Buying guide - All-in-one printers

All-in-one

All-in-one printers are a great buy as they combine a printer and scanner in one device. Some all-in-one printers add a fax machine, and some are wireless printers, so you can print or scan from the comfort of your sofa.

couple printing picturesYou can buy either inkjet or laser all-in-one printers, the choice is crucial as it affects whether you can print photos and how much the all-in-one printer will cost to run. Remember when you're buying an all-in-one printer that you'll need to factor in the cost of ink and paper as well.

Laser printers produce the same quality on any type of paper. With inkjets, paper matters, especially if you want to print photos. It's best to buy your printer manufacturer's photo paper, since it's designed to work with the type of ink the printer uses. It might also be tempting to buy refilled cartridges for your inkjet, but you may find that the ink can quickly fade and that the colours aren't as vivid. If you've got a laser all-in-one printer you can save up to 50% by buying refilled cartridges, with no real discernable loss of quality. (This might void your warranty so only do it after your warranty expires!)

Inkjets

An inkjet all-in-one printer is the best choice for use at home as it can produce great-looking glossy photos as well as high-quality documents. This type of all-in-one printer doesn't just print on paper, either. You can get creative with iron-on T-shirt transfers, labels and sometimes even CDs and DVDs.

Prices start from around £40, but the more you pay, the faster and better-quality results you'll get. Almost every model has a colour screen, although they vary in size, large touchscreens are generally found only on the top-of-the-range all-in-one printers. Screens make an all-in-one printer very easy to use, especially when you want to print photos straight from your digital camera. Wireless printers cost a bit more, but mean you can print from several computers and you can put the printer wherever is most convenient.

Inkjet all-in-one printers are more expensive to run than lasers. A colour page will cost around 10p, while a laser can be up to half the price. A standard 6x4in photo costs between 30p and 40p (including the paper). That's more expensive that online photo printing services like Photobox, but it's much faster and more convenient.

Laser printers

Make no mistake, laser all-in-one printers are lousy at printing photos. For a start, they can't really print on glossy photo paper, and even if they can, the technology isn't a patch on inkjet all-in-one printers when it comes to creating a lifelike image. Instead, they're better suited to office use, printing and scanning long documents.

all-in-oneLasers have two big advantages over inkjets: speed and running costs. Instead of printing line-by-line, they print whole pages at once and leave inkjets in their dust, churning out 10, 20 or even more pages per minute. As with inkjets, the more you pay, the faster they go.

Only the cheapest colour lasers (usually under £150) are slow, but even these are faster than an inkjet. When it comes to cost, a typical page will set you back only a few pence. An inkjet could cost anywhere up to 10 times as much.

Before you get carried away, you should decide whether or not you need a colour all-in-one printer. Colour laser all-in-one printers cost a lot more than mono versions. These can only print in black and white but start at around £70 and produce sharp text that's perfect for business documents.

Resolutions

Print resolution
Laser printers have low resolutions compared to inkjets, typically 600dpi. DPI stands for dots per inch, but the important point here is that there's very little difference in the sharpness between laser printers, even if their resolutions vary. Essentially, they all produce crisp text and graphics.

It's a different story with inkjet all-in-one printers. Higher resolutions mean the printer can place more dots on the page. This generally leads to higher-quality images, although other factors such as droplet size also play a part. High resolutions are an indicator of good print quality, but they don't guarantee it. 4,800x1,200 dpi is about the minimum you'll find (which is still great) and 9,600x2,400dpi is the highest. Unless you're printing photos, resolution is largely irrelevant though, as every inkjet all-in-one printer has a high enough resolution for sharp text and colour graphics.

Scan resolution
All-in-one printers have a built-in scanner, but their specifications vary widely. As with print resolutions, higher numbers don't guarantee quality. For copying documents, the most you'll need is 300dpi, this is usually perfectly fine for scanning or copying photos, too. Higher resolutions can be useful if you want to archive or enlarge treasured photographs.

The extras

Fax
A fax machine can still be extremely useful if you need to dispatch signed documents quickly. Remember, if you want fax capabilities, you'll need a telephone socket close by to use it.

Memory card readers
Almost every inkjet all-in-one printer has one or more memory card slots that allow you to print photos without needing a computer. Card slots are usually accompanied by colour screens. Small screens (up to 2") are still useful, but larger ones, up to 3 or 4" are better.

Networking
If you wish to print from several computers, you should buy a printer with wired or wireless networking. For most people, it's best to buy a wireless printer as this means you can put your printer anywhere.

Print speeds
Some manufacturers talk about PPM (pages per minute), but others refer to IPM (images per minute). Don't compare the two. When you see speed quoted as PPM, this only applies to the lowest-quality setting as it's designed to make the printer look faster than it really is. IPM is an accurate gauge of how many pages of text can be printed at normal quality per minute.