Printer technology does not change as often compare to computer. Printer purchase today could easily stay with you for three, five or more years. It is wise to choose the printer that best suits your need.
Choosing a printer can be a daunting task due to the many features and different printer manufacturers and models. Below are 11 factors which we hope could be a starter guide for your next printer purchase.
### 1. Why do you need a printer
Understanding the major usage of your printer will get the most value out of your purchase, as manufacturer builds printer with features targeting different market segment.
For example, if you use the printer mostly for photo prints and occasional letters, choose photo printer that deliver lab quality photo prints. If you print mostly office documents with moderate volume, then look for printer meant for business usage with speed and volume to match your need.
### 2. Compare the alternative
Do you really need a photo printer? Compare the alternative such as online print services or your neighborhood print shop. You can even send your order directly from iPhoto for Apple’s print service.
When selecting multifunction printer, fax function might be one feature you are looking into. Check the alternative online fax service, which might be a better option than running a fax line into your house or office.
### 3. Multifunction vs standalone printer
Multifunction printer (MFP) was first introduced to home office and small business market in the early 1990s. The device then was expensive and relatively unreliable. You were buying mediocre functions comparing to standalone devices.
The prices of MFPs are now attractive with good quality devices coming from manufacturer such as Brother, Canon, Epson, Hewlett-Packard or Lexmark. MFP is adequate for most purpose and many models now match or perform better than standalone unit. MFP is now the preferred device for home office and small business.
One advantage of having a MFP is the savings you get from not buying few devices. One equipment is all you need to get your work done. As a result, MFP helps to conserve desktop space and reduce the number of power point and cabling required.
You run the risk of single failure when the device is out of order. Obtain proper maintenance and support from the manufacturer if you can not afford downtime. It is not hard to find a replacement from your nearest computer or electronic store as MFP is now common office equipment.
### 4. Laser or inkjet?
Laser and inkjet are the two main printing technology in the market. Manufacturers grouped their printer products based on these printing technology. For consumers, you have to choose either inkjet, monochrome laser (black & white) or color laser.
In general choose monochrome laser for faster speed and lowest cost per page. Laser printing produce sharper image and is less prone to banding and smearing. You might want to consider color laser as price has come down to an attractive level. Photorealism in color laser print is still no match to inkjet if you are comparing printer at same price range.
Most inkjet produces documents that are good enough for most business purpose, however choose a laser for business documents that demand sharp printing and accuracy. Some inkjet models now produce laser-quality text and could be sufficient for your need. Laser is also recommended if you have high volume printing or copying in the office.
Select inkjet if you have lower budget to start with. Bear in mind that inkjet is more costly to operate due to the high ink cartridge cost. Inkjet prints slower than laser and is suitable if you required high photo quality printing.
### 5. Look out for running cost
Always look out for the running cost when selecting your next printer. The purchase price of a printer will soon become a small portion of the total cost of owning and running it.
The cost of the print cartridge replacement will soon amount to sizable expenses. Inkjet cartridge in general is more expensive than monochrome laser and is not recommended if you require volume printing and copying. Laser printer in general cost more to purchase but save you money in the long run.
Inkjet printer can produce black text from black ink cartridge or from combination of color cartridges. Look for inkjet device that has a separate black ink cartridge. Black ink cartridge will produce crisper black text and cost less.
For color inkjet printing, look for device that uses separate cartridge for each color. You replace the cartridge individually when one color is run out, this reduces wastage.
Ask for the cost per page info and compare them among manufacturer and printer model.
### 6. Duplex printing
Duplex printing will allow you to print on both sides of paper and thus save you on paper cost. Duplex printing is normally found on higher end model, but might saves you a bundle in the long term. Choose printer with auto duplex if possible instead of manual duplex. Printer with manual duplex requires you to manually reinsert paper to print on the other side.
### 7. Fax speed
For multifunction printer with fax feature, choose the fax speed of 33.6kbps or higher to save transmission cost. Higher speed will reduce the duration of sending and thus reduce the call cost. The cost reduction could be significant if you send a lot of interstate or overseas faxes.
### 8. Flatbed or sheetfed
Multifunction printer comes with either flatbed or sheetfed as the main input method for source document for scanning and copying. Flatbed is more versatile as you can scan, copy or fax books, thick documents or rigid items. Sheetfed are suitable for scanning, copying or faxing standard business documents.
Sheetfed model might comes with an Automatic Document Feeder (ADF) for unattended copying, scanning and faxing of documents. Determine if you require flatbed or sheetfed model, or choose a model that offers both.
### 9. Standalone functions without computer
Do you require the multifunction printer (MFP) to function without the use of a computer? Look for a unit that would allow you to fax and copy documents without using a PC. This is common feature among MFP but there is no harm to double check.
Some inkjet models contain a memory card slot or even a small LCD screen that would allow you to print directly from your SecureDigital, CompactFlash or MemoryStick cards without going through a PC.
Look for PictBridge connection if you would like to print directly from your digital camera.
### 10. Networking features
You might want to purchase a printer with built-in ethernet networking to connect to your home or office network. Printer with build-in networking costs more but is convenient if you require sharing of printer with more than one computer.
(You can off course share a printer over a network without build-in networking feature, by connecting printer to USB port of computer, and share the printer using the networking function of the operating system. But this requires the computer that serves the printer to be powered on in order for others to use.)
For multifunction networking printer, please check if you can fax and scan over the network as not all models support such feature.
### 11. Does it support Mac?
Check if your printer support Mac OS X. For multifunction printer (MFP), check that you can make use of all the functions on your Mac. For example for some MFP you might be able to print from Mac but you need Windows in order to use its fax from computer feature.