If you print 50 pages or less per day, we found outstanding color laser printers for $200 or less that will fill the bill perfectly, without sacrificing professional-quality prints or businesslike convenience. The catch? There really isn't one. These budget standouts are simply made for lighter duty. They hold less paper, print a little more slowly and have a lower monthly duty cycle. Also, these printers usually use LEDs instead of lasers to fuse the toner to the page, but the results are basically the same.
If you need a behemoth to whip out massive 200-page color reports every day, get a bigger, pricier printer, and we profile the top choices in our discussion of the best color laser printers. But for more modest color printing needs, those can be overkill and the models profiled here can be a more practical and economical choice.
Brother laser printers absolutely slay the budget category, with the Brother HL-3170CDW (Est. $200) standing out like a jewel among the rabble. It's fast (Brother touts 23 text-only pages per minute) and -- unusual for this price -- has an automatic duplexer.
Although pro testers ignore it, plenty of bargain shoppers have discovered the Brother HL-3170CDW -- and it has won their hearts. Customers rave about it at every retail site we checked, making it the most warmly recommended color laser printer in this class.
Printouts look great, owners say -- even photos (although not keepsake-album quality, users say they're fine for client handouts, etc.). Brother says the HL-3170CDW can comfortably print up to 1,500 pages per month. A healthy 250-sheet main paper tray means you won't constantly run out of paper; there's also a single-sheet feed and 100-sheet output tray. Full networking options mean you can connect wirelessly (via Wi-Fi) or wired (via Ethernet or USB); it also prints directly from smartphones/tablets, just like pricier printers.
Brother backs its color laser printers with a one-year warranty and free phone support for the life of the unit. Brother is also the most reliable brand in the business: It has won PCMag.com's Readers' Choice award for reliability seven years in a row, and plenty of loyal owners report that their Brother printers never die -- they just wind up replacing them as technology advances, handing the old, still-working printers down to friends or family members.
If you don't need the automatic duplexer, the Brother HL-3140CW (Est. $180) is similar. Key differences are that it lacks the duplexer and Ethernet connectivity of the HL-3170CDW, and it has less built-in memory (so the print speed is slightly slower, at 19 ppm according to Brother).
In one professional test of this printer, by a major consumer testing agency, Its photo quality didn't measure up to pricier color laser printers', but the Brother HL-3140CW matched them in every other way (text and graphics quality, speed, convenience, etc.). PCMag.com is a little less impressed with text quality, but says that it's at least "reasonably good," and does approve of its fast performance and nimble paper handling. Owners are generally enthusiastic about this Brother model -- it earns 4.3 stars at Amazon.com, based on more than 200 reviews -- making it a fine, ultra-cheap alternative to our top budget pick.
While there are alternatives to these Brother printers, few really match up in this price class. One that might be worth considering is the Dell C1760NW (Est. $200), especially since it can often be found priced well below its MSRP. This printer earns high marks from owners at Amazon.com and Staples.com, and PCMag.com's Tony Hoffman calls it "a respectable choice." It's smaller than the Brother printers, thanks to its smaller main paper tray (150 sheets, plus a 10-sheet bypass tray and 100-sheet output tray). That makes it easier to share a desk with -- but it lags behind the Best Reviewed Brother, with slower printing (15 ppm black/12 ppm color) and no duplexer.
The HP Color LaserJet Pro M252dw (Est. $200) is another option. It's the step-down version of the HP Color LaserJet Pro M452dw (Est. $300), our pick as the Best Reviewed color laser printer overall; as such, it earns lots of recommendations from experts (including PCMag.com) and owners. On the plus side, it's rated to print more pages per month than the Brother HL-3170CDW (up to 2,500 recommended), and it does have a duplexer. However, the Best Reviewed budget Brother actually prints faster and has more robust paper handling -- the HP M252dw maxes out at 19 ppm black/color and only has 150-sheet input/100-sheet output trays (with single-sheet bypass feed).