Printers buying guide

Printers are a very important part of your home computer set-up - whether you want to print off letters, labels or even photographs. Home printers today are generally versatile, high-quality and good value. Our printer guide can help you understand the different kinds of machine, and what to look for when buying a new home printer.

Which type of printer?

There are four main types of printer for home and small office use - inkjet, photo, all-in-one and laser. Inkjet printers are the most popular printers for the home, offering an excellent standard at a low cost. Some are capable of producing photo-quality prints, while most will handle a variety of tasks. Laser printers are designed for businesses that turn out numerous documents. Photo printers are ideal for digital camera enthusiasts.

What should you consider when buying a printer?

The first thing you need to decide is what kinds of things you are likely to print. Will you be printing lots of word-processed documents, invoices and letters? Or will you be printing images and photos? You may want a machine that handles both functions - and in colour and black and white. Here are some of the features you should check before buying:

  • Printer speed: measured in ppm (pages per minute), printer speed determines how quickly your print job can be completed. Colour documents take longer than black and white sheets. 22ppm is around average for most printers.

  • Resolution: resolution refers to the number of dots per square inch (dpi) and helps determines the print quality. Even the cheapest printers are able to print in 1200 x 4800 dpi, which produces high quality documents and lab quality photos.

  • Connectivity: check which connector ports your PC has to make sure it is compatible with your new printer. Most printers connect via a USB cable (not included unless needed to set up a wirelehss printer).

  • Ink: with all printers you will have to replace the ink cartridges when they run out. Some cartridges are all in one, offering both colour and black and white printing. If you expect to print lots of B&W sheets, you should try and make sure you have a separate black printer cartridge.

  • Control panel: depending on the type of printer, there may be a control pad on the machine face. It is now common for printers to have LCD displays allowing viewing of what you are about to print and progress reports.

  • Media handling and paper input: most printers can handle a variety of different paper sizes and types of media. As well as the way paper is loaded, front or rear could make all the difference as to where you would position your printer i.e. front loading printers might sit nicely in an alcove or cupboard where rear loading printers would need to go on a shelf or desktop, memory card slots are included on a lot of the latest printers allowing your digital camera or phone memory card to be inserted for direct printing.

    Bluetooth is also available on some printers to let you print directly from your phone without wires. Software packages now allow quick and effective editing of your photographs and documents.