Color laser printers -- once limited only to corporate settings -- have become a reasonable choice for small businesses, home businesses and even for personal use. Prices have come down, and while color laser printers are usually much larger than their inkjet rivals, some are small enough to fit on a desk or table.
Different color laser printers excel at different tasks. Some can print high volumes of text-based documents with astonishing speed, while other color laser printers can produce professional-grade color graphics and good-quality photos for business needs. But why buy a color laser printer at all? What difference does it make if it's a laser printer or inkjet?
While the dividing lines between laser printers and inkjet printers are blurring, the general rule of thumb stands: Inkjet printers are best at printing photos, whereas laser printers excel at printing text, and do so at much faster speeds. Inkjet printers -- which use nozzles to spray dots of ink to the page -- blend colors better and produce smoother color gradients than laser printers. The very best inkjet printers can produce photographic prints that rival what professional photo processers can create, albeit on special paper. We cover inkjet printers in more detail in a separate report.
But because of the way ink is applied, inkjet printers struggle with text quality output. On the other hand, laser printers -- which work by using an electrically charged drum and laser to apply a powder called toner to the page – are known for producing crisp, clear text, even at the smallest font sizes. While inkjet printers almost always do a better job of printing photographic images, most laser printers can produce color photos that are at least good enough for internal business documents, and the best color laser printers can print photos that are good enough to share with clients.
For those who print infrequently, color laser printers have a hidden advantage: Since toner cartridges don't dry out, color laser printer owners don't have to deal with dried-out cartridges clogging nozzles and wasting expensive ink and time -- a common problem for inkjet owners. Xerox laser printers go a step further, using solid blocks of ink that have less waste than toner cartridges.
Color laser printers are also much better at handling big jobs and have much higher duty cycles (the maximum number of pages you can print per month) than inkjet printers. Laser printers usually come with higher-capacity paper trays than inkjet printers, which means that they don't have to be reloaded as often. If you plan to use an inkjet for photos and don't really need color-printing capabilities from a laser printer, consider a monochrome laser printer. They cost as little as $100, yet offer much better text quality and speed, lower per-page costs and higher duty cycles than an inkjet printer.
Once you've decided that a color laser printer is right for your needs, it's time to find the right one. Given the wide price range and capabilities of color laser printers currently available, that can be a daunting task -- but that's where we come in. ConsumerSearch analyzes professional and owner reviews to find the best color laser printers. We consider cheap color laser printers that are ideal for home or small office use as well as high-volume, high-quality workhorses most suitable for large corporate settings. We rate color laser printers based on how well they perform overall, their features and design, their operating costs, and how well they are likely to hold up over the long haul. Top choices are named in several price categories.