Five Smart Printer Shopping Tips

Looking for a new printer? Be a smart shopper, and consider the following five things before you buy.

Color or monochrome: If you print mostly text, a monochrome printer is sufficient. If you print photos or if you want color for marketing pieces or other business documents, you need a color printer.

Inkjet or laser/LED: Inkjet printers excel at printing in color, especially photos. Laser and LED printers offer precise text quality, but the lower-end color laser models tend to struggle more with complex graphics and photos.

Single-function or multifunction: Do you just want to print--or do you need more from your printer? Multifunction or all-in-one printers, which also have copy, scan, and sometimes fax capabilities, are definitely worth considering as inkjets; such MFPs are available for as little as $99 (for very basic models). Laser- or LED-based multifunctions tend to make more compromises in comparison with like-priced, single-function models.

Your print volume: If you print just a dozen or so pages a day, a low-volume printer (with a 100-sheet input tray) will suffice. Note that many basic models lack a dedicated output tray, stacking printed sheets on top of blank sheets. If you print many dozens of pages per day, look for a printer with a 150-sheet to 250-sheet paper tray and a dedicated output tray. If you print 100 or more pages per day, your printer's minimum input capacity should be 250--or better, 500 sheets.

Your ink costs: Divide an ink or toner cartridge's price by its page yield to get the cost-per-page number for each color. The rule of thumb: The lower the printer's price or the lower the ink cartridge's yield, the pricier the inks will be. If you print just a few pages a day, you might not feel the pinch for a while; but if you print a lot, look for a model with high-yield cartridges.

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