What the best inkjet printer does

  • Prints pro-quality photos. This is where inkjet printers far outshine laser printers. Even our cheapest Best Reviewed inkjet printer churns out photos that look as good as (and often better than) drugstore prints.
  • Prints text, graphics and photos on various paper sizes, including envelopes. Older inkjet printers (and some of today's cheap models) may plague you with paper jams and misfeeds, but our Best Reviewed models operate smoothly, experts and owners say.
  • Prints wirelessly. You can send print jobs from your computer (and with some, your iOS or Android phone or tablet) to your printer wirelessly over your Wi-Fi network. All of our Best Reviewed inkjet printers also allow you to print directly from your camera via PictBridge.

Know before you go

Do you need to print photos? This is really the best reason to buy an inkjet printer. If you only need to print office-type documents -- text, graphics, etc. -- you may be better off with a faster, cheaper-to-run laser printer.

Do you need a general-purpose inkjet, or a photo inkjet printer? General-purpose inkjet printers cost less, but they can still crank out photos worthy of a drugstore lab. Dedicated photo printers have more accurate color output, especially for skin tones.

Does printing speed matter? For typical home and family use, speed may not matter as much as it does for business use. But if you print a lot of photos, speed can be an important consideration. However, you can't compare printer speeds in a store; the output speed of demos is unrelated to what you'll experience when the printer is connected to your computer. Although manufacturers sometimes exaggerate speed in their specifications, they're a good place to start. Expert reviews often test printers' speed.

Will the printer fit your space? You may need a particular size and shape to fit a specific desk space. Printers with small footprints make the most sense for college dorms or occasional transportable use. Models that don't top-load are the easiest to fit into desk cubbyholes.

What type of paper stock will you use? Be sure that the printer you're considering takes the types and sizes of paper you use. All of our Best Reviewed inkjet printers can print photos and documents up to 8 1/2 by 11 inches, as well as envelopes and legal-size paper. Some can print on just about any paper size or type you can throw at them. Some have dual trays, so you can keep one tray loaded with photo paper and the other with standard paper stock. If you plan to print labels, card stock, envelopes, CDs or other challenging media, look for a straight-through paper path.

How long do you plan to keep your prints? The best-quality inks from Canon, Epson and HP are all rated to last 100 years or more. If long-lasting prints matter to you, you should confirm that the model you're considering uses (or can use) long-lasting archival inks, and check how long they're rated to last.

Can you connect the printer to your computer, network, or mobile device? Today, most printers can connect to a variety of devices via USB, Wi-Fi, etc. However, if your PC or Mac is older, check the manufacturer's system requirements, paying attention to both hardware and operating system compatibility.

Regardless of the type of printer, watch out for the cost of ink. Big ink cartridges cost less per ounce. To save money over the long haul, buy a printer that accepts extra-capacity cartridges.

Speaking of ink cartridges, before throwing your old ones in the trash, see if they can be recycled. Several companies will buy used cartridges, and sometimes charities or schools will collect them to raise money. Some manufacturers like Canon provide free postage-paid mailers, so you can send in your old cartridges. Most office-supply stores accept used cartridges for recycling too, and they may offer store reward points in exchange.

Value expectations: The dollars and cents of it

"I want to kill my printer," The Wall Street Journal's Joanna Stern begins her article, titled "In Search of a Printer You Won't Want to Destroy."

Why? Ink-guzzling, among other things. "It chugs my $50 ink like it's an open bar." Three months later, her colleague, Wilson Rothman, nearly throws his printer out the window when it decides -- "during a ticking-clock real estate transaction" -- to refuse to print the seven black-and-white text pages he needs because it ran out of ink. "Magenta ink!" Rothman seethes.

Ounce for ounce, printer ink costs more than Champagne, Chanel No. 5 -- you name the precious substance, and printer ink's got it beat, notes ConsumerReports.org. Even more maddening? Printers notoriously insist they're "out of ink" and refuse to function even when there's ink left in the cartridge.

What's the best defense (besides chucking your inkjet for a laser printer)? Buying a better class of inkjet. "If you learn one thing from this article, let it be this: The cheaper the printer, the more you'll pay for ink over time," Stern writes. "This is how companies make their money back on the $70 or $80 printers you buy." Cost-per-page is the secret. "Higher-end printers tend to use cartridges that print more pages, cheaper printers use ones that print less."

Reviewers also praise printers that use separate cartridges for each color because you don't throw away unused ink as you would with a single multicolor cartridge. However, you do dispose of more plastic. (Last year, Epson did launch some cartridge-free inkjet printers with refillable ink tanks; they're all multifunction printers that also copy, scan and fax.) Manufacturers want you to buy their proprietary ink cartridges, but if you don't need the best print quality, off-brand cartridges or cartridge refills cost less.

Elsewhere In This Report:

Best Inkjet Printers | Best Photo Printers | Our Sources

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