These days, many documents and photos live on laptop drives or on cloud services. But you still need a great printer to make your vacation snaps or quarterly reports into physical realities you can hang on a wall or hand out at a meeting. Printers have become less expensive and increasingly tricked-out over time. You can pick up a basic inkjet for well under $100, or spend $400 on a model that comes packed with additional features. Here’s how to find the best printer for your needs.
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Know Your Inkjets
Is an inkjet in your future? You can find the technology in a huge variety of single-function printers and all-in-ones designed to fill a wide variety of roles at home or at the office. Here, we’ll explore the different types of inkjets, and highlight some key features to look for when shopping for one.
The so-called near-dedicated photo printers are widely used by professional photographers, artists looking to output high-end work, and amateur photo enthusiasts alike. There are even inkjets designed for mobile printing, complete with batteries. Most home inkjets are meant for personal printing or, at most, shared models for outputting a few pages per day. They tend to be compact, and the vast majority of them are small enough to share a desk with.
Graphics and Text Quality
You can count on almost any inkjet to print graphics good enough for both internal business use (like printing PowerPoint handouts) and home tasks (like producing party invitations). If you choose carefully, you can have output quality that would please a graphic artist.
The Achilles’ heel for inkjets is text quality. Ink tends to bleed into plain paper, which makes it difficult to print text with the fully professional look you’d want for documents like a résumé or a business proposal. Not surprisingly, inkjets meant for the office generally do better on this score than home-oriented models, but we have yet to see an inkjet that prints text with the crisp, clean edges and smear-proof ink you’d get from any laser printer. Worse, most inks will smear if you spill something on them or try using a highlighter.
Nearly any current inkjet can print photos that at least match the quality you’d expect from your local drugstore. The few exceptions are primarily among printers aimed at offices, but most office inkjets do a decent job. You can even find a few all-purpose inkjets whose output rivals photo printers meant for professional photographers.
If you’re looking for a home printer to output mainly photos, but also be capable of printing a range of other document types, you will definitely want an inkjet. Printers meant for home use fall into two categories: inexpensive models that typically cost far less than $100 for single-function printers and $150 or less for MFPs; and highly photo-centric printers, with prices of $150 or more for single-function models and $300 or more for MFPs.
Inkjets offer a wide range of connection choices. A few budget models offer only USB, often coupled with a low paper capacity, and are a good choice if you’re in the market for a light-duty personal printer, either in an office or at home. Many inkjets for both home and businesses add Ethernet ports.
If you’re interested in printing wirelessly, the good news is that nearly all inkjets today come with 802.11 Wi-Fi standard. The ability to support wireless printing from mobile devices is of growing importance to both businesses and consumers. Many manufacturers offer free printing apps that are compatible with their wireless printers.
Duty Cycles and Paper Capacity
While the majority of inkjet printers can be found mainly in a home or a home office, inkjet technology is showing up in more and more business-oriented models meant for heavier-duty printing, including high-end ones that can rival laser printers in speed. They tend to do this by using print heads that run the full width of a page. Although their maximum monthly duty cycles still fall short of heavy-duty lasers, higher-end inkjets are still capable of handling the printing needs (and, in the case of MFPs, copying, scanning, and faxing as well) of many workgroups and small offices.
Inkjets for the Office
Office-oriented inkjets include the few single-function printers and MFPs designed for relatively heavy-duty printing, as well as those that have office-centric features. For instance, they can work as standalone fax machines; fax directly from your PC’s hard drive; and scan to email easily, using your PC’s email program and automatically adding the scan as an attachment.
Office MFPs add an automatic document feeder (ADF) for easy scanning, faxing, and copying of multipage documents. Some ADFs can scan both sides of a page. Of those, duplexing scanners, which scan both sides of a page at once, are much faster than models with duplexing or reversing ADFs (two names for the same thing), which scan one side, flip the page over, and then scan the other.
Specialty Inkjet Printers
Inkjets are the only kind of printer with models for mobile use (other than a few thermal-dye printers that need special thermal paper) and with all-in-one models meant specifically for the dual role of home and home office. If you’re looking to print documents while on the road, you’ll definitely want a mobile inkjet. Mobile printers typically have low paper capacities, but make few other compromises. They tend to cost more than comparable non-mobile inkjets, however, with prices averaging about $250.
Dual-purpose MFPs combine office-centric and photo-centric features. To help keep prices down despite all the features, some, but not all, cut corners on paper handling and speed. These are a good fit if you need a single printer for your home and home office, with extra functions like faxing, but don’t usually print many pages.