How to Spend Less on Printing and Get Better Results

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Once you've bought and set up a keyboard or a pair of PC speakers, you'll likely never have to tinker with them again (or spend more money on them). When they finally give out, you'll simply buy new models. Not so with your printer. The purchase price is only the beginning of your investment, and figuring out how to get the best prints--and how to spend less on ink or toner cartridges--can take a lot of fiddling and thought.

To help, we've assembled answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about printers, paper, and--most important--how to trim the ridiculously high cost of ink or toner.

Should I buy an inkjet or a laser printer?

To choose the right printer, think about the output quality you need, and how much you'll be printing. These two considerations will dictate how fast the printer must be and how much you should be prepared to spend on ink and paper.

If you print a lot of business documents, letters, and other text files, a monochrome laser printer is likely your best bet. These devices are fast and inexpensive, and produce good-looking documents for only pennies per page.

If you'll be printing documents containing color charts and other graphics, a color laser printer is a good choice. Recent price drops make color lasers affordable for nearly any small office. And these models often print black-and-white pages at a cost per page comparable to that of monochrome lasers. Plus their color-photo prints are good enough to use in newsletters, marketing brochures, and other plain-paper documents that mix text and pictures.

Anyone who prints more photos than documents will get top quality from an inkjet printer. If you print a mix of photos and documents, though, the choice is a bit more complicated. A typical home user who prints, say, driving directions, shots taken with a digital camera, product recommendations from a Web site, and a few business letters a month will find that an inkjet printer offers a good compromise between quality and speed. A workload such as this will require a variety of paper. If you purchase a model with two paper trays, you won't have to swap paper in and out of the tray as frequently.

PC World's Printer Info Center can help you find a printer that delivers the speed and quality you need, and that fits within your budget.

Should I buy a multifunction printer, or a separate printer and scanner?

It used to be said that a multifunction printer was jack-of-all-trades but a master of none. That's no longer the case.

You can get good-quality prints and scans from a multifunction unit. Additionally, both operations usually work better together in one machine than if you bought a printer and a scanner separately. You can copy a document directly from the scanner to the printer, for example, without having to route the image through your computer.

Multifunction printers come in two varieties:

  • Office-oriented models have an automatic document feeder for scanning multiple pages as a single task, and often include a built-in fax machine.
  • Photo-oriented models let you scan slides and negatives, and usually have built-in media slots for importing images directly from digital camera memory cards.

Multifunction printers designed for offices can use either inkjet or laser printer technology. While inkjets suit both home and small-office users, the laser units can replace a small workgroup's printer, copier, and fax machine.

PC World's Top 5 Inkjet Multifunction Printers and Top Multifunction Laser Printers charts rank our current favorites.

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