A printer is something almost everybody needs. This post is a reference for my customers to help them purchase the right printer for their needs. Printers come in many types: standalone and all-in-ones; laser and ink and impact and thermal; black and white and color. Some copier machines also double as a printer. Before you decide, you should know the advantages of each.

All-in-one vs. Standalone

A standalone printer does one thing and only one thing: print. An all-in-one prints, scans, and faxes. Because standalone printers only do one thing, the dollar-for-dollar print quality is cheaper than an all-in-one. In other words, a $200 all-in-one will have a lower print quality than a $200 standalone printer. The all-in-ones also have lower quality scanners than standalone scanners that aren’t dirt cheap.

If you need a high quality scanner, then you want to buy a separate scanner (Epson has the best quality for consumer grade) and printer. If you need a photographic quality printer, the same rule applies. But if you don’t need either of these, then an all-in-one will suit your needs.

Laser vs. Ink vs. Impact vs. Thermal

A laser printer shines a laser onto a light-sensitive device called a drum. The printer’s toner is attracted to the exact spots the laser shined. Dollar-for-dollar, a laser printer is much cheaper per page than an ink printer. Even when you factor in the very expensive consumables. However, laser printers cannot produce photographic quality pictures. If you do a lot of printing, a laser printer is for you.

Color laser printers are very expensive and very heavy. If you rarely need a color but do a lot of printing, you can get a black-and-white laser and a separate color inkjet printer. Black-and-white lasers are very fast. However, to fuse the toner to the paper, laser printers get hot and this causes the paper to curl.

Copying machines are really large laser printers.

There are two types of inkjet printers. The most common type is what was once called a bubblejet. These printers heat the ink in such a way that the ink forms a bubble that pops onto the paper. Sounds messy, but it works surprisingly well. The other type use a piezo crystal. A piezo crystal is a crystal that changes shape when electricity is applied to it. The result is the ink is squirted onto the paper. Only Epson printers use a piezo crystal, more about this below.

If you do a little to a moderate amount of printing, then an inkjet is for you.

Impact printers, also known as dot matrix, use a little metal striker to create a design on a ribbon which rubs off on the paper. Paper with an automatic carbon copy below respond to the impact as well. These printers are useful for businesses that have invoices to print on special paper with one or two carbon copies below. And similar situations. Because they are not needed as much now, these printers are very expensive.

Thermal printers heat special paper to create the needed design. These are used as receipt printers at the restaurants, grocery stores, and so on. They are also used in label printers.

Brands

This is my personal experience with the different brands of printers and the pros and cons of each brand. I am not including high-dollar professional brands.

Brother

So long as do not get the cheapest, these tend to be high-quality printers. A Brother laser printer is built like a rock and will last year years, possibly decades. The Brother all-in-one black-and-white laser printer is an excellent choice for many businesses. The Brother inkjet printers have so-so quality but are cheaper on ink than most.

Canon

These printers tend to be okay on everything but not excellent on anything. They also are not part of the so-called ink cartel and so printing costs are not as high as others.

I have no experience with Canon laser printers.

Epson

If you print a lot of photos, you should only get a $400+ Epson printer. Epson paper in an Epson printer will provide the best picture quality of any printer. Pictures on Epson paper will hold their color for decades. Epson printers below the expensive photo printers are no better or worse than the rest, but Epson is part of the ink cartel so the cost to print can be high.

HP

The HP ink printers are another type that tend to be okay everything but not excellent on anything. And they are part of the ink cartel, so printing can be expensive.

The HP laser printers are high quality and built well. They will also last you years, if not decades. However, the cost per page is higher than Brother laser printers and you do not have any better picture quality.

Lexmark/Dell

This is a brand that has improved their quality recently. Dell printers are really Lexmark printers with a different ink cartridge design. Lexmark ink printers are like the others in that they are okay but not good at anything, except Lexmark is not as good as HP or Canon. They are part of the ink cartel. For a while, Lexmark was by far the most expensive per page, but they dropped their prices lately.

Lexmark laser printers are in the same boat as HP and Brother lasers. They are not better or worse than either.

Some older Lexmark printers are Mac unfriendly.

Samsung

Samsung laser printers are good printers but the print quality of them is not better than the other lasers. I really don’t have much experience with this brand either.

Ricoh

The Ricoh laser printer has a very odd design. The toner in these printers are difficult to change and chances are good you will spill half the toner on the table top. I don’t like these printers.

Xerox

These are high dollar laser printers, but they are excellent quality. If you need an excellent printer and you can afford it, a Xerox laser will do you well.

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