The printer has become commonplace in the tech world and certainly isn’t going away. As companies are pushing consumers to use tablets and computers, paper and the ink upon it, have powered their way through. Chances are, if you made it here, you’re looking for a new printer, or at least want to see what makes a printer a printer in 2019.
Well, you’re in the right place. I’ve tested several printers, from inkjet to lasers. Plus, large and small all-in-ones and HP’s Tango X, a “smart printer” complete with voice control. Oh, and of course, printers that swap traditional cartridges for liquid ink that sits in tanks.
No matter the technology, the main goal is, of course, to print. You might need to print directions, photos, a shopping list, an essay, a contract or even a crossword puzzle. Printers are trusted with a lot, and if they don’t work, it’s never fun. Fortunately, printers are faster, better connected and boast overall better print quality in 2019.
What can your printer do?
Typically, when you walk into a big box retailer or search for printers on an online store, you’ll most likely be presented with an all-in-one, or at least a two-in-one printer. Of course, all printers can handle printing a basic page in either black and white or color. These units might also be able to handle duplexing (double-sided printing), scanning to a thumb drive or a connected PC, making copies and even printing photos.
Typically an all-in-one can print, copy and scan. Some of these also feature a fax function, which requires a telephone line, but this is a bit of old school tech now. If you’re looking for a printer that takes up less space or maybe one for a dorm room, a single print unit might be the best option.
Inkjet versus laser
The two main printing techniques that consumer and business models opt for are either inkJet or laser. The first makes use of cartridges; generally, a few paired in one setup that gently push out ink in small amounts to create an image or text on a sheet. It can drop minimal amounts of color or black ink on a sheet in a quick turnaround, but these aren’t the fastest printers on the market. Just as important, each manufacturer (HP vs. Canon vs. Brother vs. Epson) uses a proprietary method to print, so results will vary.
If you’re all right with just black and white, laser is a trusted option by many offices and schools. These larger units can quickly turn out many pages, especially if they’re just text. Monochrome is usually the only option, especially for the price conscious. Color laser printers aren’t as scarce as they once were, but they still cost more than a monochrome printer.
Printers have some smarts
A relevant term if you want to be able to print from your phone, tablet or laptop is “WiFi Direct” — although it’s not a deal breaker if your model doesn’t have this. If it does, you’ll pair that printer with a network. Android phones and iOS both allow you to print. From hitting the share button on either OS, you can easily send a photo, email or even a webpage to a connected printer. And yes, you can set it to color or black and white, double or single sided and set the range of pages. It makes the experience of printing anywhere, really a reality.
If “WiFi Direct” isn’t supported, but your printer has an ethernet port, you can connect it to an access point or WiFi router to manually add it to the network. Mileage might vary on this, but generally, if it doesn’t take the connection, the manufacturer should offer drivers to fix it.
With the details and intricacies of printers out of the way, let’s dive into our recommendations. We’ve tested several models from a broad range of makers. Here are our favorites.
A terrific value: HP ENVY Photo 7800 All-In-One ($129.99, originally $229.99; staples.com)
HP is a big and historic brand in the world of computing, including the printer space. Its latest ENVY Photo model pushes the line further with better quality prints at several sizes, while maximizing on space. I like the fact that the tray will automatically open so your pages won’t fall on the ground. It keeps the necessary functions, like printing, copying and scanning. You can also send scans to a connected computer or save them to a flash drive or SD card, thanks to an abundance of ports.
With built-in WiFi, you can add the printer to your network for printing from almost any device. Additionally, the HP Smart app gives you more control and the ability to send requests to the printer when off the network. You can also use HP Instant Ink, which is a subscription service that monitors your ink levels and usage habits to make sure you have a new cartridge before you run out. Plus at $100 off, the ENVY Photo 7800 is super affordable at just under $130.
Long lasting ink: Epson Eco-Tank 2650 Multifunction Inkjet Printer ($179, originally $279.99; staples.com) or Brother MFC-J995DW INKvestmanet Tank All-In-One Printer ($199.99; staples.com)
The next change to printing comes with the ink. Rather than standard ink cartridges, this has supersized ink tanks. Out of the box, Epson says you can expect around two years of ink, or up to 4,000 pages. That’s essentially equivalent to around 20 three-ink cartridge sets, so safe to say, that’s a lot of ink. You’ll manually install the ink, which comes in bottles. It’s a little weird at first, but not that bad, and you get more for the money. Rounding out the Eco-Tank 2650 is the ability to print, scan and copy. Plus, it has built-in WiFi and a nice 1.44-inch LCD.
Epson isn’t the only one using tanks. Brother’s MFC-J995DW INKvestment Tank All-in-One unit is perfect for the home office. At just $199.99, and with around a year of ink in the box, you’ll be set for a while. Especially when you realize it can handle printing several types of paper (like A4, legal, executive, photo, index cards and envelopes). It can handle up to 20 sheets in a document feeder for easy scanning or copying of large paper sets. With WiFi, ethernet, NFC (near field communications) and plenty of ports, you can print from almost any device.
A pint-sized smart option: HP Tango X ($199.99; staples.com)
You might think this printer looks like a book, and if you do, HP’s designers will be happy. The team behind the Tango X wanted to make it disappear and fit a millennial or Gen-Z lifestyle. It’s a pint-sized printer that can be put away when it’s not in use by closing the foldable fabric cover. The Tango X can handle printing, and via the companion HP Smart App, you can scan or copy with it. This printer is also pretty speedy and features no screen on it, just a few LED lights. Case and point, it’s a super minimalistic design that works well.
HP also added smart features, such as the ability to control the Tango X via Amazon Alexa, the Google Assistant and Microsoft’s Cortana. It’s a smart printer, and if you go in with that mindset, I think you’ll enjoy the experience.
Print photos on the go: Canon IVY Mobile Mini Photo Printer ($99.99, originally $129; amazon.com)
If you miss the days of Polaroids and being able to instantly print your photos, the Canon IVY mobile mini is a good option. It’s a relatively small printer that connects to your phone (iOS or Android) via Bluetooth. You also print on ZINK paper, which means the ink and colors are on the paper itself, not in the printer. The IVY will use heat to print the image on the easy-to-create peel and stick prints.
Note: The prices above reflect the retailers’ listed prices at the time of publication.