Laser Printer Review
How to Choose a Laser Printer
The top performers in our review are theSamsung ProXpress C3060FW, the Gold Award winner; Brother MFC-L6700DW, the Silver Award winner; and Xerox WorkCentre 6515/N, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a system to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of the top 10 laser printers.
Why Buy a Laser Printer?
Sharp text, speedy printing and no messy ink to deal with – laser printers sound like the holy grail of print technology for the home and office. But for many years, they have had limited popularity because of their high prices and limitations on color printing. In recent years, however, the gap between laser and inkjet printers has closed, putting high-quality laser models in homes at similar price points as inkjet printers.
Laser Printer vs. Inkjet Printer
The first big decision when buying a printer is choosing between a laser or an inkjet model. Laser printing technology has been around since the 1970s, but it’s only in recent years that laser and inkjet printers have been comparably priced – inkjets have traditionally been much cheaper, even with the expense of ink. However, as the price of laser printers has come down, the two technologies have achieved an equal footing in the consumer market.
These are two fundamentally different technologies – laser printers use powdered toner and inkjet printers rely on liquid inks. Each technology has its positives. Laser printing is generally faster and creates sharper text, while inkjet printing offers richer color and is suitable for photo printing. The toner used by laser printers is much more expensive to refill than a new set of ink cartridges, but it has the benefit of yielding many more pages. When calculated on a per-page basis, laser printing is often cheaper.
Color vs. Monochrome
Unlike inkjet printers, where color printing is virtually always available, laser printers are still offered in two varieties – color or black and white, also called monochrome. Monochrome printers have some benefits; for example, you only have to replace a single toner cartridge, and the machines are slightly smaller and less expensive. Still, the obvious drawback is they don’t print in color. This isn’t a problem if you only print text documents in black and white, but in our increasingly multimedia-driven world, finding articles and webpages that don’t include images along with text is rare. A color laser printer solves this problem by offering traditional four-color printing, but be aware that for the best-quality graphics, or even photo printing, you want an inkjet printer instead.
Single Function vs. Multifunction
Another decision you need to make is whether you want a machine that just prints or an all-in-one multifunction printer that also scans, copies and faxes. You will pay a bit more for these extra features, but the added functionality often makes an all-in-one a much more useful device to have in your home or office.
In our review, we’ve included machines with a good mix of these options. The models we selected include both color and monochrome printers as well as both single-function and multifunction printers. In our evaluation, we gave some preference to color printing and all-in-one capability, but we didn’t discount the models that are missing these features. If you’re looking for a great printer, the best place to start is by determining your individual needs and sorting the options accordingly.
Laser Printers: How We Tested, What We Found
The process of turning digital files into physical hardcopies is surprisingly complicated, and as such, printers are some of the most complex consumer electronics available. Sorting out the important information on a list of technical specifications can be quite difficult, so we’ve focused on a few key elements to help you find the best printer for you.
Regardless of whether the printer has a multifunction design or prints in color, we looked at the quality and speed of printing. We also looked at the expense of operating the printer on a per-page basis. While these details don’t tell us everything about a printer, they get to the heart of what’s most important – the printing.
We subjected each machine to a series of printing tests, running through dozens of pages of documents. Each document was designed to highlight a specific aspect of printing, including text quality and color blending. We then evaluated each document under high magnification, compared it side-by-side with others, and scored and ranked it on elements like text readability and image quality.
While some printers produce undeniably higher-quality prints than others, most on the market print at a quality level that many consider to be “good enough.” The text is clean and legible, and there are no glaring errors in color or inking. However, if you want the best quality available, look for printers that earned an A grade in print quality in our review.
As we printed through our dozens of test pages, we clocked the time it took to print each document. We began timing the moment the print command was issued and stopped when the last page ejected from the printer. We then divide this time by the number of pages in the document to find an average time per page, which we then used to determine the pages-per-minute rate. This same process was used for both color and black-and-white documents.
In an ideal world you could find a fast printer with exceptional print quality. While laser printers get closer to achieving this ideal than their inkjet counterparts, the fact remains that faster speeds often come with some loss of print quality. You should consider whether quick printing is more important to you than pristine print quality.
Cost of Operation
Whether a printer has impeccable quality or lightning fast print times, there’s another area you always need to consider, and that’s the cost of printing. Toner can be expensive, and with good reason – it’s a highly engineered substance, a fine powder designed for a specific process of electrostatic transfer and thermal bonding to paper with precise color requirements and exacting detail. That said, it can often be less expensive than regular ink refills, making laser printers an appealing alternative to inkjets.
To determine the average cost of a single printed page, we looked at the replacement toner cartridges available for each printer. Manufacturers report the average page yield per toner cartridge based on industry standard testing. We calculated what that translates out to cost-wise on a per-page basis using the manufacturer’s suggested retail price for a toner cartridge. While not an exact prediction of toner costs, since every page will have a slightly different amount of inking, it is enough to provide a clear estimate for the cost of using the printer over time. In general, the lower the cost per page, the more economical the printer will be over time.
The other facet to consider is the longevity of the printer. Testing the usable life of a printer would literally take years, but each unit we tested is rated by the manufacturer to reliably handle a certain number of pages every month. Printers are designed to handle varying levels of use, from as few as 10,000 pages per month to as high as 100,000 pages. This monthly rating is called the duty cycle, and a higher duty cycle is a good indicator of durability and how well-suited a printer is to your specific needs.
What Else Is Important in Choosing a Laser Printer?
In addition to the machine’s print speed and quality, there are several other elements that are worth giving some consideration:
Paper handling refers to all aspects of loading paper into a printer, all the way through to how the finished printed page ejects into the output tray. We include information about how many pages of standard printer paper the printer’s input tray holds, whether there is a second input tray, and whether the printer automatically prints two-sided documents, also called duplexing. These small details have a direct impact on how much work you have to do beyond hitting print. Printers with smaller tray capacities need paper refills more often, while duplexing lets you print on both sides of a page without having to flip each sheet by hand as it prints.
While lots of printing is still done with a laptop or desktop computer, devices like smartphones and tablets make up a larger part of the computing experience than ever before, and you want a printer that plays nice with every device you own. Mobile devices have their own connectivity requirements, so be sure to check if a printer supports the brand you use such as Apple AirPrint for iPhones and iPads or Google Cloud Print for Android devices and Google Chromebooks. Even if these protocols aren’t available, most laser printers use proprietary apps for printing over Wi-Fi.
Copying is a convenient way to get another hardcopy of a document, but scanning saves the same document in digital form. Sharing digital files isn’t always seamless, though, so look for printers that offer a “Scan To” function, which lets you send a scanned document or photo directly to cloud storage, attach it to email, or share it to your favorite social network.
Help & Support
Being the complicated devices that they are, you want a printer with both a generous warranty and several avenues for support. Automated tools, like troubleshooting guides or FAQs, can help you find solutions to some problems on your own, but it helps have access to a living, breathing human for technical help. Look for support options that go beyond phone and email to include live chat, help forums and even social networks.
Best Laser Printers: Our Verdict & Recommendations
The Top Ten Reviews Gold Award winner is the Samsung ProXpress C3060FW, a color multifunction printer that delivers superb print quality as well as clear copies and scans, at a moderate price. It stood out in our testing thanks to its nearly error-free printing, a notable feat even in a category defined by crisp text and sharp images.
The Silver Award goes to the Brother MFC-L6700DW, an inexpensive monochrome printer that capably scans, copies and faxes. While it doesn’t print color documents, it’s a great multifunction printer for anyone who needs to print plain text documents in high volumes.
Finally, the Xerox WorkCentre 6515/N earns our Bronze Award thanks to its business-friendly multifunction design, excellent color printing and solid feature set.
Additional highlights include the HP Color LaserJet Enterprise M553dn, which is our favorite single-function printer, and the Canon imageCLASS LBP151dw, which has decent print quality for a budget-price machine.