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Frequently Asked Questions About Laptop Printers

Updated on March 8, 2010

Good to know about laptop printers

What is a laptop printer?

A laptop printer is a portable printer that usually runs on battery, aims for small external size and weight. Laptop printers are usually relatively noiseless compared to desktop versions of the same technology. They come in different shapes and sizes, but the most common variation has to be the A4 monochrome type for its relatively smaller size and longer productivity. Pocket printers are always using inkjet or thermal printing technology, I've yet to come across a laser laptop printer.

It's a well known fact that color printers are more complicated than their black and white counterparts because they have to have four different colours of cartridge which makes the whole unit slightly heavier, the operation a bit slower and more expensive. These color printers usually can print less pages on a cartridge than black and white inkjets, because they still have to maintain a relatively confined layout, and packing 4 color cartridges in place of one black cartridge obviously takes its toll.

How does a portable printer operate?

Portable printers are very similar in operation to their desktop relatives, but there are a few tricks introduced to get the job done just as well. For example, every single panel that sticks out of a laptop printer is foldable and can be closed back to the main body unit for more convenient transportation. Every component of the printer is as small as technology lets it to be except for the paper tray which has to be big enough for an A4 sheet paper of course.

It's similar to the differences between a deskop computer and a laptop. Everything a desktop computer can do a notebook can aswell, but the space is limited so there is quite a lot engineering going on to fit everything into the external case. The keyboard however has to be more or less the same size because miniaturizing that would make typing inconvenient and increase risk of carpal-tunnel syndrome. The monitor has to be a similar size diagonally or the user would not be able to see what is going on on the screen. It's the same with these printers.

Do they use special paper?

No and yes. If you were thinking about fax machines, I am comfortable with saying that the color printers use the same kind of paper standard printers use. 80gr, 100gr or photo paper, transparent paper, envelopes and labels are all game. There is no special requirement regarding paper filled.

Monochrome pocket printers are split between two technologies. Inkjet printers with cartridges use normal paper as described above, the ones with direct thermal printing use special paper. It means they don't use cartridges to put ink on the paper but heat the paper where dots should be and the paper turns black there.

Speaking of which, can they scan/fax?

No, these devices are not capable of scanning documents and as such are also unable to work as a fax machine. There are portable scanners as well, but they have to be bought separately and can cost about the same as a printer on its own, so consider if you really need one.

I see that they're portable but how big are they actually?

I don't see a reason why anyone who is able to carry a 15" laptop would have any difficulties taking a laptop printer with them. They usually weigh 5 to 10 pounds. I admit that it adds a little extra weight but nowadays being able to produce printouts anywhere is a great asset. There are really small personal printers, the Pentax pocketjet 3, just to mention one, is only about a pound. 4-5 pound heavy printers are also easily carried around on the back seat of a car.

How many pages can I print with them?

These printers are aimed at home or small office users, therefore manufacturers don't recommend heavy duty utilization. The average portable printer can produce up to 30 pages in black and white mode and 20 in color print, nothing to be ashamed here, and the monthly duty cycle is about 500 prints.

How can I connect one to my computer?

Connecting these to a laptop has to be the most simple task ever. USB connection is always available. Wireless connections are still extra, but it isn't hard at all to buy one with USB, Wireless 802.11b/g, and bluetooth communication. Connecting to either of those takes about 2-3 minutes at first and no setup is needed during further prints.

Should I buy one, will I use it?

If you are on the move for the most of your day for any reason I can recommend purchasing one of these. If you are not sure if you should, just take a pen and paper, and every time you think 'Aah, I wish I had somewhere to print this document real fast' put a mark on the paper. You will see if you really need to buy a portable printer. Another application I can think of is places with little space to spare. College students in shared dorm rooms will love the extra space it gives them on their desk compared to standard devices.

Average Laptop Printer

HP Officejet H470b a typical laptop printer
HP Officejet H470b a typical laptop printer

Which Printer Should You Buy?

Which is the best which one should I get?

Greatly depends on your needs. I wouldn't recommend this over that without a clear picture of what you want to do with it. There are great models from either HP or Canon, but other reputable manufacturers are also trying to find a way to the market. Canon is the biggest manufacturer by far, checking their portfolio would give you a good understanding of prices, models and capabilities of these printers.

Pentax Pocketjet 3 plus

Despite of the name this printer uses thermal printing technology therefore needs special paper. In turn it is highly portable, weighing slightly more than a pound it's easy to put in a backpack or the glove box. It can run on the included AC adapter as well as the built in battery. Claimed print speed is around 4 pages a minute, but tests show that it might be a little faster than that. In emergency even 4 pages per minute capacity can save the situation. For a price around $300 I can't recommend this printer whole heartedly but there are situations where it is put to good use.

Canon Pixma iP100

Canon is the leader on the market and they've did evertyhing to earn this status. With their pixma iP100 you get every feature that can be included in a notebook printer. It produces A4 prints in color and monochrome, enables borderless photo printing and is able to print from a mobile phone or digital camera without the use of a computer, given that the devices have the right software. 

What's more, these canon portable printers do all that really fast. A 4" x 6" borderless image is done in 50 seconds and it can produce 20 regular pages in black and white or 14 in color mode. At the time of writing this article this printer can be bought for $200 with optional lithium battery that can be inserted and fastened at the back with two screws. Very reasonable for this all arounder weighing 4.5 pounds.

HP Officejet H470b

This laptop printer is also powered by a battery and can print in both b&w and color. It prints up to 22 pages in draft quality black and up to 18 in color. These claims are usually slightly off so I would say an optimistic expectation would be 15 in b&w and 10 in color mode. It isn't really heavy either, with 4.6 pounds it's just slightly less portable than the one from Canon. A notable feature is that it accepts a vast variety of media for printing, and for a reasonable $250 I would recommend picking one up.

There are some great printers out there, but before placing an order I'd recommend checking out reviews and forum threads about your choice. Educating yourself about a subject can always save you a few dollars or a good chunk of frustration. Auction sites or online shops can give you a good idea of what you should expect to pay for a model, but local shops are usually slightly more expensive than that.


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    • Annabel Swift profile image

      Annabel Swift 

      8 years ago from Mid West

      Wow that was thorough. I like instructions and knowing what I'm buying and keep thinking about buying laptop printer. Nothing too fancy though, I just need one for printing out documents. Thanks, informative article.


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