Inkjet or laser? Find the best printer for your home with our buying guide and test results.
We’ve tested inkjets and lasers to see which are best at printing, scanning, copying, and energy economy.
Inkjets are the all-rounders of the printing world. They’re often smaller and can print photos. They’re also cheaper to buy on average, especially if you want scanning and copying. However, you need high-quality paper to get the best out of an inkjet. They work by using tiny heaters or vibrating crystals to propel droplets of ink on to the paper.
Lasers print faster than inkjets on average. They also produce sharper black and white text, even on cheap paper, so they’re perfect if you do heaps of mono printing. However, they usually don’t print colour, and scanning and copying functions are rare too. They work by ionising the paper and fixing powdered toner to it.
Ink is a major ongoing cost for printers. In fact, over the life of a printer, it’s not unusual to spend more on replacement ink than you spent on the machine itself.
Because inkjets use liquid ink, a lot tends to be wasted when it dries on the printhead. Lasers use dry ink, so they don’t have this problem. For more about ink usage and common problems with ink cartridges, read our article about printer ink.
Some inkjet printers don’t use replaceable cartridges at all, instead storing ink in high-capacity tanks. Tanks can print a lot more pages and are easier to refill. They’re also less wasteful, which is better for the environment. However, the printers cost more upfront because the business model is different – the manufacturer needs to make most of its profit from the machine itself rather than from replacement cartridges.
Each printer manufacturer has a different name for their ink tank technology: Epson has EcoTank, HP uses Smart Tank and Canon has Pixma Endurance.
A multifunction can do more than just print. Think about whether you’d find these features useful.
Scanning: A built-in flatbed scanner allows you to capture photos and documents and save them to your computer. Most models come with optical character recognition (OCR) software, which allows text to be scanned in and saved as a word processor file. With all flatbed scanners, depth of field can be a problem. Most models only scan clearly when the item’s pressed hard up against the glass plate – tricky when copying a book.
Copying: The combination of a scanner and printer allows a multifunction to act as a copier too. However, you may find the speed frustrating if you’re used to a standard photocopier – and the cost per page is much higher.
Faxing: Some multifunction printers have a faxing function, but it’s no longer common.
Think about which computer, tablet or phone you’ll be printing from, and how you’ll connect to it. On smaller devices, you’ll likely need to download an app. The most common connections are:
The driver is the software that tells the printer how to interact with other software, such as your word processor or picture viewer. Many printers don’t come with up-to-date drivers, but the latest version can often be downloaded online.