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How to buy the perfect printer

You want a printer, but don’t want to end up with a costly machine that does more than you need it to or a cheap one that buckles under heavy strain.

At Printzone, we know that “any printer” will not do. In our expert guide below, we’ve made it easy for you to find one that strikes the right balance between affordability and features.

Printer primer: Inkjets vs Lasers

But first, how they work. The two most widely used printers -- inkjets and lasers -- differ in how they produce a printed page.

Inkjets use liquid ink cartridges, from two in the simplest models to 12 in fancy photo printers. To make a printout, heat pressurises the ink. That pressure build-up expels the ink, drop-by-drop, from tiny nozzles in the print head as it moves back and forth across paper to generate the text or image file.​ 

The precision with which an inkjet operates produces vivid, photo-quality results. But with some drawbacks: print speeds are slower; cartridges empty quickly if printing full-colour pages; and the water-soluble ink can smear if wet or dampened or can fade with light exposure.​ 

Lasers use static electricity to make a print. A laser inside the printer beams onto a mirror and a negatively-charged image of the print job is reflected onto the rotating, positively-charged drum. Positively-charged toner powder adheres to the image on the drum, which is then transferred to paper bearing a negative charge. The plastic toner powder is heat-fused to the paper before the printout emerges.​ 

The laser printing process is rapid (outputs can be up to 100 pages per minute!) and produces sharp, smudgeproof prints. These printers are more expensive, and, even though long-lasting with high yields, their toner cartridges can also be pricey.

 Five steps to the perfect printer

 You understand how they work, now you want to know what to buy. Our experts have outlined a few “rules of thumb”:

1. Know what you want to print.

Text: These are the easiest prints, and both inkjets and laser printers create clean, legible documents, with simple inkjets being the least expensive. If you plan on highlighting or marking up printouts with water-based pens, consider a monochrome laser printer to prevent ink-smearing.

Graphics and Colour: Because both printer types handle these tasks well, think of your printing volume per month and consult your budget before choosing a colour laser printer.

Photos: Laser printers are higher-priced and do best with simple images. Choose an inkjet if you plan to frequently print photos; these printers are known for accurately replicating colour nuances. For instant photo-printing, consider Bluetooth and Wi-Fi operated thermal printers like the Selphy or Sprocket.

All-Purpose: For households and students, inkjet printers are the most versatile, but mono lasers are good buys if colour is not needed. For businesses, note your print volume.

2. Know your print quality requirements.

Print quality is dependent upon the type of printer chosen for your printing needs and the printer’s price. In general, spending a bit more on a printer increases the likelihood of a better print (but only to a point).

A mono laser printer is good at printing text and black-and-white graphics, but it makes fuzzy image printouts given its lack of coloured toner. A basic, two-cartridge inkjet and a colour laser can print most images; both will falter at more complex pictures compared to a photo inkjet.

3. Know the features you need (not the features you “want”).

Printers now do a lot more beyond the simple print job. But owning a luxury printer that can network, scan, copy, and fax, as well as print high-quality images and booklets, is only an investment if you intend to use all its features. Be realistic: you don’t want to spend extra on a printer that does more than you’ll need it to do. If you can only see yourself printing text documents or the occasional photo, consider a mono laser printer or a basic inkjet. Use what you’ve saved on the printer price to buy your cartridges!

4. Estimate your monthly printing volume.

Laser printer toner cartridges can print thousands of pages with a cost per print of only a few cents. The typical inkjet cartridge prints a third to one-half of that amount, and the cost per print is higher. The savings of a laser printer are significant if you print frequently, such as in a business or busy household setting. It’s a better deal to buy a less costly inkjet if you don’t.

If you print a high volume of photos, consider a business inkjet.

5. Understand initial costs vs running costs.

A printer’s initial cost is its sticker price. Its running cost is the amount you’ll pay, over time, on machine upkeep in the form of printer consumables. These include items like paper, replacement drums, transfer belts, and waste toner bottles in some laser printers, and additional ink or toner cartridges.

In general, inkjets printers are cheaper than laser printers. Inkjet inks are also less expensive than toners, and, outside of a potential print head replacement, maintenance largely consists of buying new cartridges. Laser printers do require more attention with other replacement parts, but the main running cost will be the purchase of new toners. (For every 5 or so laser toners, a new drum may be needed; for every 10 colour laser printer toners, a new transfer belt may be needed. Waste toner bottles last so long that they may not need to be replaced for the life of a laser printer.)

Cost per print is the relationship between cartridge cost and cartridge yield in pages. While inkjet printers are less expensive, they cost more per print than a laser printer. Its ink cartridges also deplete faster than the average toner cartridge -- two or even three inks will be bought before one toner is used up. This doesn’t mean an inkjet is a bad buy. If the amount of printing done is held constant, it will take longer to see the savings of a laser printer.

 Remember: a printer’s sticker price is a one-time payment. It won’t reflect the costs of inks or toners (a relatively cheap inkjet printer becomes pricey when you consider the inks it’ll burn through). It’s useful to figure out how much you’re willing to spend on a printer and its consumables at least a few cartridges into the future.

We want this guide to aid in your decision-making. If you still need assistance on finding your perfect printer, contact our experts at Printzone on 1300 782 636. 

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