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Printer priorities – getting the best from your next purchase

Getting the right print is easier than you think

PC Advisor's guide to buying the right printer. Discover what the key features to look out for are when making a printer purchase.

If you’re thinking about buying a new printer then there are plenty of printers out there vying for your attention. However, picking the right one can also be a little tricky with so many different options to choose from.

But, getting the right printer is much easier than you might think, just as long as you put together a list of requirements beforehand.

If you’re the sort of person who needs to print out lots of full-colour digital images, which is what most of us are doing with our printers these days, then having a high-quality All-in-One device will fit the bill. Manufacturers such as Kodak, HP, Epson and Canon have all entered this competitive marketplace and, as a result, people who print photos are spoilt for choice.

Similarly, if you regularly need to print rather more humdrum, but no less important, documents such as word processing files, spreadsheets, forms and emails, then you’ll need a printer that excels in outputting no-nonsense mono pages too.

The good news is that modern printers can invariably do a little bit of everything, particularly when it comes to the All-in-One end of the market.

Money matters

For many people cost is the core factor when deciding on a printer, but there are models to match any kind of budget. Traditionally, it’s been important to buy the best you can afford, because ultimately the better the printer then the better the quality of the end results. It is possible, though to get a printer that’s high on features and quality but low on price.

Next up, you’ll need to determine what sort of running costs the printer will rack up over time. There’s little point in purchasing a model that might have a cheap price tag, but then costs a small fortune to replenish the ink cartridges. When it comes to economical printing is the Kodak Hero series is good – all of these models use consumables that cost less than £20 to replace. Or look for the Epson WorkForce Pro WP-4535 DWF, an inkjet printer with running costs that challenge even much more expensive laser printers.

The must-have features

Once you’ve got a grip on costs, the next step is to determine exactly what it is that you want to do with your printer. Most home users, along with small business owners, find that the modern All-in-One printer is a much better option than either a traditional inkjet or laser device.

While the inkjet might print decent photos, it’s not ideal for high-volume mono document printing. Conversely, the laser printer may well be perfectly happy to churn out reports and datasheets in an office environment, but it’s not really suited to reproducing lustrous photo prints of your loved ones.

It’s hardly surprising therefore, that the All-in-One is increasingly becoming the main tool of choice for people who need a device that can do a little bit of multi-tasking. The added attraction of these models is that they can also scan, copy and fax documents too, meaning that you’ve got a veritable one-stop print shop at your disposal.

Desirable extra features

A new All-in-One is also the best bet for being able to enjoy lots of additional high-tech functionality too. Models from the likes of HP - we liked the HP Envy 114 e All-in-One - we reviewed recently - Epson, Canon and every Kodak Hero printer come with a dazzling array of tools for getting any kind of print job done fast and efficiently. Key to this is usability, with All-in-One’s featuring everything from touchscreen controls through to duplex automatic document feeders.

This touch-and-go printing capacity means you can set the job up and simply let your printer get on with it. Such printers - and the Kodak and HP Envy printers mentioned above are included - automatically detect the paper size and subsequently predicts how much ink and paper will be required to complete the job. You’ll also want the same kind of simplicity when you set-up for the first time and now, thanks to Wi-Fi capability, All-in-One printers can be configured in minutes and offer hugely convenient cable-free operation.

Harnessing technology

With your main features, functions and set-up considered, all you really need to think about then is how much easier you can make your printing tasks. Even though things have become wonderfully straightforward when it comes to home printing, there are now software tools that make the process even more seamless.

For example, the Hero range boasts some really advanced features including the ability to print on the go, directly from a smartphone, laptop or tablet device. The HP Envy printers can do the same and, like the Kodak Heros, use the power of Google Cloud Print-enabled apps that enable you to output directly from the likes of Gmail and Google Docs.

There’s also the capacity for sending emails and attachments to a Hero printer from anywhere on the planet, using any email account, by enlisting the Kodak Email Print Service. Family, friends and work colleagues can also send emails and attachments to your Kodak printer in the same way, using any email account, with this innovative service. This Cloud-based printing is becoming increasingly common and revolutionises the process. 

What’s more, it’s also possible to explore the potential of apps to squeeze even more out of the experience. Kodak’s Pic Flick App, for example, offers easy outputting of photos, text and other documents from the likes of an iPhone, iPod touch, iPad as well as BlackBerry and Android devices. Other printer brands now have iPhone or Android apps for this reason. It's worth checking before you buy if this is going to be important to you.

Perfect prints

Don’t forget to check that the model you’re interested in will be able to use digital data from a variety of media sources, including memory cards and sticks, as well as connecting via a home network. It’s also a good idea to lookout for additional user-friendly features in the shape of touchscreen controls and easy integration with your favourite social networking sites.

And, last but not least, check that the quality of the resulting prints will be up to the standard that you require. If you’re after top-quality photo prints then make sure you get an All-in-One that can produce vibrant and lasting results. Stick with a name brand and you’ll be well covered when it comes to outputting prized family photos.

Here Kodak All-in-One printers have a clear lead, because they use pigment-based premium inks. Despite the fact that they are refreshingly cheap and easy to replace, these ink cartridges have even been awarded ‘best in class’ status and the printouts have a formidable reputation for lasting over 120 years. With all printers, it's best to check a print before you buy.

Your printer checklist:

  • Compare the price of the printer against the running costs and how much it costs to purchase ink refills.
  • Check the technical specification, paying close attention to the likes of print resolution in dots per inch (or DPI) and the pages per minute (or PPM).
  • Look for lots of connectivity options including can the printer be added to a home network using Wi-Fi and operated in the same way.
  • Check what kind of media the printer accepts, such as digital camera memory cards and also USB sticks
  • Look out for printers that offer ease of set-up and operation along with offering lots of functionality such as auto sheet feeders and print job monitoring.
  • Check if software add-ons are available for the printer, including the ability to use Cloud printing and apps to boost productivity and ease of use.
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