Marshall Adult Education




TECH TIP – How to Buy a Printer


I was walking through Walmart the other day and I noticed an HP 3520 inkjet printer on sale for 28 bucks.  Interesting!  The cost of replacing the color and the black cartridges for this printer costs more than the printer itself.  Well, since I needed a new cartridges for my current inkjet printer, I decided it would be cheaper to just buy a new printer. So I did.


Did I get a good deal?  More on that later on.

But first, how do you buy a printer.  Here are some things to consider.


First, there are 2 types of printers that are common today – laser printers and inkjet printers.  We are considering inkjet printers for this Tech Tip.  Here are a couple of good articles you can read that describe types of printers and how they work.


The 3 main considerations when buying an inkjet printer are price, speed, and print quality.  We’ll take these up in reverse order.


Print Quality:  The print quality is determined by the DPI (dots per inch).  Most printers come with either 1200 by 1200 DPI, 2400 by 1200 DPI.  1200 X 1200 means in one square inch, there are 1200 dots across (width) and 1200 dots down (length).  Some new printers boast 4800 X 1200 DPI.  So what does this all mean?  Well, supposedly, the higher the DPI, the better the quality.  But it should be noted that with color inkjet printers, you actually notice very little difference in quality when you get above 1200 X 1200 DPI.  That’s not to say there isn’t any difference; but you have to ask yourself, is it worth the extra hundred bucks when the difference isn’t that noticeable.  Some printers use the word “optimized” when describing their DPI.  This means that the manufacturer had discovered additional ways to enhance their images, such as smoothing out edges, filling in gaps and sharpening up details of the image.


Speed:  The more you pay for a printer, the faster it will print.  Speed is measured in PPM (pages per minute).  It takes longer to print pages in color than in black.  PPM is a good consideration if you are always in a hurry.  If you aren’t, just ignore their speed ratings.  Besides, the rated PPM is rarely as good as they say it is.  My opinion is – speed is much overrated.


Price:  Almost all inkjet printers you buy today offer the same features.  But, generally, the more you pay, the better your quality and speed.  Additionally, some printers may offer the ability to network a printer, (this is different that sharing a printer – all printers can be shared), use wireless printing, optional paper trays, additional memory options, etc.  If you don’t care about speed, and don’t care about these other options, there is no need to spend the big bucks for an inkjet printer.  There are many great quality printers for under a hundred bucks – you don’t have to spend more.


Ok – those are the things printer manufacturers always talk about.  Now here is what they never talk about…


Ink Cartridges:  They are very expensive.  You already knew that.  Some ink cartridges are very small – they do not hold much ink and they are still expensive.  Check out the cartridge – how many milliliters of ink does it hold?  The average ink cartridge has around 20 milliliters.  High capacity cartridges can go as high as 40.  Compare various cartridges and their prices before you buy the printer.  Some ink cartridges may print only 50 to 100 pages before the ink runs out (they have small cartridges).  Other cartridges may print 300 to 800 pages (they may be big cartridges or “high capacity” cartridges).


Also, determine if there is a third party “generic ink cartridge available for your printer.  Most likely, there is, and that can save you from 5 to 10 dollars each time you buy a new cartridge.  Find a good source for the cheapest prices  - shop around.  (I use Mr. Ink Man:  for my Epson cartridges – great prices but their HP prices aren’t that great).  And considered refilling your cartridges with refill kits.  You can save 60 to 80 % off the cost of a new cartridge by refilling.  It’s pretty easy to do once you get the hang of it.


A note about printer brands.   One printer brand, Epson, sells a different type of cartridge.  The print head is not built into the cartridge like all the other brands.  Epson printers have the print head built into the printer.  Other printers have the print head right on the cartridge (that’s why they’re more expensive)..  For Epson printers, this is a good and bad.  It’s good in that the ink cartridges (they are really called ink tanks – remember, no print head), are really cheap.  It’s bad in that if the print head gets clogged up they are very hard to clean.  If the print head gets clogged up on other printers, just replace the cartridge and you replace the print head.  My suggestion - don’t get an Epson printer unless you print fairly frequently.  The print head will surely clog up if you don’t use it very often.  I have an Epson printer and my ink cartridges (tanks) cost 7 bucks for black and 10 bucks for color (generic types) – nice!  The print quality of Epson printers is excellent as is the print quality of most inkjet printers.


OK – how about my cheap HP 3520 printer I bought from Walmart - was it a good deal?


The pros:  It’s cheap.  It prints photos in excellent quality. The quality of black only is also good (not as crisp as my Epson but still good)..  It has good utility software.  It is small – requires limited space.


The cons:  It has tiny ink cartridges – only 10 milliliters.  It comes only with a color cartridge – no black cartridge.  So I had to shell out another 18 bucks to buy a black cartridge.  (You actually can print a document in black with just a color cartridge on this printer – that’s very expensive!).  And – it came without a USB cable – the cord to plug the cable into the computer.  (I had a spare USB cable – but if you don’t, it will cost you another 10 bucks).


Given the cheap price, I give it 4 out of 5 stars.  Now, what am I going to do with 2 inkjet printers?