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The Which? guide to buying the best printer

No home office is complete without a printer, and there are plenty of models to choose between. It’s simply a matter of getting the right one for your needs and budget.

Printers range from basic models to all-in-ones that can print, copy, scan and even fax. If you’re not after an all-singing and dancing model, you can save money and still buy the perfect printer for you by prioritising the most important features you need.

When you’re looking to buy a new printer, first think about which features you really need and what you’ll be using the printer for most. You may need fast text prints, great quality scanned photos, cheap colour prints, the ability to automatically print double-sided pages or print wirelessly from an iPad.

This printer wish-list will help you narrow down your search to those printers that will be best for you, and if you watch the video above, you'll find out what makes a Which? Best Buy printer.

Which type of printer should I buy?

Inkjet vs laser

There are two main types of printing technology used by home printers: inkjet and laser. Inkjet printers are versatile machines particularly suited to producing colour documents and photographs.

Laser printers

Laser printers are generally more expensive but can print off reams of text documents really quickly. Laser printers are often larger than inkjets, so ensure you have the desk space for them before you buy.

All-in-ones

An all-in-one is a printer combined with a scanner and photocopier, and some models also have a built-in fax machine. They're sometimes known as multi-function printers. You can buy all-in-one inkjet or laser printers.

Standard printers

A standard printer just prints – it can’t scan or copy. If you mostly print text, and lots of it, you might want to consider a black-and-white (mono) laser printer. Colour laser printers are more expensive, particularly when it comes to keeping them stocked with ink.

If you want to print photos, you need an inkjet printer. Photos printed from colour laser printers can’t hold a candle to an inkjet photo printer.

Which features should I look out for?

Whatever your printing needs, there are a few handy features to look out for:

Auto-duplexing

This feature lets you automatically print on both sides of a page without you having to flip the piece of paper over yourself. It’s a quick and easy way to save paper. It’s available on inkjet printers starting at around £50, and on laser printers from around £140.

Wi-fi connectivity

Wi-fi connectivity is available on printers as cheap as £30. If you have a wireless router at home, a wi-fi printer will let you wirelessly print from computers, laptops, smartphones and tablets on your home network – great for families with lots of devices. An AirPrint compatible printer can be used to quickly and easily print from the iPad, iPhone or iPod touch.

Should I buy a cheap printer?

You may be tempted to buy the cheapest inkjet printer in the store to keep costs down, but a big part of the lifetime cost of a printer is the cost of the prints. A cheap printer doesn’t always mean cheap prints, so you need to take ink running costs into consideration.

The price of the cartridges isn’t a good indicator of printing costs, because you don’t know how many prints you’ll get from them.

Although some printer manufacturers state the estimated number of prints you can get from a cartridge on the printer or cartridge packaging, this number is based on printing lots of pages in one go. It doesn’t take into account the ink that many inkjet printers use to clean their print heads if you only print occasionally.

Which? tests have found that printers can use up to 6 times as much ink printing occasionally, compared to printing the same number of pages in one go. This can have a huge impact on your printing costs.

What should I look for in a good all-round printer?

If you want a printer that can do a bit of everything, go for an all-in-one inkjet printer.

There are plenty of printers available that print decent text, graphics and photo prints, but you might have to compromise a bit on print speed if you want excellent quality.

The average inkjet printer prints best quality text pages at a rate of around 7 pages per minute. A top notch colour print could take a few minutes to print, but reducing the print quality will save you time and ink.

Features to consider:

Dual paper trays

If you like to print photos, dual paper trays mean you won’t have to keep swapping your regular printer paper and photo paper over in the printer.

Colour LCD screen and USB connection

Printers that have their own colour LCD screen usually let you print directly from a memory card or USB stick without having to turn on the computer – handy if you’re printing in a rush. Printers that can print from USB sticks are usually capable of printing image files and PDFs this way. 

What should I look for in a home office printer?

A home office printer will mostly be used for printing text pages. Opting for a black-and-white laser printer will turn out relatively cheap text prints at an average rate of 11 pages per minute or faster.

If you need to print in colour, colour laser printers are quick to print, but more expensive to buy.

If you want to print the odd photo or colour document, but don’t want to pay more than £80 for a colour printer, there are some office-focused inkjet printers you could consider.

Features to consider:

Automatic document feeder (ADF)

An automatic document feeder on top of the printer will let you scan and copy multiple page documents without having to feed pages in one at a time. Auto-duplexing ADFs can print on both sides automatically.

Ethernet connection

With wi-fi you can print wirelessly from all sorts of devices, but having the option of a wired ethernet connection will be faster. 

Read the full Which? reviews to find our which printers are the best for the features and functions you need most.

Read more about ink costs and find out which inkjet printers produce the cheapest prints.