How to Buy a Printer for College

College students need a reliable printer that fits into tight spaces. A printer's footprint is a major consideration for a student in close quarters.

Laser printers are larger than inkjets, but there are some appealing laser printers geared to students and small businesses that might work. The Canon Pixma iP4820 is a good example of a compact inkjet, whereas the Brother HL-5370DWT is an inexpensive laser printer. Check PCWorld's Printer page for the latest reviews in all categories.

Wireless capability may make all the difference, but just as with any other wireless technology, interference can be a problem. Ease of setup is also a concern: how easy is it to connect to the printer and to secure that connection? Some printers require entering the wireless network key manually into the printer's control panel, which can be annoying and time consuming. The Brother laser printer mentioned above has wireless capability, but if you're looking for a wireless inkjet you should consider the HP Officejet Pro 8000.

When to Go Multi-Function

Many printers have become one-stop communication shops, integrating scanning, copying, and faxing along with printing. Multifunction printers can be either inkjets or laser printers, but multifunction laser printers are more expensive than their inkjet counterparts. They're larger, too. Consider the Canon Pixma MG5220 inkjet.

Inkjet or Laser?

Laser printers are not just for offices anymore: some very respectable models can fit in even a tight budget. If you're willing to give up color prints, the prices can be very close to inkjets. Even good color laser printers start at $350. Keep an eye on toner costs, though: the cost per print will be lower and the print yield greater, but it's still expensive to replace that cartridge.

An inkjet may suffice for more modest needs. If you don't use it often, though, be warned that the ink cartridge may dry up. Also, inkjet inks will run when wet. The typically smaller footprint of an inkjet and the lower initial cost can nevertheless make it a reasonable choice.

Print quality can be an issue here as well. Laser printers have higher quality output than inkjets and print more quickly, but some inkjets have exceptional quality and speed.

Reliability

None of the above matters for a printer that doesn't print. Laser printers are generally built as reliable workhorses, but repair costs can be high. Extended service plans can offset maintenance and repair concerns. Canon's one-year warranty can be extended one year more with next business day replacements for $95. HP does the same, but their extended warranties go up to an additional two years and cost $14.99 and $19.99 respectively. Brother offers extended warranties as well.

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