Choosing a Laser Printer
Already omnipresent in large offices, laser printers are popping up in homes, home offices, and small businesses thanks to low prices, compact designs, and a reputation for printing sharp, dark text faster than inkjet printers. The sub-$200 range is bursting with options, including color laser printers and all-in-one models. We examined product specifications and reviews by experts and consumers to identify the best cheap laser printers.
Laser Printer Brands.A handful of manufacturers dominate the low end of the market. They range from consumer electronics brands to computer makers to companies that specialize in imaging products. Brother, Canon, Dell, and HP are among the most common brand names.
Mono vs. Color Laser Printers.Monochrome printers are more readily available than color printers on a $200 budget. Our Cheapism pick for best monochrome laser printer is the Brother HL-L5200DW (starting at $199). The Brother HL-L2340DW (starting at $109) is another good cheap option favored by experts and consumers. Both are fantastic for printing text quickly at a relatively low cost per page, but the quality of black-and-white images and charts often leaves reviewers unimpressed.
Consumers who frequently work with graphics likely will want a color laser printer like the Samsung Xpress C430W (starting at $178), which produces high-quality color documents as well as sharp black-and-white output. But note that the cost per page for color printing is high -- often more than 15 cents.
All-in-One Laser Printers.Home-office and small-business users may prefer a multifunction printer, or MFP, to a print-only model. These all-in-one machines can copy, scan, and fax as well as print. Not surprisingly, all-in-one laser printers are typically more expensive than single-function printers with similar features.
Our top pick among all-in-one laser printers is the Dell E515dw (starting at $120), a monochrome model that's surprisingly cheap for the features it has. We also think highly of the HP LaserJet Pro MFP M130fw (starting at $179). There are few color MFPs in this price range, and the Dell E525w (starting at $180) is arguably the best among them.
A couple of Canon all-in-ones lie outside our Cheapism price range but may be worth spending a bit more. The Canon ImageClass MF249dw (starting at $204), a monochrome model, has been named an Editors' Choice on multiple tech sites. The Canon ImageClass MF634Cdw (starting at $340) is a color all-in-one laser printer that produces razor-sharp text and vibrant colors in graphics. Both of these machines can scan or copy up to 50 pages at a time and scan both sides of a page automatically, features you don't see on cheap laser printers.
Expensive vs. Cheap Laser Printers.Part of the reason manufacturers can sell cheap laser printers is they make up the difference by charging high prices for toner. Expert reviewers complain about costs of 3.5 to 4 cents per page, which are considered high among laser printers generally but typical for budget models. Consumers who regularly print large documents may save money in the long run by investing in a more expensive laser printer with a cheaper cost per page -- ideally less than 2.5 cents.
If you don't print complex documents or thousands of pages per month, however, one of the budget laser printers featured here is likely a better deal. The quality of printed graphics typically isn't as good, but even the cheapest laser printers excel at printing very sharp text, and fast. Although all the printers we researched have shortcomings compared with pricier models, most serve buyers well as light-duty printers for homes or small offices.
We do have some reservations about a couple of cheap laser printers we came across. The Canon ImageClass LBP151dw (starting at $90) and HP LaserJet Pro M102w (starting at $159), both monochrome models, lag the competition in features and in the quality of their output.
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Laser Printer Reviews: What We Considered
To find the best laser printers under $200, we examined reviews by experts at reputable tech sites such as PCMag and Computer Shopper, as well as general review sites such as Wirecutter, Consumer Reports, and TopTenReviews, all of which do their own product testing. We also looked at consumer reviews on leading retail sites such as Amazon, Best Buy, and Staples.
Whether a printer is monochrome or color, single-function or all-in-one, the two characteristics that laser printer reviews most often address are print quality and speed. Reviewers expect a strong one-two punch here. Connection options, such as wireless support, are another top consideration, as is the ability to print from mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones.
Unless the printer will be shared among several heavy users, don't worry too much about memory. In an office environment where multiple users will be sending jobs to a printer at the same time, more memory helps the machine process those requests more efficiently. But if you're the only one who will be using the printer, or if you'll be sharing it with only a couple of other people, it's not as much of an issue.
Speed.Print speed, measured in pages per minute (ppm), is the great strength of laser printers. Even budget models enjoy a well-earned reputation for printing large amounts of text quickly and for spitting out images at a swift, albeit slower, clip. Still, some of the models we researched are significantly speedier than others. If you print only a handful of pages a day, you won't notice whether the rate lags the best of the bunch by a page or two a minute. But if you frequently print lots of jobs or long documents, you need a fast laser printer.
Manufacturer specifications for print speed are usually based on draft-quality text printing on standard, letter-size paper. Documents heavy on graphics or photos take longer. The samples used in tests by independent experts often include text, graphics, and images, so the results tend to be slower than the official specs. Different reviewers use different testing methods, so numbers for any given model vary from one source to another. Among the printers we researched, the maximum speeds provided by the manufacturers range from 18 to 42 ppm.
Print Quality.Laser printers are at their best, and deservedly known for, turning out laser-sharp text. The sharpness and quality of the text output from even a cheap laser printer should outdo that of an inkjet printer. Reviews of budget models generally confirm that reputation. There are more quibbles when it comes to the quality of graphics and photo prints; the results are a mixed bag. But because consumers and small business users tend to rely on laser printers primarily for printing text, the print quality of graphics and images is usually of secondary importance.
Another point worth noting: Printed text deemed "average" quality by experts is generally viewed by laypeople as sharp, clear, and dark. It's easy on the eyes, regardless of font size or type, and more than acceptable for all but the most demanding business presentations.
One indicator of print quality is the printer's resolution. Black-and-white documents look nice and sharp with a resolution of only 600 x 600 dots per inch, which any laser printer supports. Graphics, and especially color documents, may call for a higher resolution such as 2400 x 600 dpi. Ultimately we relied on reviews to judge print quality, instead of making assumptions based on specs.
Connectivity.In the past, entry-level laser printers included only a USB port for connecting to a computer with a cord, but that's changed. All our picks support wireless connections and networking capability. Even if only one person will be using the printer, a model with only a USB 2.0 connection is limiting -- it doesn't allow printing when you're sitting in another room. If the printer will be shared and/or you want remote access, choose one with Wi-Fi connectivity. A printer with an Ethernet connection is a good choice for a home or small office network. Some budget printers also support Wi-Fi Direct, which lets you connect to the printer wirelessly without going through a router. A few models support NFC (near-field communication), for connecting a mobile device to the printer with a simple tap.
Most manufacturers offer proprietary apps for printing and scanning with mobile devices. A handful of popular cloud printing services also have widespread support among budget laser printers. The two most popular are Google Cloud Print and Apple's AirPrint. There's also Mopria for Android devices.
Paper Handling.Most cheap laser printers have an input tray that holds at least 150 sheets, but some have 250-sheet trays. Output trays typically hold 100 to 150 sheets.
Most of the all-in-one printers we recommend also have a document feeder that automatically loads pages into the scanner -- a real time-saver if you have to scan or copy multi-page documents. (The alternative is a flatbed scanner that has to be opened and closed on each individual page.) The number of sheets an automatic document feeder can hold varies from model to model; some accommodate more than twice as much paper as others.
Printers that support duplexing can automatically print to both sides of a sheet of paper, which is convenient and saves paper. Models capable of duplex scanning and copying generally fall outside our price range.
Cost Per Page.If you print several thousand or even several hundred pages per month, a printer's running cost becomes important. The cost per page is determined largely by the cost of toner. Although wear on the drum also factors in, for simplicity's sake, we based our comparison on the manufacturer's price and stated yield for a standard black toner cartridge.
For black-and-white printing, a typical cost per page for a budget laser printer is about 3 to 4 cents per page. Color pages are much more expensive, usually well over 10 cents and often more than 15 cents per page. Consumers can bring these numbers down by shopping around for toner and opting for high-yield cartridges, which typically hold more than twice as much ink and cost less in the long run.
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Samsung Xpress C430W
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