Yup. This is a long article because there is so much to discuss. We put as much as possible in bullet point form to make it easier to digest, along with recommendations.
For numerous reasons, we have not reached the point where paper is no longer needed, not even close. Paper is still a cheap and reliable form of storage and backup. It lasts for decades or more with zero maintenance. Got a birth certificate from 50 years ago? Sure, just open the manila file folder in this 100 year old file cabinet and there it is.
That same birth certificate, stored on a computing device at the same time, if it was stored at all, would be impossible to retrieve in the same manner.
- Most popular for home use.
- Can print color far more cheaply than a laser color printer.
- No warm-up period.
- More expensive per page to run than a black and white laser printer.
- Uses expensive ink cartridges.
- Slower than laser.
- Ink will dry out if not used or cleaned weekly.
- No fans that make noise.
- Best if color prints are needed in low volume.
- Most popular for business use.
- Faster than an inkjet.
- Less expensive per page than an inkjet.
- Laser printers can be more reliable for reasons noted below.
- Toner never ‘dries out’ like inkjets.
- Color laserjets are very expensive to operate.
- Uses expensive toner cartridges.
- There is a warm-up period in the event the printer has not been used for a while.
- Heat is generated, requiring the use of internal cooling fans. Noisier.
- Best if only black and white prints are required.
Printer Type Recommendations
Use an inkjet if…
- You need to print occasional color, such as photos or color filled documents.
- You need instant printer response after sitting for a while.
- Initial purchase price of the printer is typically less than laser.
- Silent when not in use.
- You’re okay with slower printing. Faster, more expensive inkjets do print pretty fast, however.
Use a laser printer if…
- Cheaper per page (Black and white).
- Faster print speeds.
- Typically more reliable. ( No clogging )
- You’re okay with a slight delay before printing if the printer has not been used in a while. There is a warm up time.
- You’re okay with fan noise for a minute or two after printing. After that, the printer sits silently.
Printer Feature Recommendations
Types of connections
- USB Cable ( Pretty universal. Most printers have this capability. )
- Network ( An actual network cable physically connected to the printer )
- Wireless ( The printer can connect to a wireless signal – no cable needed )
When possible, always connect the printer to your computer using a USB cable. It’s more reliable. However, that may not be possible due to any number of reasons.
- Distance between the computer and the printer is too far or impractical.
- Walls or obstructions between the printer and the computer.
- Printer will be used by others.
- It may be possible to connect your computer using USB, but still have others connect to the same printer using wireless.
- It’s possible to allow others to access your printer through your computer, but it’s clumsy, unreliable and only used as a last resort.
Wired Network Connection
A wired connection is the next most reliable way of connecting a printer to your computer. It’s a physical network cable attached to the back of the printer to the same router, modem, or switch that your computer uses. Many printers may only offer a USB or wireless connection. A wired connection is not as common.
- Allows more reliable sharing of the printer with other users than wireless.
- In some cases it will allow printing from phones and tablets.
- Greater possibility for failure than USB, especially after network or internet changes due to such things as modem or router replacement.
Wireless Network Connection
Somewhere along the way wireless became cool. Even though one printer might be used by one computer 5 feet away, there seems to be a smoldering need to run it via wireless because somehow it’s thought to be better. This is false.
If you can get by with a USB connection, go with a USB connection. There are, of course, a few advantages that wireless connections hold:
- No wires needed. Visually cleaner and can work through walls and at a distance, to a point.
- In some cases it will allow printing from phones and tablets.
- Less reliable due to forgotten wireless passwords, interference with the wireless signal, too great a distance, infrastructure changes, compatibility with your wireless devices, black holes, act of god, etc. We’ve seen it all.
Features Commonly Found In Printers
Printers can offer 4 main features.
- Top Sheet Feeder
Printing is printing. Not much to say here.
Years ago a single function printer used to be normal. If you wanted scanning or copying capabilities, you would get a separate scanner device. Today, it’s rare to see a printer without a built-in scanner. Multi-function printers are called “MFP’s” or “Multi Function Printer”.
Scanning typically requires a glass surface normally found on top of the printer, not unlike a normal copy machine. Copying is pretty easy and does not involve the computer at all. Just a copy button for black and white or color is typical, if it’s color capable.
The whole point of scanning is converting a paper document or picture into digital so you can store it on a computer, send it in an email, modify a picture, etc. Scanning is the same as copying, but instead of sending the scanned document to the printer itself to be printed, it’s sent to the computer, oftentimes being dumped into a ‘Scan’ folder. You can then open that folder and do what you want with the document.
There are variations to this, such as scanning multiple pages into a single file and other trickery.
It’s not used much anymore, since email tends to be much more reliable. Faxing works very poorly unless there is a phone line dedicated to it, especially for receiving faxes. It doesn’t play well with multi-line business phone systems or VOIP. If your printer comes with faxing capabilities but you don’t need the feature, ignore it. It’s probably not worth the time trying to find a printer with the same feature set you need without faxing capabilities.
Top sheet feeder (Multi-page Document Feeder)
We were once at an office where they needed to scan paper contracts. These contracts were many pages long and we noticed they would put each page onto the glass, initiate the scan, replace it with another document, and repeat.
However, they had a sheet feeder on their printer. Naturally, we asked if there was a problem with the feeder. No one was sure because this is how its always been done. Since we were there already working on other issues, we took a look. We don’t like changing an organization’s work flow, or how they do things, because that can open up a can of worms. But, in this case, it was such a clumsy way of converting paper documents to digital we just had to come up with a better way.
We investigated further, tweaked a few things here and there, and the sheet feeder started working. They were stunned at how much faster things worked.
If you are scanning multi-page documents, a sheet feeder is the way to go. But, it does make for a more expensive, physically larger printer. Document feeders can be found on inkjet or laser printers.
Printer Brand recommendations
We do not offer printers for sale at Sauve’s.
Printer selection is overwhelming. There are hundreds available. We trimmed it down to what we have found to be the most tolerable because you will find horror stories attached to any brand and model.
- The HP Deskjet line of printers are typically the most basic, which might be fine for some people. One is a ridiculously cheap, printer only model.
- The HP Envy line of printers work well for basic printing and scanning.
- The HP Officejet line of printers works well if you also need faxing and sheet feeding capabilities, among other things. Some models come with all three connection options along with all the features you can think of. Good for multi-user, higher capacity printing.
- Epson’s Workforce printers are good printers for professionals who must work with high quality prints and require fast print speeds.
- The Brother HL line of printers is excellent for home use or a business where everyone gets their own printer. They can also be used for low volume, multi-user printing. We use these printers in the home and office..
- The Brother DCP line has additional features such as faxing and multi-sheet feeders aimed at multi-user and office use. They tend to be higher capacity than the HL line.
A note regarding remote printing
This is for those that might want to print while connected to a computer remotely, over the Internet. If this does not apply to you, skip it.
One very important thing to be aware of when remote controlling a computer over the Internet is how you print. You can tell the remote printer to print to it’s normal office printer just like if you were sitting in front of it.
However, what if you want to run the office computer from home, but print to a printer at home so you can get your hands on the document?
You must tell the office computer, the one you are remoted into, to print to the printer at home, over the Internet, where you are currently located and not it’s normal office printer. This is done using software called LogMeIn, among others.
The key thing is to use printers that are basic, such as the Brother HL laserjet printers. Trying to get the full featured HP Officejet printers to print at home while remoted into an office computer can be maddening beyond words.
Again, for remote printing, stick with the simple laser printers from Brother.
A note regarding printing from tablets and phones.
In order to print from tablets and phones, the printer must be capable of that. Check specifically if the printer has that feature or not. It’s not a given. We find the process clumsy and unreliable and no where near as nice as printing from desktops and laptops. Do not think that printing from your tablet or phone works like your computer or laptop. It does not.
Apple devices will often use a feature called ‘AirPrint’. If you use Apple devices, make sure the printer has this feature. Normally it’s a straightforward thing where if the feature is running on the tablet and the printer, it will automatically be configured to send print jobs to the Apple Airprint enabled printer. This only works for Apps that are designed to take advantage of this feature, which are few.
- For Android devices, you are looking for a feature called ‘Google Cloud Print’. How it works is outside the scope of this document.
- HP themselves have a service called ‘HP Print Service’ that can be used for both Android and Apple devices.
Again, it cannot be stressed enough, printing from phones and tablets is nothing like a normal computer or laptop. Printing from phones and tablets is limited. If your phone and printer can take advantage of Apple’s ‘Air Print’ feature, it’s the best of the worst.
Realities of printer ownership
- They might start cheap, but they cost a lot of money to run.
- Laser printers are typically less costly per page.
- Color laserjets are available, but at a much higher price and very expensive to keep running.
- Keep printer paper dry. Don’t store paper in a humid environment. It will make the paper sheets stick to each other and won’t feed properly. If you must, only buy paper in small lots so no paper is stored wet a long time. Keep paper inside its packaging until needed.
- Do not reuse paper that’s been fed through a printer. Gums up everything, eventually.
- Some thicker stock paper won’t work in some printers. Test first.
- Consider printing photos at CVS or Walmart. It’s very costly to print photos at home and make them look good. They use a lot of ink.
- Typically, don’t go with the buy ‘2 for one’ types of sales for cartridges unless you know you’ll use them quickly. When inkjet printers fail, chances are the replacement printer will use entirely different cartridges and you’ll be stuck with useless ink.
- If you are buying a new printer or several in an office, try and get the same model or at least models that use the same ink or toner cartridges. That way you only have to stock one cartridge for all your printers. Yes, that may be wishful thinking since the manufacturers seem to change things often.
- We are against using refilled or re-manufactured cartridges. They are very unreliable and offer poor print quality. However, if you are patient regarding having to troubleshoot and return non-working ink cartridges or have minimal print quality needs, re-manufactured or refilled cartridges may be an option. It’s possible, depending on the model of printer being used, a refilled or re-manufactured cartridge will damage it beyond repair.
Can I connect my printer using USB but still use wireless for everyone else?
Possibly, depending on the model of printer. We have used this scenario on HP and Brother printers where one printer uses both a USB cable connected to one computer and a network connection used by others. It’s a pretty unusual thing to do but it’s possible on some printers.
How long will a printer last?
We see 15 year old lasers in operation. We have an old Lexmark still going, but it gets cranky at times. Parts are impossible to come by so as the printers fail mechanically they need replacement or creative repairs. As long as toner and ink cartridges are still available, they will keep working.
For the most part, however, 5 years is typical.
Are printers getting to the point of throwing them away when they fail?
Yes. Especially the inkjets. However there are times when it’s a necessary to repair an old printer no matter what the cost, if possible. We recently worked on a computer from the mid nineties that ran an old, DOS based, design program. Their dot-matrix printer from the same era finally failed in an un-repairable way. The program would not work on any replacement printer. It had to be a dot-matrix from the same era.
Tech support for the program was non-existent. To replace the design program would have run $16,000 plus the cost of a new computer and printer. In this case, a hunt was initiated and a replacement printer of similar vintage was found and he was up and running again. Actually, it was a brand new, still in the box, Epson, dot-matrix printer that had been sitting on a shelf for years (decades?) never used. We had to pay big for it but not as big as a replacement program. They got crazy lucky we found a new replacement to get them going again.
In another instance a particular printer was used to print very specific, very custom forms. Other printers would print with wrong formatting. In that case we fixed it using old parts we had in storage to keep that printer working longer. When the time comes, however, it will require changing the way they do things.
In another instance, an entire company stopped making money because the ancient dot-matrix printer that was used to print shipping labels from their equally ancient shipping program failed. Nothing was getting shipped while that printer was down. It was fixed good enough to get things going with the strong recommendation to stock a spare printer of the same or similar model, new or used, just in case
Are printers a pain to operate?
Yes. The advertisements showing people with big smiles running printers. That doesn’t happen.