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Between much of the UK pivoting to home working out of necessity, to many households having to print out school work sheets as we seek to home school our children, it is little wonder many retailers are struggling to keep printers in stock. The need for a smart, small machine to print swiftly is freshly apparent.
What should you look for in a printer?
That depends on what you want to print. Documents only or are photos the priority? How about greetings cards or CD labels? Do you need large-scale paper, A3, or is regular A4 enough for what you have in mind?
There are some things which are common to most printers: most, no matter how cheap, include a wireless connection, much more convenient for printing to the machine in the study from the comfort of your bedroom, say.
Many printers additionally work as a photocopier and scanner – good enough for occasional use.
What are the downsides to inkjet cartridges?
Most printers use inkjet cartridges. There are laser printers, but they suit office use better. Oh, and one other truism: inkjet ink is expensive, as you’ll discover the first time you replenish the cartridges. That might not be that long to wait as many printers come with starter cartridges, that is, with very little ink in them.
Beware the cheap printer with expensive cartridges
Sometimes, a low price on a printer is made possible by the fact that you’ll be paying more for the cartridges down the line. Some printers only have two cartridges – one for black ink and one with three colour cartridges in one unit (cyan, magenta and yellow).
If you can buy a printer with more cartridges, it reduces the chance of you throwing away a combination cartridge that’s still got plenty of yellow left, say. Some printers have switched to tanks, which are much bigger than cartridges and this can save money, while others offer a subscription payment so you never run out of ink.
If you want to print wirelessly from your phone, look out for Apple AirPrint for iPhones. Many manufacturers have their own apps for extra features.
Key specs: Paper size: A4, Wireless: Yes, Ink cartridges: 2, Scanner: Yes, Photocopier: Yes, Apps: Apple AirPrint
Like the HP Deskjet above, this printer has the option of an ink subscription to help ensure you never run out of ink at the least convenient moment. It’s also another printer with a fax built in, like the Brother MFC-J5335DW.
The touchscreen interface is efficient and simple to use. This printer excels at documents though photos look pretty good too, despite the printer only having four colour inks, black in one cartridge, three colour inks in the other.
The only downside here is the design which manages to take up more space than you might like.
Key specs: Paper size: A4, Wireless: Yes, Ink cartridges: Bottles, Scanner: Yes, Photocopier: Yes, Apps: Apple AirPrint, Epson Connect
The word EcoTank in the title tells you that this printer comes with large tanks which you refill from bottles, designed to ensure there is no ink spillage. Epson says it comes with the equivalent of 88 cartridges of ink, enough for 14,000 pages of black ink printing plus 5,200 colour pages.
The tanks are certainly convenient, and though there’s a bit of a wait after filling them for the first time while the system initialises, it goes on and on.
This is not a small printer, partly because of the cartridges, but it looks good and print quality is very strong. It’s also very straightforward to use and has the same reliability as is common to Epson printers.
Key specs: Paper size: A4, Wireless: No, Ink cartridges: 2, Scanner: No, Photocopier: No, Apps: No
This is a one-function device, that is, there’s no scanning or photocopying.
It also lacks a wi-fi connection so you need to plug this into your computer to print from it, which may not suit a multi-laptop household.
But, while it’s not fast, print quality is pretty decent, both in black-and-white and colour. It can handle photos, but prints them only on 10 x 15cm paper. Like the printer, replacement cartridges are reasonably priced, which is good.
Build quality is decidedly average but that may not matter and this printer is noisier than some here. But it is very cheap.
Key specs: Paper size: A4, Wireless: Yes, Ink cartridges: 2, Scanner: Yes, Photocopier: Yes, Apps: Apple AirPrint, HP Smart
This is an affordable and attractive machine which is easy to use thanks to the multi-button panel on the left edge. It’s straightforward and efficient, with decent print quality.
HP has a system called Instant Ink: the printer checks ink levels and when they drop below a certain level, automatically orders more online to be delivered.
Ink is paid for by subscription with prices from 99p per month. HP says the automation of the system means the ink is cheaper, though bear in mind until you cancel the subscription, you’re paying each month. This model comes with four months’ ink included.
Key specs: Paper size: A4, Wireless: Yes, Ink cartridges: 6, Scanner: Yes, Photocopier: Yes, Apps: Apple AirPrint, Epson Connect
Epson’s printers are great for solid build and great efficiency.
This model has six inks so that it can deliver photos with greater realism. It’s extremely easy to use with a decent-sized touchscreen panel on the front. Wifi is easy to set up and works well.
Like many printers, this one is capable of double-sided printing and one of the two paper trays is designed for photo paper. Documents are crisp and photos look great, making this a decent all-round printer that is quick and reliable.
Key specs: Paper size: A4, Wireless: Yes, Ink cartridges: 6, Scanner: Yes, Photocopier: Yes, Apps: Apple AirPrint, Canon Print
Canon’s printers are efficient and reliable. It’s probably not surprising that the company excels at photo printing, as Canon is also a standout camera brand. This printer is great for photos because it has six inks including one called Photo Blue which is designed specifically to help with photo quality.
You can print on various papers and there’s a rear feed tray which is good for thicker stock such as photo media. The printer is solidly built, fast and effective, with good wireless connectivity and useful features such as a slot for an SD memory card.
The Canon Print app is useful and versatile, letting you print direct from your smartphone, Google Drive or Dropbox, for instance.
Key specs: Paper size: A3, Wireless: Yes, Ink cartridges: 5, Scanner: Yes, Photocopier: Yes, Apps: Apple AirPrint, Canon Print
If you need to go big with your printing, whether that’s a detailed chart or spreadsheet that would be unreadable on A4, or a big-impact, large-scale photo, then you’ll need a bigger printer.
This sturdy workhorse does take up a lot more desk space, there’s no getting around that, but actually it’s more compact than you might have guessed and there are plenty of A4 printers almost as large.
But it’s a capable and effective machine that is as good at photos as it is on document printing. Speeds are not super-fast, but it’s a solid choice.
Key specs: Paper size: A3, Wireless: Yes, Ink cartridges: 4, Scanner: Yes, Photocopier: Yes, Apps: Apple AirPrint
If you use your printer for a lot of work stuff, this is ideal. It may not be the prettiest machine, but it is versatile and powerful, including a scanner, photocopier and A3 printing capacity. Despite the paper size, it’s not that much bigger than many regular printers. It even, and this is rare, includes a fax.
To add to its business like ambitions, it prints documents fast. Photos are noticeably slower, unsurprisingly, but quality is good for photos, excellent for documents.
Although it prints to A3, the scanner is limited to A4 content. A big paper tray means you’re not refilling it endlessly, even when you’re doing big printing jobs.