The cheapest color laser printers are available for a few hundred dollars, about the same price as a mid-range inkjet or monochrome laser printer, and they blend the speed and sharpness of the latter with the color options of the former. However, reviews make clear that budget-priced color laser printers compromise on speed, quality and features when compared with more expensive color printers. Entry-level models are slower and do not produce the best prints. They also tend to have less memory, smaller paper trays and lower duty cycles. "Duty cycle" is a term used by manufacturers to specify the maximum number of pages per month the printer can handle. Exceeding the duty cycle often voids your warranty.
The Xerox Phaser 6010 (*Est. $200) color laser printer earns our Best Reviewed recommendation in the competitive budget color laser printer category. The Phaser 6010 is a basic printer without frills, but reviewers say it works equally well as a personal or home office printer. The Phaser 6010N version of the basic model is identical but is network-ready through an Ethernet connection. The two models are often reviewed together.
The Xerox Phaser 6010 receives middle-of-the pack ratings from professional reviewers when compared to more expensive color printers. Trusted Review's Simon Williams states that this printer gets "virtually everything right," while other reviewers praise its energy efficiency. The editors at TopTenReviews.com place the Phaser 6010N in eighth place in their 2011 laser printer review, stating that it "lacks the bells and whistles" of the top-rated printers. M. David Stone of PCMag.com recommends this model for those who don't print very much.
The small size (footprint) of the Xerox Phaser 6010 adds to its suitability for home use. At 15.5 inches by 9.2 inches by 12 inches, this printer can perch on the corner of a desk or table. Weighing just 23.4 pounds, it can be moved with relative ease. The two-line, 16-character control panel is easily accessible and its menus are easy to navigate.
The Phaser 6010's printing speeds are slow compared to color laser printers intended for busier office environments. At a claimed 15 pages per minute (ppm) for black and 12 pages per minute for color, there will be a significant wait for long documents. (These claims are based on text-only printouts.) Tested speeds clock in at 4.9 ppm, which is based on a mix of text and graphics. The standard input paper tray has room for 150 sheets of paper, with an additional 10 sheets housed in the multi-purpose tray. The Phaser 6010 does not have an automatic duplexing feature, so two-sided printing has to be accomplished manually by printing all the odd-numbered pages, flipping the paper over and re-feeding it into the printer to print the even number pages. These constraints may not be a limitation for light-volume personal or home office printing needs.
The print quality of the Phaser 6010 draws positive reviews, with M. David Stone of PCMag.com citing its "reasonably high-quality output" and Jon L. Jacobi and Melissa Riofrio of PC World calling the monochrome and color output "impressive." The reviewers consider the graphics quality to be on par with other laser printers, but the photo quality is on the lower end of the color laser printer range. A useful feature of the Phaser 6010 for graphics artists is its ability to match Pantone colors closely.
All reviewers say the high replacement cost of the ink cartridges for the Xerox Phaser 6010 is a significant drawback, increasing its running costs significantly. However, this may not be an issue for light-volume printing and by shopping around for competitive prices for the cartridges. (See our companion report on printer ink for the best prices.)
The runner-up in our Budget category is the Brother HL-4150CDN (*Est. $250) color laser printer. The Editors at TopTenReviews.com rank the HL-4150CDN in ninth place in their 2011 laser printer roundup, citing its excellent print quality and fast speed. This printer's network capability makes it suitable for sharing in an office environment, and its monthly duty cycle of 40,000 supports an average business printing volume.
M. David Stone of PCMag.com awards the Brother HL-4150CDN 3 out of 5 stars for its "balance of speed, output quality and paper handling," and recommends the printer for most small offices and workgroups. However, he notes that "output quality falls short of impressive." TopTenReviews.com's report agrees with this evaluation of the HL-4150CDN as a "strong workhorse printer" and states that it "doesn't offer any features you won't find on a similar device, but provides you with a high print quality and sturdy features."
The reviewers at TopTenReviews.com highlight the size and weight of this printer and state that it needs its own table or desk, and warn that, at 46.3 pounds, it's not easily moved. (The Phaser 6010 printer weighs about half that.) This printer holds 300 sheets of paper, between the 250-sheet standard input tray and the 50-sheet multi-purpose tray, nearly twice the capacity of the Phaser 6010. The printer has autoduplexing for effortless two-sided printing and is network-ready through an Ethernet connection. Users can print directly from the HL-4150CDN by inserting a flash drive into the USB port on the printer. Reviewers highlight the Hl-4150CDN's feature that allows for wireless printing from a phone or mobile device through the downloadable Brother iPrint&Scan app.
The HL-4150CDN prints at 25 pages per minute (claimed), both in color and black and white. All the reviewers agree that the black text quality is decent, but that the color printing is of lesser quality, with the colors being "noticeably off." The graphics quality is on par for color laser printers, but M. David Stone evaluates the photo quality as well below par. He says that the overall print quality of the HL-4150CDN is adequate for average business needs. So while the HL-4150CDN is significantly faster than the Xerox 6010 (15 ppm claimed), its mediocre print quality and slightly lower ratings from reviewers means it misses the Best Reviewed mark.
Also very competitive in this price range is the Dell Color Laser 3130cn (*Est. $550), which offers a maximum monthly duty cycle of 70,000 pages (compared to the HL-4150CDN printer's 40,000), suitable for a small office. The Dell 3130cn consistently earns high praise from reviewers of color laser printers. It has topped PC World's 10 best printers list, and Melissa Riofrio calls it a "near-perfect starter printer for the small office." She finds speeds for text and graphics quick, while print quality is very good, even for photos on plain paper. She also notes that toner is comparatively cheap.
The 3130cn is also on PC Pro's "A-List" of computer products. The magazine gives this Dell printer a perfect score of 6 stars, with reviewer Dave Mitchell calling printout quality excellent and noting that the 3130cn tests very close to Dell's claimed speed ratings of 31 and 26 ppm in color and black and white, respectively. Like other Dell color laser printers, the 3130cn has a 250-sheet paper tray. It includes a 400 MHz processor and 256 MB of memory, expandable to 1,280 MB -- helpful for multi-user offices that need to line up several print jobs.