The cheapest color laser printers are available for a few hundred dollars, about the same price as a mid-range color inkjet printer or black-and-white laser printer, and blend the speed and sharpness of the latter with the color options of the former. Cheap color laser printers cost less than the best office color laser printers, but the trade-off is somewhat lesser print quality, especially when it comes to photos.
Cheap color laser printers also have lower duty cycles than the best color laser printers, meaning they are rated to print fewer pages per month (and exceeding that rating can void your warranty). Paper handling is also less robust. While all of that means that cheap color laser printers aren't the best choice for a busy workplace, they are an economical option for personal, home office or small office use.
TheBrother HL-3140CW (Est. $250) is among the best color laser printers in this class. It avoids the pitfalls of most cheapie printers. It's fast (19 pages per minute) and prints nice-looking text and graphics. Owners say it's super-easy to set up and use.
It even includes built-in Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi Direct (which usually costs extra on pricier laser printers), so you can print wirelessly from your computer, smartphone or tablet. With a good-sized 250-sheet paper tray plus single-sheet manual feed, this makes an ideal printer for personal use or a home office, or even as a shared printer for small workgroups.
Best of all? It's reliable. Year after year, Brother printers win PCMag.com's Reader's Choice award: They rarely break down, and the tech support is top-notch. It's the same story at the U.K.'s Which? magazine, where readers award Brother printers their highest prize for owner satisfaction. Even with Brother's cheapest printers, "We've always been impressed with their sturdy, tank-like construction," ComputerShopper.com says. The Brother HL-3140CW has a maximum duty cycle of 30,000 pages per month (1,500 recommended).
The downside: Photos look "recognizable," PCMag.com says, but that's about it. There's no duplexer (so you'll have to manually flip the paper for a two-sided print) or Ethernet jack, either. You'll find these extras on its sibling, the Brother HL-3170CDW (Est. $280) , for just $30 more.
For even better looking printouts on the cheap, consider the runner-up HP LaserJet Pro 200 M251nw (Est. $200) . Photos and graphics look crisper than average for a color laser printer, and its typesetter-quality text just blows experts away.
Unfortunately, so does the HP's toner cost per printout: just over 4 cents for a black-and-white page and 18 cents for color, according to HP's own figures. The HP crawls along more slowly than the Brother, too (14 pages per minute), and its 150-sheet paper tray is pretty skimpy. Still, if you don't print much, the HP M251nw could be worth a look.
If you're looking for a cheap small-office workhorse, reviews say the Brother HL-4150CDN (Est. $250) is your best bet. It's speedy (25 pages per minute), with a good-size 250-sheet paper tray and 50-sheet multipurpose tray. Brother says it can print up to 40,000 pages in one month (although 3,000 pages per month is the recommended regular max load). You gain a duplexer compared to the Brother HL-3140CW, but you lose Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi Direct features. Brother does offer an iPrint&Scan app that allows for printing from smartphones and tablets.
This "balance of speed, output quality, and paper handling" make the Brother HL-4150CDN easy to recommend, says M. David Stone at PCMag.com. Text quality is typically laser-sharp, graphics look fine (maybe even good enough for clients, Stone says) and photos look recognizable, although dark and off-color (typical for this class of color laser printer).
Brother's stellar reliability and tech support nudge it into the Best Reviewed spot. Runner-up Dell C2660dn (Est. $230) actually prints slightly better graphics in tests, has a bigger multipurpose tray (150 sheets) and a heftier duty cycle (50,000 pages), but Dell printers land near the bottom in owner surveys at PCMag.com and Which? magazine. We found no owner reviews specifically for this new Dell model, but the Brother is an owner favorite at both Amazon.com and Staples.com.