How to buy a printer. What to look for in purchasing a new printer.

Table of Contents

Printer Cost

Basic overview of the ranges of printer costs. It all changed in 2019 when the Pandemic hit and millions of people bought (or tried to buy) printers to set up a home office.

Pandemic of 2019
Before After
$30 $100 Cheap, basic, low-end printer. Used to cost as much as an ink cartridge.
$80 $150 Mid-range home printer. Low-end office printer.
$150 $250 Quality home printer. Mid-range office printer.

Printers are almost disposable items. Sometimes they only last 3 years. Expected life is 3-7 years. If you get 10, you’re very lucky.

Ink Costs.

To know how much your printer is really going to cost, you have to figure in ink costs.

For each printer you’re looking up, it will tell you which ink it uses.

Look in the store, or online, how much that ink costs.

And how many pages they say it will print.

Pages per ink cartridge can vary from 100 to 2,500 so it’s a huge difference.

If the documentation of the ink cartridge does not say how many pages, that’s a bad sign. Assume 100 pages.

You will have to guess/estimate how many pages you print per month/year.

If you divide Ink Price / Pages it will print, you get cost per page

Worst Best

Touch Control Panel

Here’s a big, beautiful touch-screen control panel:


I suggest a touch control panel, these days. It will cost a little more, but it comes in handy in one specific instance.

You will need to set up your WiFi on the printer so it can communicate wirelessly with your PC and your phone. During that process, you will likely have to supply your WiFi password, or wireless network key.

That could be 10 letters long, or more.

With a touch-screen control panel, you can just touch the letters and numbers you want to enter.

Otherwise you have to scroll up and down to get to the letters. Much more difficult.

Or if the printer does not even have that sophisticated a setup, you might need to connect it to your PC or phone, maybe through the manufacturer’s app, to set up WiFi.

In general, people find the touch control panel more intuitive.

Also, the bigger the better, of course it costs a little more.

Lighted Control Panel

If your control panel is “touch” it is also lighted, so you’re good.

If you’re considering a model that is not touch, that’s ok, but I would still recommend lighted. Ie LED (light emitting diode) rather than LCD (liquid crystal display).

An LCD (non-lighted) control panel screen requires light from the room to illuminate the screen. Depending on your lighting ocnditions, you might even need a flashlight to read the control panel. That’s a pain.

So I recommend a control panel that emits its own light.

Here’s an example of a non-lighted, LCD panel.

non-lighted control panel

Automatic Document Feeder

For faxing and copying, there are 2 ways to feed the page to the printer/copier/fax.

Open the lid and put the paper face down on the glass is the basic way.

(Note: if your printer is not ALSO a scanner, ie multi-function, or All-In-One (AIO), then it might not have a cover and a glass surface in the first place. Only low-end printers don’t have a scanner too.)

The other method is the “automatic document feeder” (ADF) which is a contraption on top of the printer where you place a printed page, usually face up, and it sucks it in and copies it or faxes it.

Most often, if it has an ADF, you also still have the option of opening it up and putting your page on the glass if you want to.

Here’s pictures of 2 very similar Canon printers, one without, and one with, an automatic document feeder.


no automatic document feeder


with automatic document feeder

Automatic Two-Sided Printing

All printers can print two-sided, also called duplex printing.

The catch is do you have to remove the paper and put it back in, usually upside down, for the printer to print the back page.

I suggest looking for one that does this automatically, meaning, after printing one side of the page, it either keeps the paper inside, or sometimes sucks it back in, and prints the second side for you.

Cheap printers don’t have this, mid-range and up do have it.

You usually have to look deeper, and check the specs to find out if this feature is provided.


All-In-One printers sometimes have the fax function, sometimes not. I guess “All” doesnt mean what it used to.

Faxing, in Feb 2021 is less popular, but still out there.

If you need it, you will often have to look deeper, and check the specs to find out if it’s included.

Note, you will need to route a phone cable to this printer for faxing to work. That usually means you’ll need a phone jack near the printer. Or you’ll be running many feet of wire around your rooms.

Of course, this assumes you still have land line phone service. If not, then you can’t use “fax”. You’ll need some online service instead. Or scan and email your documents. Or take a picture of them and text or fax them. Or use a friend’s fax. Or go to a staples/fedex type store and have them fax them for you.


Especially during the 2019-2020 Pandemic, shipping can be a factor.

Free or cost? How much?

And in a few days, or a few weeks.

Vendors are finding it hard (2019-Feb 2021 at least) to keep printers in stock.

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