How to Get the Most Reliable Printer for Your Home

As most people know, price does not equal performance. But, according to a recent survey conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, popularity is a poor measure of performance, too—at least when it comes to selecting a reliable printer.

With input from more than 36,000 subscribers—who together purchased more than 42,000 printers between 2012 and 2016—we learned that Hewlett-Packard all-in-one inkjet models are the most common choice. They accounted for 43 percent of the printers in our survey. And yet, consumers likely would be better served by selecting a model manufactured by Brother.

Based on our findings, an estimated 13 percent of Brother all-in-one inkjets will develop a problem by the third year of ownership. For Canon, that figure is 14 percent. By contrast, an estimated 20 percent of HP and Epson models will suffer the same fate. (We did not request information on specific models manufactured by each brand.)

"About every month there is a problem of some kind that disrupts printing ability," wrote one HP owner. "Often printer head related. If you don't use HP ink, they really mess with you. If you remove an ink cartridge to check if it's clogged, you can't put it back in."

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"Frequently fails to print," wrote another. "Often due to connection problems."

For regular inkjet printers (those without copying and scanning features), the results were similarly striking. Models made by Canon are half as likely to break as those made by HP. The estimated problem rate for Canon was 9 percent by the third year of ownership versus 18 percent for HP.

Here are some more key takeaways from the survey:

HP fares well in the regular black-and-white laser printer market. Sixty-one percent of the respondents who own an HP model were completely satisfied with its performance. Only Brother scored higher with 63 percent. For Samsung, the figure was 47 percent. And shoppers have good reason to be bullish on HP in this category: We estimate that only 5 percent of its regular black-and-white laser printers will present problems by the third year of ownership.

Extra features lead to extra problems. Printers that offer scanning and copying functions are definitely handy, especially for small-business owners. But they bring more headaches, too. In all, the estimated problem rate for them was 17 percent, compared with just 10 percent for regular printers.

Epson's EcoTank printers deserve more love. The product line seeks to solve a common complaint among printer owners—the high cost of ink cartridges—by employing refillable tanks. But despite being half as likely as other Epson inkjet models to experience problems, EcoTank printers have yet to be warmly embraced. They represent only 6 percent of the Epson inkjet models purchased since the EcoTank line was launched in 2015. The high entry price (the lowest end model, the Expression ET-2500, is priced at $280) and low market visibility (Epson alone makes these printers) may explain the low adoption rate.

Aftermarket ink is an afterthought. When 1 gallon of printer ink costs roughly the same as 2,936 gallons of regular gasoline, it’s easy to see why consumers often grumble about their options. Yet only 37 percent of those we surveyed have given aftermarket ink a try. And only 12 percent use it regularly. Among those who have taken the leap, 63 percent think the aftermarket cartridges are just as good as regular cartridges and 36 percent think they're worse.

Printers often get replaced because of performance problems. Among the printers purchased new since 2012 and subsequently swapped out by their owners, nearly 75 percent were abandoned because they had stopped working well or stopped working altogether. The remaining 26 percent were replaced by owners who wanted to upgrade. On the bright side, only 21 percent of the replaced printers were thrown away. Most of the rest were recycled (37 percent), donated (17 percent), or put to use elsewhere in the home of the owner (12 percent) or a new owner.

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