Hit the high street or scout around online and you’ll find hundreds of printers available, each offering different qualities and weaknesses. As well as checking Digital Arts’ unrivalled printer reviews, there are five key things you should look for to ensure you purchase a printer that over its lifetime will prove to be a bargain.

1) The price of prints

The initial purchase price of your printer is just the beginning. It’s also important to consider TCO (total cost of ownership) when using the printer to turn out documents month after month. This is particularly important for users who print a lot – after all, there’s no point in buying a cheap printer if the ink cartridges run out quickly and cost a fortune to replace.

Most manufacturers quote a ‘page yield’ estimate for their ink cartridges, which is the typical number of pages that you can expect to print before the cartridge runs out of ink. You can use the page yield to calculate the average cost per page and you’d be surprised to find how much this can vary from one printer to another. But printer manufacturers have been known to produce favourable figures: it’s always worth checking out independent reviews websites and forums to get the true low down. And it’s usually a good idea to go for a good brand.

Kodak, for instance, works hard to reduce the running costs of its printers, and offers some of the lowest costs for replacement ink cartridges (see www.printandprosper.co.uk for more info). Its high-capacity XL black ink cartridges cost only £11.99 but can print almost 700 pages, giving you a typical cost of less than 2p per page for black-and-white printing. Printing costs for photographs are attractive too, coming in at around 3p per page. Those printing costs are far below the industry average, making Kodak printers some of the most affordable printers in the world. Kodak’s latest models are also much more energy efficient, with a special low-power mode for use during printing, and power consumption of just 0.25W when in Standby mode.

At the other end of the cost spectrum there are more specialized printers from companies such as Canon and Epson that use eight or more inks for printing photographs and artworks. Those additional inks can produce excellent results for your prints, but they obviously add to the cost. However, if you’re producing artworks or photographs to sell as gallery prints, the quality you get is more important than the cost, as it’s miniscule compared to what you get from a sale.

Don’t forget to budget for replacement ink cartridges.

2) Multifunction vs standalone

 A printer needs to earn its keep, so why not purchase a model that can do more than just print? Many modern printers are multifunction ‘all-in-one’ devices that also include a scanner too. This allows you to scan photos and other documents and convert them into digital files that you can store on your computer or share with friends or colleagues. You can also print copies of your scanned documents, allowing you to use the printer as an office photocopier too (a great money-saving and space-saving advantage for home workers and small businesses). In fact, the ability to scan and copy photographs and other documents in colour makes an all-in-one printer even better than an ordinary photocopier.

3) Wired vs wireless

 Many freelancers and most businesses need to share a printer with multiple computers, cameras and other devices that they need to print from.

Some printers are now equipped with built-in wireless networking features that allow them to connect the printer to a home or office network so that they can be used by anyone on the LAN. Wireless networking is such a common feature that it adds little to the cost of the printer. However, it’s also possible to get printers that have Ethernet network ports too. These can be handy for larger office networks where Wi-Fi isn’t always ideal, but Ethernet tends to be available only on more expensive models that are specifically aimed at business users, and will require you to tether your PC to a wire – not great for surfing on the sofa.

Other useful features to look out for here include additional USB ports and memory card slots that will allow you to print photos direct from a digital camera. Quite a few manufacturers also provide apps that will allow you to print from mobile devices such as the iPhone and iPad, and Google Android or Blackberry smartphones.

Look for the WiFi logo to make sure your printer includes wireless networking features.