Printers are ubiquitous in the home office. But considering the innumerable options we now have — from online services that can overnight mass print jobs to your front door on the cheap, to the convenience of 24-hour print and copy shops — has printing at home become obsolete? Not necessarily.
There are plenty of reasons why owning a printer that you hardly ever use remains a smart inclusion in your home office environment. Job seekers rely on them regularly to print out updated resumes to bring with them to interviews. Even the most computer savvy schools still require their students to turn in physical papers to complete course requirements. And of course there are the all-in-one printers that serve quadruple duty as combination printers, scanners, copiers and fax machines. Multifunction printers (MFP for short) are also known to be far more energy efficient than a small cadre of standalone units.
All that said, it’s just as easy to find arguments against printer ownership. Cost is among the most pressing of considerations. If you rarely use a printer, it’s difficult to justify ponying up the money to buy one when it could be cheaper to pay an online service to handle your print needs for you. Third party photo quality printing, while not always an inexpensive service, could save you a significant amount of money in ink cartridges and high-quality paper costs. Notable for getting it right the first time, professional printing services can also save you precious time in the elimination of that all-too-familiar “trial and error” period if you don’t know what you’re doing. Needless to say, taking your printing needs to a third party is something you should do only if you infrequently need the services. If you regularly print out digital photographs, owning your own printer will be cheaper in the long run.
That said, owning a printer forces you to consider equipment and maintenance costs, not the least of which include occasional printer repairs and cleaning that has to be done on a regular basis in order to keep your investment viable. Accumulated dust and other debris can diminish the longevity of your printer. Ancillary costs can add up over time: Printer paper itself may be easy to come by, but it’s certainly not free. Neither are replacement ink and toner cartridges, which can sometimes cost you as much as an economy-priced printer straight out of the box.
The question of obsolescence is another thing to bear in mind. Home printers themselves may not yet be obsolete, but that’s not to say the model you purchased two or three years ago isn’t already long overdue for the trash heap. With printer speed, quality and efficiency increasing on an exponential scale, even spending a few hundred dollars on a top-of-the-line multifunction printer today may prove to be a short-sighted investment the moment the latest, greatest piece of technology is unveiled on the shelves of the nearest big box store.
In the end, the answer to the question “Do I really need a printer?” is one that depends wholly on your needs. Only you can answer that question. There are still plenty of reasons why every single one of us — even in this interconnected, mobile world where you can board a flight simply by passing your smartphone screen over an airport security checkpoint scanner, or in the paperless office where you can leverage scanners to digitally store important documents — is still reliant on the tried and true technology of printing to paper. Whether it’s the need to print out a signature page to mail to the IRS for your electronically filed tax returns or just the convenience of being able to print out a quick shopping list, the home printer will likely have a place in our homes for a long time to come.
In the meantime, take into account the tasks you require a printer to accomplish for you and make the choice that’s smartest for your needs and your budget. Ensure it will live up to your expectations with respect to the various functions you’ll need it to perform. Pay attention to “total cost of ownership” – this goes beyond the mere cost of the unit and considers how much replenishable supplies will cost you, such as ink or toner. Do you need wireless connectivity? Will you ever use the fax function? Is it compatible with your computer and software? These are all important questions.