When it comes to choosing printing materials, there are three separate areas from which consumers can choose: the printing machine, the paper and the ink. Printers are typically inkjet or laser, which may make one printer better suited for a job than others. Paper is the broadest printing materials category, because there are colored papers, thick or thin papers, papers with different finishes and many other options. Ink is rarely an option, though some printers have different quality inks. Depending on what is being printed, there is likely to be a perfect set of printing materials for the job.
The two most common printing machines are inkjet and laser. Inkjet uses a nozzle to spray dots of ink onto a page, while laser printers expose the paper to electrostatic charges and toner is attracted to the charge. In terms of quality, laser machines are better, but laser printers and their associated materials are commonly more expensive. If a consumer needs high-quality prints with thin and defined lines, then laser printers are better. If the consumer just needs to print text, whether to read or to archive, then an inkjet printer may be better.
Printing paper is the broadest of the printing materials categories, but it can be broken down by thickness and special features. Thin printing paper does not hold ink well, so it is usually not suited for dense color prints, but it is cheap and good for text that needs to be archived or when quality is not an issue. Thicker paper, especially cardstock, is necessary for prints that need durability, will be handled frequently by people, or need to absorb a large amount of ink.
Paper’s special features include color and finish. Most printing paper is white, which makes it suitable for common printing jobs. If a printing job requires a background color, then it is cheaper to buy colored paper than to rely on the printing, because coloring a full sheet of white paper requires a lot of ink. Paper also can have a matte or glossy finish, or no finish. Matte and glossy papers are made for photos and are more expensive but have a better grain; regular paper has no finish.
The printer generally dictates the type of ink used, and the consumer can choose to buy the printer's brand-name ink or off-brand ink. Some printers have different quality inks, such as an ink set made for photos. If quality is an issue for printing materials, getting this high-quality set will be better, but the ink also will be more expensive.