Buying a New Printer: Six Things to Consider

by Rich on February 18, 2009

If you’re buying a new printer, you have a great opportunity to start over with a machine that’s better suited to your needs—and your budget.  But it’s not always easy to find the right machine for you—and with the way manufacturers charge for ink and other peripherals, a great deal isn’t always as great as it seems once you factor in the ink cartridges.  Here are a few factors to consider when buying a new printer to ensure you get the best deal on the best machine.

Your budget. Inkjet printers and laser printers are sold under different business models. Manufacturers sell inkjet printers cheaply, then make money when customers return to buy overpriced ink. Laser printers cost more up front, but they tend to be more economical over time.  A laser printer’s toner cartridge may be able to print up to 8,000 pages before it runs out. Compare that to an inkjet printer, which might print as little as 200 pages before the cartridges run dry.

The type of printing you’re doing.  Printers nowadays can be highly specialized to a certain type of use.  If you’re planning to print a lot of family photos, you’ll need a different type of printer than if you’re planning on printing mostly business documents in black and white or brochures for your home business.  If you need colour printing, a colour inkjet is probably your best bet unless you have the budget for a colour laser.  Black-and-white printing can often be done more economically on a laser printer.

The amount of printing you’re doing.  Studies have shown that laser printers are much more economical when printing in volume—if you’re probably going ot print more than 100 pages per month, a laser printer may be a better bet for you in the long term even though they cost more up front. An inkjet printer is typically cheaper, but the cost in ink is much higher.  Still, these can be good machines for more limited printing.

The space you have available.  Printers come in all shapes and sizes, from tiny personal use machines to husky business printers designed for high-volume use and more complex graphics.  If you have a small area for your printer, you may be limited in the type of printer you can buy.  If space is an issue, go to the store with measurements in hand to make sure you get a machine that fits your space.

Your computer.  Most printers work with both Macs and PC’s.  But some aren’t readily compatible with certain operating systems—Linux, for example, requires specialized drivers that can be hard to find.  In addition, some printers only connect to computers via a USB port—which not all computers come equipped with.  If your computer doesn’t have a USB, look for a printer that connects via a parallel port.

The cartridge situation.  When considering budget, most people don’t factor in the cost of consumables—especially printer ink cartridges.  But many inkjet manufacturers design their business models so that the bulk of their profit is made from cartridge sales.  Original cartridges can be overpriced, and they also often come equipped with technology that ensures you use up the cartridge faster.

To make sure you’re getting the best deal, first take a look at the cost of cartridges and factor that into the cost of the printer.  You may find that cheap printer has some hidden expenses.  Ask the salesperson how many pages the cartridges can print before they run out—a cheap cartridge may only have a few hundred pages in it, making it more expensive than you realize.

Avoid printers that have three-in-one cartridges—these make you replace the cartridge when just one colour is empty, resulting in a lot of wasted ink.  And if you can, avoid cartridges with Smart Chips—these often make you replace cartridges after a certain expiration date or before you’ve run out of ink entirely. Last, check the availability of third-party remanufactured and recycled cartridges.  The more widely available these are for your brand, the more likely you’ll be able to save money by buying generic cartridges.

Finding the right printer takes time—and you’ll often have to look beyond the sticker price to figure out whether or not you’re really getting the best deal.  But a little research can go a long way, and in the end you’ll find the time you spent is worth it.

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