The most effective suggestions for getting a printer that will not drive you loopy

Sarah Tew / CNET

After years of cursing, you didn’t need a printer at home. Well here you are. Now that everyone has been on site for a year, sometimes all you have to do is print something out. But based on my own story (and confirmed by many of my colleagues), almost all printers have in common that sooner or later you pretty much want to toss them out the window. Usually earlier.

However, there have to be some ground rules to find a good printer that is less difficult to use than a health insurance website. I took a deep dive into features, pricing, and potential issues, and developed some general guidelines on what to look for and what to avoid.

Continue reading: Best printers for 2021

Currently running:
Look at that:

Best Tips for Buying a New Printer


Inkjet vs. Laser

Some inkjet printers are so inexpensive it’s almost like an impulse buy. But the adage that you get what you pay for still holds true. Everyone has seen cheap printers where a set of replacement cartridges costs more than the printer itself.

Since I’ve switched mainly to laser printers, my frustration – at least with printers – has been significantly less. I never had to deal with ink cartridges that didn’t work, got stuck, or only printed a few times before losing quality. Laser toner lasts a long time, even in color, and produces more consistent results.

More importantly, so many laser printers emerged as professional office products before they went mainstream. I’ve found they are more reliable. Mind you, not completely reliable, but more.

Think of a laser, either monochrome or color, as your standard choice and you’ll be a lot happier in the long run. There are also some versions called LED or digital printers. This is basically just a small variation on how laser printers work. So think of them as the same.

If you want to know what I’m using at the start of the pandemic, both my mom and I have received new monochrome laser printers for our home offices, especially the ones Brother HL-L2370DW. I’ve also had a very reliable color version for a number of years, the newest model of which is the Brother HL-L3270CDW. Some others You can find top printer picks here.

If you are only subscribing to one CNET newsletter, this is the one. Get the Editors’ Top Tips on the most interesting reviews, news, and videos of the day.

But what about photos?

There is always an exception. For all that they’re good at, laser printers aren’t great at taking photos. Small pictures and illustrations in documents, of course. But prints in Fotomat quality on glossy paper? Yes, you need an inkjet for that. If you need high quality photo prints, consider a Specialty photo inkjet printer. Please note, however, that these can initially be more expensive and, thanks to the recommended special ink, cause very high running costs.

Do you really need a built-in scanner?

What do you think what you will scan? Just take a picture with your phone and clean it up a bit in the phone’s photos app or a photo editing app on your laptop. I’ve been doing this for years for everything up to and including very important legal and financial documents and no one has ever complained.

When you need to scan dozens of pages at a time, you need a sheet-fed scanner and reliable ones are usually only found on more expensive all-in-one multifunction printers or office printer.


Sarah Tew / CNET

Spend less on supplies

I thought it was ridiculous when I saw a 3D printer manufacturer add DRM to their machines so that only one brand of filament material could be used. It was just as ridiculous when HP (and others) tried their printer to DRMand prevent them from working with third-party ink. These restrictions were lifted (rightly) after a public outcry, but it’s only a matter of time before someone tries again.

Off-brand ink is the way to go for both inkjet and laser printers. I have never bought “official” toner for my laser printer and it has never been a problem. A full set of Brother black and color toners currently costs $ 176 on Amazon, while a no-name toner replacement costs less than $ 40. Read some reviews from Amazon users if you are concerned, but it’s ok to get the cheap toner.

Other aggravations

Consider spending more to get a decent touchscreen on board. It doesn’t seem like you use it regularly, but when you’re setting up a new printer you’ll want to be able to enter your WiFi password without scrolling through each letter of the alphabet.

Also, be sure to look for a manual feed slot – this is common, but some low-end printers may skip it. This is important for using a single sheet of glossy paper, card stock, shipping labels, or anything else without opening the main paper tray and changing the paper.