Inkjet or laser? Find the best printer for your home with our buying guide and test results.
We’ve tested inkjet and laser printers to assess their print quality, copying speed/quality, and energy use.
We've also calculated their ink and paper costs so you can find out how much a printer will really cost you.
Laser printers use lasers to ionize the paper and then fix toner to the paper. Inkjets apply ink to the paper using thermal heaters to create tiny bubbles that cause a large increase in pressure, propelling a droplet of ink on to the paper.
Inkjets are the all-rounders of the printing world. They’re often smaller and can print photos. They’re also cheaper to buy if you want scanning and copying as well.
On average lasers print faster than inkjets. This greater speed – plus the sharper black and white text they produce – mean lasers suit people who do heaps of printing. But they’re often available only for black and white printing … and can be more expensive to buy if you want copying and scanning.
Scanning: Multifunctions generally incorporate a flatbed scanner. With the built-in scanner you can capture photos and documents, and save them to your computer. Slide-scanning is a rare option on some printers that allows you to scan 35mm slides. Most models come with optical character recognition (OCR) software, which allows text to be scanned in and saved as a file that can be worked on in a word processor. With all flatbed scanners, depth of field can be a problem. Most models scan clearly only when the item is pressed hard up against the glass plate – tricky when copying a book.
Copying: It’s the combination of a scanner and printer that allows a multifunction to act as a copier. You may find the speed frustrating if you’re used to a standard photocopier. Also, the cost per page will be a lot higher.
Faxing: A few multifunction printers have a faxing function, but it isn’t common.
Colour or mono: Most inkjet printers can print colour, while only about half of lasers can.
Resolution: This is measured in dots per inch (dpi). Quality can be limited by low resolution, (but high resolution doesn’t guarantee good results).
Network setup: WiFi-compatible models require a network key to be entered. As printers don’t have keyboards, this process can take patience.
Tray size: Most home printers hold 150 to 250 A4 sheets. If you want to print in larger quantities or a different size make sure the printer has a suitable tray.
Paper: To get the best from an inkjet, it needs high-quality paper. Not so with lasers, most can produce superb text on cheap photocopy paper.
Ink cartridges: Tri-colour cartridges, which combine cyan, magenta and yellow inks in one cartridge, are becoming more common. A problem is some printers won’t print at all if any of the colours are empty. This results in you throwing out cartridges that still have ink left. For the best value, look for high capacity or extra-large cartridges. EcoTank cartridges are an economical choice as you can manually refill them from a bottle of ink.
Auto-duplexing: The automatic feeding of a printed page back into the printer so the other side can also be printed.
Other media: Consider whether you want to print on self-adhesive labels, transparencies, DVDs or even fridge magnets.
Fax: Faxing is still a common feature on most multifunction printers, though they are more popular on inkjets than lasers.
Ease of use: Typical problems include outdated firmware, flimsy paper trays and installation issues.
Software: Printer software should be easy to use. The “driver” is the part that lets the printer interact with your word processor, picture viewer and so on. Many printers aren't supplied with up-to-date drivers, but improved drivers are sometimes available to download online.
While this is sometimes true, and reflects the high price of ink, it only applies if you replace all the ink cartridges or toner in your printer at the same time.
Our analysis, where possible, uses the price of high yield cartridges for the best printing economy. Cartridges provided with the printer at time of purchase are likely to be of a lower capacity.
This means you can print something (documents, photos, or whatever) from your phone on a printer across town or even on the other side of the world. But although you can connect any printer to Cloud Print it's always better to have one that’s set up to do so.
Each manufacturer has its own setting-up system for the service but none are complicated and often they just require you to register the Cloud-ready printer.
If you don't have a Cloud-ready printer you can follow these steps: