When picking a new printer, you have thousands of options. There are home printers, office printers, wide format printers, light production printers, and digital presses. The best way to choose is to know:
- what you need to print
- what your budget is
There isn’t a best printer, but there is a wrong printer. Don’t buy a $70’000 digital press when you just need to print text files once a week. Sometimes there isn’t a right printer, and instead of getting one complex machine, two smaller machines make more sense.
Printers have different sizes, functions, printing types, and speeds. Think about the largest paper size you regularly need, whether you need full-colour, what other features would be useful (double-sided printing, aka duplexing, is common), how many paper trays you’d like (if you regularly print on varied paper sizes, it’s probably a good idea to have at least two), how much image quality matters to your projects, and how long you’re willing to wait to get your copies. Then think about how much you’re willing to spend.
Costs vary widely, from $50-$150’000! Generally, the higher the price the faster and more complex the machine is. Expensive doesn’t always mean more functionality, though; there are $50’000 machines that only print greyscale!
You can pay for your printer outright, or you can choose to rent or lease it. When the option is there, leasing is often a great choice; lease fees (which start at around $70/month) generally include maintenance, delivery, and setup, and you can purchase the machine at the end of the lease if you choose to. If you rent direct from a supplier (like Xerox) you also have toner included! All contracts are different, so discuss terms carefully before signing. Leasing and maintenance contracts are only available for larger machines (office, production, digital press, and wide format), so if you’d prefer a monthly fee, these are your best choices.
Laser is generally more economic, but ink can provide more brilliant colours, and is more likely to work on a variety of papers. Ink printers may have a higher DPI, but laser can provide crisper edges, which is beneficial for text-heavy documents. Many smaller print shops will use a quality laser light production unit for most tasks, but keep a slower ink-based unit available as well. Wide format printers are often called plotters, but the technology between the two is slightly different. Most wide-format printers you see for sale today are inkjet, while plotters essentially use a pen to draw images on the paper; they are incredibly accurate and are excellent for CAD drawings.
Speed is measured in different ways for different machines. For home, office, and light production printers it’s generally measured in pages per minute and first print out time (based on A4/letter paper), but occasionally it’s based on images per minute. Wide format printers base speed on how many seconds it takes to complete an A1 page. Production printers are rated based on linear meters (or feet) per minute, as they run paper off of rollers, and can reach hundreds of meters per minute! Some office printers can manage 50-80 pages per minute, while other machines (like art-grade inkjet) may take more than a minute to print a single page!
Another factor to consider is brand. Different brands are known for different things, and it’s helpful to understand the strengths and limitations of each one (though these are somewhat subjective). Printshop enthusiasts tend to recommend Xerox, Ricoh, Konika Minolta, and Canon, with some also referring Kyocera for light production work. When it comes to desktop brands, Brother, Epson, and HP are known to be great choices. HP actually produces one of the best production press brands (the Indigo line) as well!
Desktop Printers: $50-$1000
Most of the differences between these and office printers are paper tray storage space, speed, and strength of the build. Most only print 8.5” x 11” or 8.5” x 14”, but some will print up to 11” x 17”. Each printer has a “recommended monthly use” and a “maximum monthly use” that you can refer to. Inkjet printers are common, and are generally more affordable, but the maintenance costs are higher. Laser printers cost more up front, but the toner is replaced less often. Inktank printers are relatively new, and have lower costs than either, but they require regular maintenance.
WorkForce EC-C7000, MSRP: $389
Brother INKvestment MFC-J6945DW. MSRP: $440
EcoTank ET-15000, MSRP: $800
Office Printers/Copy Machines: $800-$10’000
Office printers are freestanding units that tend to be multifunction (scan, copy, fax, print). These can be leased, purchased new, or purchased used. They are usually laser and tend to have a higher per month print use range than a desktop printer. Many can still only print up to 8.5” wide so be sure to check that before purchasing or starting a lease! Searching A3 Copiers can bring up some great options! These are frequently used in businesses for text-based printing and photocopying, but they can be great for light production work!
Ricoh SP C840DN, MSRP: $3900
Xerox VersaLink C7020, MSRP: $5100
Canon imageRUNNER ADVANCE DX C3826i, MSRP $8600
Wide-format Printers: $1200-$7500
Wide-format printers are expensive to operate but surprisingly affordable to purchase. They’re excellent for very large print projects, projects with fine details, and high-quality graphics, but you wouldn’t want to use one for printing business documents or small print projects. These are often recommended for printing photos thanks to their accuracy and blending. They come in a variety of widths, with the most common being 24” and 36”, and they can print essentially any length.
ImagePROGRAF PRO-2100, MSRP: $4400
HP DesignJet T230, MSRP: $1200
Epson Stylus Pro 7890, MSRP: $3000
Light Production Printers
These are the printers you’ll see at most small print shops; they are compact, fast, and provide quality work. They usually print up to 13” x 19”, and can have attachments added (saddle-stitching, auto-feeding, folding, etc.). There are big limitations with these efficient laser machines, and it can take some work to ensure you don’t get banding or spotting, but they are very useful for most projects. These are laser printers, so don’t work on all papers. Also, because toner is somewhat glossy, you also can’t get the diversity of paper stocks that you could with offset printing.
Xerox Color C60 Digital Laser, MSRP: $15,000
Xerox Versant 180 Press, MSRP: $25,000
Ricoh IM 7000, MSRP: $25,000
Konica Minolta AccurioPrint C750i, $42,000
Digital Presses: $60,000-$250,000
A digital press is rarely the right choice for those without a large print shop. Generally, these machines work for larger projects, and often they create plates (within the machine) for each impression. Setting up a job is more complex, and while the printing itself is very fast, there can be a fair bit of maintenance and downtime. The consensus across commercial printing forums is that if you can keep the printers busy, you’ll be happy, but if they sit for more than a few days at a time, you’ll be replacing parts and doing maintenance more than you’d like.
Toner: Konica Minolta AccurioPress C3070 Digital Press, MSRP: $71,000
Ricoh Pro C7200, MSRP: $92,000
Hiedelberg Versafire EV, MSRP: $163,000
Ink: HP Indigo Digital Press, 7000K MSRP: $140,000*
Xerox Iridesse Production Press: $180,000
*ink-based, so more expensive, but still incredibly efficient, and the quality is excellent. There are raised ink options, and they can print on tons of surfaces.
If you want a great machine for a low price, buying used can be an excellent option. They frequently become available at auctions and on used sites from offices closing or upgrading their machines. There are many available on the market, so you may find a machine worth thousands of dollars for just a few hundred! Moving costs, toner, and maintenance fees are still big factors, so keep those in mind before purchasing anything hastily!