Printers

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Inkjet vs. laser — which prints best?

We’ve tested inkjet and laser printers to assess their print quality, copying speed/quality, and energy use. Use our running cost calculator to find out how much a printer will cost you, including ink and paper costs.

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Inkjet or laser?

They both put ink on paper so what’s the difference between a laser printer and an inkjet printer?

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.

Compare all the printers we've tested.

Running cost calculator

Become a Consumer member or log in to use our calculator to work out how much you are likely to spend on printing each year, and how long it will take for a more expensive printer with cheaper running costs to pay for itself.

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Printer ink

You might be surprised to find how much ink some models waste. Where does it all go? We explain about this and other common problems with ink cartridges.

Find out more

Cost of replacing ink

There’s a common saying about printers: “It’s cheaper to buy a new printer than replace cartridges”.

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.

  • For 10 of the 35 inkjets and 3 of the 12 laser models we tested, it cost more to replace all the inks than buy a new printer.
  • For almost half of inkjets and a third of lasers, the price for replacing all cartridges was within $50 of the purchase price of a replacement.

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.

HP is the Top Brand

The Top Brand award recognises brands that perform consistently well across product testing, reliability and customer satisfaction. HP is our 2017 winner for printers.

Features to consider

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.

Multifunction printer features

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.

Tips to cut costs

While the best way you can save money is by changing how often you print, there are also other ways to reduce your costs:

  • Regularly using your printer every few weeks keeps the print heads from clogging, which reduces maintenance costs.
  • Even if you’ve drafted your document in black and white, your printer might still use colour ink. Make sure to select black and white in your print settings when printing plain text pages.
  • Getting your cartridges refilled is a cheaper – and more environmentally friendly – option than buying new cartridges.
  • Consider using third-party cartridges. We suggest buying from a company that guarantees compatibility with your printer. If it states they’re compatible but they don’t work, then you have protection under the Consumer Guarantees Act.
  • Printing duplex (double sided) can halve your paper costs.
  • You can buy larger cartridges, often called X, XL or high yield. These cartridges are the same size as standard cartridges but are loaded with more ink, meaning you pay less per gram of ink.

Printer connections

The most common connection types are:

  • WiFi – lets you connect your printer to your home WiFi network. This allows you to then wirelessly print from any device connected to that network.
  • Ethernet port – lets you connect the printer directly to a PC or a router via an ethernet cable.
  • USB port – these are usually on the front of the printer and allow for printing from thumb flash drives, the easiest type of access, and it means the printer doesn’t need to be connected to a network. Some printers use PictBridge, which allows some digital cameras to print directly through the USB port.
  • Memory cards – some printers have memory card slots that accept SD (Secure Digital), MS (Memory Stick) or CF (Compact Flash) cards, which are commonly used in digital cameras.

Cloud Print

Cloud Print allows you to print on any printer you’re connected to through your Google account.

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:

  • Install and run the Google Chrome browser. Then enable the Google Cloud Print connector in Google Chrome by following the steps below.
  • Log in to your user account on the Windows, Mac, or Linux computer.
  • Open Google Chrome.
  • Click the Chrome menu on the browser toolbar.
  • Select Settings.
  • Click the Show advanced settings link.
  • Scroll down to the “Google Cloud Print” section. Click on Sign in to Google Cloud Print.
  • In the window that appears, sign in with your Google account.
  • Select the printers you want to connect, and then click Add printer(s).
  • You'll see a confirmation that Cloud Print has been enabled. Click Manage your printers to learn more.
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