Which Printing Technology Is Right For You & Your Budget?

1. Inkjet printers

As you might have guessed, this kind of printer works by spraying tiny droplets of liquid ink onto a page. The delivery systems can vary, but most use little ink cartridges with clever little printheads that separate the ink into super-tiny droplets. The colours you use are created by combining the different coloured inks. The cheaper ones have fewer cartridges, and in some cases, only two: one for black ink and one that contains cyan, magenta, and yellow ink. As the price increases, so do the number of cartridges and the colour accuracy, variety, and choice. There are also inkjet versions called ‘supertank’ printers: these have refillable tanks and cost less per page than regular inkjet cartridges. If you’re doing lots of colour printing, then this should be a consideration.
Advantages: In general, they’re simple and reliable printers. The colours are bright and vivid. The printers (not the cartridges) are also relatively cheap.
Disadvantages: Constantly buying new cartridges can be expensive. And, if one cartridge has run out, it most likely means you won’t be able to print. Also, the cheaper inkjets can be notoriously slow. Lastly, ink-based images can stain, smudge or run when exposed to moisture or humidity.
Best for: Home use, especially if you’re only printing a few colour pages occasionally.
Even though we’re slowly becoming a more paperless world, there’s still plenty of need right now for a printer, especially since most of us are now working from home. However, choosing one is not as simple as most people think – there are many types of printers available. They all have different pros and cons, and of course, have varying price tags. We break down the three main types: inkjet, laser, and thermal, and we’ll explain which ones work best for each function. However, the most important thing to work out is the PPP (price per page), which is done by dividing the number of pages printed by the cost for each cartridge.

2. Laser printers

Offices that print out large volumes of work use laser printers, and in many cases, they use just monochrome laser options. This is where it gets a little more complicated: these printers use lasers to create static electricity on a rolling drum inside the printer. The static then attracts the toner (ink in the form of powder or dust), which is then melted onto the paper. Cool, right? These toner cartridges cost more than the ink ones, but they last much longer – from 3,000 up to 20,000 pages compared to inkjets that only last around 2,000 to 2,500 pages.
Advantages: The cost per page versus inkjet is less, and cartridges last longer. They print much faster than inkjets – especially the cheaper ones. In most cases, printing out black text works better on most laser printers as it comes out sharper.
Disadvantages: Laser printers are more expensive to buy – especially the colour versions – but can save money if you print out large quantities of pages. Most laser printers also don’t do colour reproduction as well as inkjet printers.  
Best for: If colour quality isn’t vital (or you only want to print out in black and white), then laser printers are perfect, both for home and office use. The monochrome options are cheaper, and depending on how high your printing volume is, the more financial and time-saving motivation there is to use a laser for both monochrome and colour work.

3. Thermal printers

This last printer type on the list uses tiny heating elements to transfer or activate pigments in the paper, and they are much less common than laser or inkjet printers. They’re only used in offices and retail outlets, and they come in two options: direct thermal, which uses special paper that darkens when heated, or thermal transfer, which uses a thermal print head to transfer solid ink from a ribbon. Most thermal printers are used to print labels, barcodes, and packaging signs, not for documents.
Advantages: Durable and versatile, and the printed-out products last much longer.
Disadvantages: Thermal printers are, on average, much more expensive than inkjet and laser-based ones. They also have fewer colour options (99 percent of them only offer two colours).
Best for: These are used primarily for office use, as they’re used to print durable labels, barcodes and receipts.
Dot-matrix printers are also still around, and they use little hammers and a ribbon to form images from dots, like an old-school typewriter. They’re becoming less common as they are basic printers that mainly offer low-resolution printing at cheaper costs. However, they still provide a purpose: they’re a viable option if you need simple, monochrome printing. Thanks to the mechanical and impacting printing method, these machines can also print on multiple pages simultaneously using NCR paper.
There are also multifunction or all-in-one printers. These come with other features and functions, like copy, fax, and scanning options. These machines make sense if you regularly need those functions, either at home or the office. If you only need those functions on a rare occasion, then our advice is instead to use your phone to take a photo or scan the documents – there are some brilliant free and paid-for apps to help you. Keep in mind, though, that a professional scanner will always beat a phone camera.
There are also photo printers. If you only want to print out high-resolution photos in excellent quality, then these are perfect. But keep in mind that these printers, and the high-quality paper they’ll use, are much more expensive than the other printing peers.
Here’s our last bit of advice: aim for a touchscreen menu (much easier) and ensure your printer offers decent connectivity, like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, NFC, and even cloud-based printing. That makes cable- and USB-free printing much easier and faster, and you’ll be able to print from your phone, laptop, or PC. Happy printing!
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