallel cable (older PCs) or , most popular - USB (Universal Serial Bus). A USB cable is thinner and will send jobs to the printer faster than a parallel cable can manage. Don't worry if you don't have a spare USB port - investing in an external USB hub will give you extra flexibility
You'll need a wireless printer and a wireless network so you can print from any computer in your home. To set up a wireless network you need a broadband internet connection, a wireless router and wireless printer. Remember to connect your PC to the router before you plug your printer into the network.
Once you're up and running, you'll be able to print from any computer on your home network - whether you have 1 PC or 10 - from anywhere in your home and around the garden. This means your entire family can share a single printer, saving money and reducing cable clutter.
You can even hide your printer out of sight with no clumsy cables to trip over or be gnawed by your pets.Wireless printing is faster than cable printing so you'll save time too!
If you're an iPad owner it's worth looking for an Airprint compatible printer so you'll be able print a range of docs including webpages wirelessly from an iPad
Printers with this feature have their own email address and are designed to print wirelessly from laptops, tablets and smartphones - simply send your document or photo to your printer's unique email address and it'll print all the attached files. These web-connected printers can work for web-based documents editors like Google Docs and Microsoft Office Web. If you need to sign a vital document and don't have a fax facility, it can be signed, scanned and emailed directly to your printer.
You won't be able to select which pages of documents are printed or alter any of the printer's default settings when you print by email. However you will be able to create hard copies via mobile phones and other devices without printer support. You'll be able to send files to your printer when you're on the move, and anyone who has your printer's email address will be able to do the same.
Worried about spamming? Some printers will only print from specified addresses or refuse to print from any address on a blacklist you can set up.
You'll find details of the ink cartridge you need in your printer manual. Buying a cheap printer could cost you more money in the long run than buying a a higher-end model as ink cartridges for the cheapest printers tend to be amongst the most expensive to buy.
You can either buy the dedicated official replacement cartridges made by your manufacturer, cartridges made by third parties or save money by opting for environmentally friendly recycled cartridges which have been taken apart, rebuilt and freshly refilled with ink.
The print head is the part that applies the ink onto paper. For many ink jet printers, the print head is part of the ink cartridge, for other printers they're separate which means you don't have to pay extra for the printhead every time you change a cartridge, just change them when they wear out. Occasional gentle cleaning will shelp prevent your print head getting blocked and your prints coming out streaky.
Continuous ink system
Tanks or reservoirs of various colours of ink continually feed the print cartridges with various colours of ink so you simply fill the reservoir when you're running out of a colour - no expensive cartridges to replace. A cost-effective way to deal with large volume printing
Toner (powered ink) is mainly used in laser printers and is particularly suited to high-volume black and white printing. It comes in a cartridge which you can either refill or replace. It makes sense to have a spare toner cartridge handy because you don't want to run out mid-print!