The single greatest help a consumer can have when making any purchasing decision, especially when it comes printers, is what products simply shouldn't even be considered. These kinds of products run rampant through the household printer market and they are fairly easy to identify -- if one has the right information.
There are definitely printers that are downright nightmares. There are printers that cost more to use than if you were to pay an office supply store to print all of your files for you. There is technology in them that isn't leading edge in cost-effectiveness or quality, but instead very innovative when it comes to getting you to purchase more from the company.
There are also good products, and plenty of options to weigh and factors to discuss when it comes to purchasing the right one. However, this article is strictly about preventing you from buying a printer that's ownership doesn't drive you to drink.
Lets get to it then:
- Brands: DON'T BUY LEXMARK. Just don't. They do make some half-decent printers and cartridges, but in almost every case their cartridges hold the same amount of ink as a competitor's but are vastly more expensive (both the Lexmark 16 black ink cartridge and the Canon PG-40 hold 12 milliliters of ink, the Lexmark retails for $38.99 and the Canon for $22.99 on Staples' website). Furthermore, while they all do it, Lexmark is particularly nefarious when it comes to their tactics to get you to spend more -- like being well-known for using creative patent maneuvering to keep people from being able to have their cartridges refilled, for example. A brand less vilified but still squeezing every cent out of you, Epson printers always use 4-5 or more ink cartridges and, as verified by the many complaints I hear daily, if you run out of one color of ink you have to replace it before you can do anything else with your printer. Every modern printer with this multiple-cartridge design incorporates this coercive function, but it is the only design Epson uses. You can avoid it and find a printer that doesn't take individual color cartridges with other brands if you think it will drive you mad, but not Epson. Aside from this drawback (and remember it is occurring across all brands who use that design) Epson, HP, Canon, and Brother are all fairly comparable and contain negligible differences in cost and quality. If you really want me to pick a winner, I suppose HP is the leader and I tend to think they make the most straightforward, simple-to-use printer products. But not by much.
- The Nature of Consumer Printing Costs: I know this heading might sound like the name for one of the worst college courses ever, but it really isn't that complicated. What I mean by "the nature of consumer printing costs" is simply how exactly you will incur costs by using your printer. A surprising amount of people don't consider the cost to replace the cartridges, and are shocked to find them to, quite often nowadays, cost more than the printer. Unless you plan on buying a new printer every year, you will likely purchase many cartridges for your printer, even with mild use. Thus, taking time and effort to calculate which printer will be most cost-effective to keep stocked will be well worth it in the long run. It becomes even more important, though, because in recent years the trend with printer companies has been to exploit this misunderstanding and underestimation these shoppers have of what they will spend and how important this decision actually is. The most popular ploy (especially during Black Friday the past two years) is to sell a printer itself for really cheap, sometimes $20, but price the cartridges very high. Look out for cheap printers. While this isn't necessarily entirely underhanded, because they may actually be losing money on the initial sale of the printer, it is an obvious and transparent attempt to get you to spend more money in the long-term. I'm not hear to tell everyone that the printer you buy is an important choice in life, simply that it's becoming more important as these companies try to leverage your fleeting concern.
- What You Really Need: As with everything, you really should make sure you find a printer that meets your most critical needs, and don't pay a dollar for any other features. If someone is trying to sell you on a fancy printer with lots of fancy nonsense that you don't need, don't start to think "yea, that is a cool feature, that's worth it." No. Like I said a few sentences ago, printers aren't important decisions in life. Even for professional use, as long as you avoid the really sinister money-pits that can be some printers (which this post is all about) then you could basically go pick any one you'd like and probably be just as satisfied (and surely, at times, annoyed, because printers are annoying). Take a second, sit down, and write out each and every use you can imagine for your printer. Even minor ones. It probably isn't going to be a huge list. Remember that before you buy a printer that makes espresso, or whatever.
The main point is that, unlike computers and smartphones, printer technology doesn't advance all that much. What your buying now is marginally improved from what you would have bought 5 years ago. Moreover, whereas the smartphone and computer markets are flooded with informed consumers, the printer market isn't. People aren't interested -- but easy to take advantage of. That's all you really have to know when your purchasing a printer. No printer is notably more advanced than any other. Just don't get robbed.