Buying a New Printer

Buying a new printer can be confusing with all the types, features, and add-ons now available. How do you know which one is right for you? This guide shows you some of the basic features to help you find the best printer for your needs.

Printers are so cheap nowadays that retailers are practically giving them away. A basic printer can go for as low as $30—practically the same price as a regular dinner! Of course, as with any new device, you get what you pay for. If you’re buying your first printer, or replacing your old one after more than five years, it’s time you had a crash course in new printer trends. Here are some things to keep in mind when shopping for a new printer.

Resolution

Resolution affects the fineness of detail that goes into your print. It is measured in dots per inch (dpi) and usually ranges from 600 to 4800. A resolution of 720x1440 dpi should be enough for most applications, but you can move up or down the scale depending on your printing needs. For full-color printing, you want at least 3000 dpi; if you print mostly text-only papers, 600 to 800 dpi should be enough.

Print speed

If you’re always on the go, you want a printer that spits out pages at a reasonable speed. Laser printers have the main advantage in this category, printing up to 100 pages per minute. Of course, if you’re after professional photo quality, you’ll be willing to give up a bit of speed for better resolution. Don’t fall for the speeds printed on the boxes—quite often, they refer to print speeds at the lowest possible setting using all-text documents. In practical situations, the actual speed is usually half the number being advertised.

Printing costs

Generally, the cheaper the printer, the more expensive it is to use it. Inkjet printers, for example, can go for under $100, but cartridge replacement can cost up to three times as much over a three-month period. On the other hand, laser printers cost more initially but are very cheap to operate, both in terms of power and cartridge use. Dye-sublimation printers (a popular type for photo printing) are particularly expensive at $2 per page, but they have the advantage of a fixed cost regardless of photo content.

Connectivity

For home printing, the USB cable that comes with the package is usually enough. USB is really the best printer interface for any printer type, since most computers can accommodate it. If there are two or more computers in the house, you may want a network-capable computer that allows access from multiple computers. That way, you don’t have to connect and reconnect the device every time you want to share. Note that some stores won’t include the cable; you’ll have to buy it from them for around $10 to $30.

Additional features

Since printers are so affordable, a lot of buyers opt for multifunctional printers (MFPs). Starting at $100, MFPs double as scanners, fax machines, automatic paper feeders, and even photocopiers. They are especially ideal for office use, as they take up minimal space considering the functions they offer. Most of them are networkable and will even print items directly from USB devices, such as flash drives and digital cameras.