Types of printers - multi-function printers and thermal printers

Whether a printer, copier, scanner or other technical device - when it comes to all these products, prior research is indispensable. This ensures that you'll choose just the right product for your needs. With a multi-function printer, you have to decide whether you want an ink jet or a laser printer. Apart from this decision, the brand is also relevant, as it determines the price and the cost of the ink or toner.

Laser, inkjet, or multi-function printer?

Different types of printers are available on the market today. There are the multi-function printers, laser printers, and inkjet printers we have known for years, but 3-D printers are also enjoying great popularity these days. Small, portable printing as well as mobile printers also fall in the printer category.

In Germany, it is mostly inkjet printers that are used according to a 2014 survey. Multi-function printers account for almost 22%, while laser printers only make up 9% of the market.

A multifunction printer offers not only a printing function, but also a scanner function. Depending on which model you choose, a fax function can also be integrated. In recent years, more and more multi-function printers have come on the market, while the share of pure inkjet and laser printers continues to decline.

Printer type Advantages Disadvantages
Dot matrix printers
  • low consumption costs
  • low maintenance costs
  • fanfold paper can be used
  • print lasts a long time
  • possible to print carbon copies
  • not every model can print colour
  • no good colour picture possible
  • relatively loud operating noise
  • generally rather low print quality
  • prints very slowly
  • printed image is dotted
Inkjet printer
  • prints very quickly
  • very simple print
  • high quality
  • can print photos
  • relatively quiet
  • consumes less energy than laser printer
  • significantly fewer emissions during ink printing
  • consumption costs (cartridges) quite high
  • maintenance costs (e.g. replacement of the cartridge or print head alignment) also higher
Laser printer
  • high-quality prints
  • very quick printing possible
  • low consumption costs
  • purchase price quite high
Multi-function printer
  • purchase price very low (compared to buying individual devices)
  • quite compact construction
  • low energy consumption
  • only one device to configure
  • quality may be worse than that of individual devices
3-D printer
  • prints three-dimensional objects
  • units now also affordable for private use
  • traditional paper printing not possible
  • computer necessary for control
Thermal printer
  • requires no liquid/solid ink
  • popular mainly as a small mini printer
  • photo prints also possible
  • small printers operate with battery and are very light
  • can be connected to a smartphone
  • print jobs can be run via Bluetooth to a printer
  • requires special paper


These criteria are crucial at the time of purchase

Have you selected a type of printer? Then the next step are the purchase criteria,which usually apply to all printers. If there are differences depending on the type of printer, we'll mention them in the individual sections.

As you sit down to choose the right printer for your needs, you should answer some questions. This is important so you know which direction you want to go.

  • What do you want to do with your printer? Does it only need to be able to print, or should it also copy, fax, and/or scan? Multi-function printers are very popular nowadays.

  • Are you only printing text or will you also be printing photos? This answer will determine whether you should scrimp on the printer itself and there are also big differences when it comes to toner or ink.

  • How often do you print? Every week, every day? Or will the printer only be used every once in a while? If you buy an inkjet printer but only print every few months, the ink heads may dry out. In this case, a laser printer would be a better choice.

  • How much do you want to spend per printed page? This cost include snot only the toner and ink, but also the power, consumables, and wear and tear. Please note that small, inexpensive devices often have very high printing costs. Buying a device that costs a little more but has more reasonable printing costs could be quite worthwhile. An inkjet printer may be the best choice if you print regularly because it is relatively inexpensive to buy and has low ink costs. These can be lowered even further by refilling the cartridges.

  • Where would you like to print? Only from your computer or also from your smartphone, tablet, or other computers?

  • How concerned are you about the fumes put off by some devices? For example, laser printers should only be used in areas that are well ventilated.

Purchase criterion 1: Resolution

Manufacturers always state a printer's resolution. There are certain minimum standards for popular devices:

  • Laser printers: usually 600 x 600 dpi (sometimes 1200 x 1200 dpi)
  • Inkjet printers: mostly 5760 x 1440 dpi (but sometimes up to 9600 x 2400 dpi)

In the past it was very easy to determine the quality of a printer. The higher the dpi value, the better the quality. This is no longer the case today because the quality of the print now depends on many different factors. It may also be the case that a printer with a lower dpi number prints better (thanks to various extras) than a printer with a higher dpi number.

Purchase criterion 2: Price

When it comes to money, it's not just the purchase price for the machine that counts. You also need to take into account the regular operating costs. How many pages can it print before the cartridge has to be changed? These values can be broken down to prices per sheet allowing side-by-side comparisons of individual printers.

In most cases, this comparison shows that a laser printer is cheaper and produces more prints for your buck than an inkjet printer. Do note, however, that low printing costs do not necessarily mean lower quality. If, for example, a printout costs only one cent a sheet, but there are constant paper jams, then you should consider buying a better device, even if it costs a bit more.

A little tip: there are devices that are unable to print photos or only print in black. A black-and-white laser printer, for example, is significantly cheaper. You will, of course, need to think carefully about whether this is the right choice for you, but if you really don't need photos at all or rarely, it could be an inexpensive alternative to the normal 4-in-1 or all-in-one printer.

Purchase criterion 3: Manufacturer

There are countless manufacturers that sell high-quality printers. Your choice will depend on what kind of device you are looking for and how much you want to spend. There are devices in virtually every price range. If you choose one of the manufacturers listed below, you won't be sacrificing anything in terms of quality.

  • Epson
  • Hewlett-Packard
  • Lexmark
  • Canon
  • Dell
  • Samsung
  • Philips
  • Sharp
  • Brother

HP (Hewlett-Packard) is a particularly well-known printer manufacturer. Especially popular products include the HP OfficeJet, the HP DeskJet, and the e-All-in-One. But other manufacturers also offer popular 3- or 4-in-1 devices, such as the Canon PIXMA. In addition, each manufacturer usually also offers suitable toners and inks for sale. Sometimes, they also sell separate scanners, copiers, etc.

Purchase criterion 4: Speed

Of course, speed is not necessarily the most important factor when you're just printing a page or two, but, when printing for business, speed can be all the more important. There are printers that work at moderate or high-speed tempos. As a rule, manufacturers specify how many prints can be made per minute.

Most standard inkjet printers create between 7 and 15 pages per minute. This means it will take about four to nine seconds to print a page. A laser printer, on the other hand, prints a little faster and can deliver 12 to 25 pages per minute, approx. 2.4 to 5 seconds per page. Do note that the printing speed for colour and black is different and that manufacturers usually assume a standard print in black and white.

Purchase criterion 5: Features

Now we come to a very exciting topic, because depending on the model and manufacturer, the printers can be equipped with many different extras and features.


Currently, most printers offer a convenient interface for WiFi connections. It is also possible to connect the printer via USB cable if wireless printing is not possible. Printers requiring a wired connection are less expensive, but nowadays there are also plenty of affordable options that also offer WiFi printing. By the way, some printers are also able to read a print job from memory cards, USB sticks, and digital cameras.

Double-sided printing

If you want to print on both sides of the paper, you will need a printer that supports duplex printing. This can save costs and protect the environment by using less paper.


The length of a printer warranty largely depends on whom you buy it from. Warranties generally range between one and three years.

Paper tray

The maximum number of sheets a paper tray can hold depends on the model. Many devices can hold 150 to 250 sheets, but this varies.

Print format

Almost every printer supports printing on conventional A4 (or letter-size) paper. However, if you want to print on other paper sizes, make sure to check the printer's exact specifications before buying. The manufacturers always indicate which paper sizes their printers support on their websites.


Other functions can include faxing or scanning. You'll have to decide whether you need them. In addition, some devices are equipped with an automatic document feeder (referred to as ADF), which can be a relief, especially for frequent printouts. The integration of Apple AirPrint can also be useful if you want to print using this technology without installing a driver.

In short: buying a printer

Depending on whether you need to print a lot or just a few pages, whether you print frequently or only occasionally, whether black-and-white printing will do or you'd like print photos, the devices that best fit your needs will vary. The fact is that each device (and the corresponding combinations, e.g. laser multi-function and inkjet multi-function printers) has its own pros and cons. 3-in-1 or all-in-one devices are also popular, not only for printing, but also for copying and scanning, often even faxing.