Stepping up from an entry-level printer gets you more speed and a greater duty cycle. Printers that are more business-oriented have larger paper trays than the 150- or 200-sheet paper trays found on home-office color laser printers. They also have more RAM, which enables them to handle larger and more complex print jobs. Many of the printers offer networking capabilities and autoduplexing for easy two-sided printing. Reviewers also indicate that cost of use for color lasers usually goes down as the purchase price rises. Many cheap laser printers either come with starter cartridges or can only accommodate low-capacity cartridges.
Judging from reviews, print quality is often better with color laser printers that cost at least $350, but paying more than that nets speed and features without necessarily improving quality. This section covers printers with the best quality; the next section covers the fastest printers. Generally, reviews indicate that quality and speed are tradeoffs when it comes to home and small-office color laser printers.
Our top pick for a color laser printer for the office is the Brother HL-4570CDW (*Est. $350). The HL-4570CDW wins awards and rave reviews for the superior quality of its printing and its speed. A companion model, the HL-4570CDWT color laser printer, is often reviewed alongside this printer. It's identical to the HL-4570CDW, but comes with an extra paper tray. TopTenReviews actually evaluates each model separately, awarding them slightly different scores. The HL-4570CDW comes in first place in their 2011 laser printer roundup winning their Gold Award and the HL-4570CDWT places in fourth position, losing points only because of its slightly different display. Both models have Energy Star qualifications, and the autoduplexing feature for two-sided printing means even more energy and paper savings.
The printing speed of the Brother HL-4570CDW is advertised at 30 ppm (for text-only files), both for color and monochrome printing. This falls in the upper range for office printers, as does its "first page out" time of 16 seconds (the time it takes to power up and then print one page). The results of M. David Stone's tests conducted at PCMag.com indicate that real-life printing speeds (6.8 ppm) are in line with this claim, and the HL-4570CDW's speeds are faster than those of the Xerox Phaser 6260DN, which won the Editor's Choice award. The HL-4570CDW's large capacity paper trays support this speed, letting users print without constantly having to refill the tray. The standard input paper tray for the HL-4570CDW holds 250 sheets, with an extra 500 sheets in an optional extra tray, while the HL-4570CDWT's claim to fame is its 800-sheet paper tray. There is only 128 MB of installed memory in these printers but this can be upgraded to 256 MB to support their increased speed.
Reviewers report that the Brother HL-4570CDW produces color and black and white prints of superior quality. The black ink quality is "extremely impressive," according to Martyn Clayden of IT Reviews, who found little difference between the normal setting and the high resolution option of 2400 by 600 dpi. As with most laser color printers, the quality of the graphics is not sufficient for desktop publishing, though it may suit everyday business needs. The graphics printed by Jon L. Jacobi and Melissa Riofrio of PC World looked slightly dull and showed moiré patterning (unwanted artifacts). M. David Stone of PCMag.com says the quality of photos produced by the HL-4570CDW is below par, with most colors not truly represented.
The connectivity options with the HL-4570CDW are through USB port, Ethernet and Wi-Fi capabilities, making it suitable for a shared printer in an office. User reviews at Amazon.com report that this printer is easy to set-up and use, even the wireless option.
The runner up in the office color laser printer category is the much pricier Lexmark C792de (*Est. $1500). Considered to be "one of the better workgroup printers" by Melissa Riofrio of PC World, the C792de is a fast, high-volume printer for a busy office environment. It ranks third in PC World's list of top laser printers, earning 4 out of 5 stars. A maximum monthly duty cycle of 150,000 pages covers most office printing needs, though Lexmark recommends a monthly printing volume of between 2,500 and 17,000 pages. Supporting high-volume printing is the C792de's standard installed memory of 512 MB which is expandable up to 1.5 GB. This printer's advertised speed is a staggering 50 ppm, though Riofrio's test jobs came out at slower speeds which she says are not as fast as the test runs on the Dell 5130cdn color laser, which is covered in the next section of this report. Tony Hoffman of PCMag.com agrees that though the print speeds are slower than advertised, the C792de is still a fast printer, and is faster than the Brother HL-4570CDW printer's speed of 30 ppm. The Lexmark C792de also has an autoduplexing option for two-sided printing.
The Lexmark C792de is a large gray cube, measuring 22.3 by 20.3 by 20.3 inches and weighing a hefty 110 pounds, and needs its own space in an office. However, within this large frame is a standard paper tray that holds 550 sheets plus an additional 100 sheets in the multi-purpose tray. PC World's Riofrio enthuses about the "scads of features and optional accessories" for this printer, which she says make it better equipped than the HP Color LaserJet Enterprise CP4025dn (*Est. $1,500), which has a 100,000 page monthly duty cycle. Available are a 2,000-sheet high-capacity feeder, a 500-sheet offset stacker, a five-bin mailbox and a stapler with a hole punch.
The reviewers disagree slightly about the Lexmark C792de's print quality. Riofrio states that it's "among the best," while Hoffman says that it's a "little on the low side of average." Both agree, however, that the quality is more than adequate for everyday business needs, including handling finer graphics as well as charts and graphs. At the default 2,400 by 600 dpi resolution, photos quality was as good as text, though there are a few rough spots and the occasional over-saturated colors; at the maximum resolution of 2,400 by 1,200 dpi, everything was crisp and sharp.
Of note is the Lexmark C792de's touchscreen, which earns this model a spot in PCMag.com's list of top 10 touchscreen printers. This printer has a 4.5-inch color LCD screen on the front of the printer on which you can preview documents and print jobs, as well as access printing shortcuts. Riofrio praises the easy menu navigation on the touchscreen, and likes that users can customize the background or create a slideshow. However, she says the screen is occasionally slow to respond to her touch.
Another well-reviewed printer in the color laser printer office category is the Xerox Phaser 6280N (*Est. $350), the successor to the popular Xerox Phaser 6180N. Measuring 15.7 inches by 19.3 inches by 18.6 inches, it is nearly the exact size and style as the 6180 series. The 6280 models have similar features too, such as a small LCD display, but they also come with more RAM (256 MB) and a greater paper-handling capacity of a 400-sheet input tray, which is expandable to 950 sheets.
The standard tray holds 250 sheets of paper, and the multipurpose tray holds an additional 150 sheets. A front-panel toner gauge is another helpful feature. Duplexing isn't included, but you can add it later. For professional desktop publishing, the Phaser 6280N has Adobe PostScript Level 3 compatibility.
The Phaser 6280N is rated at up to 26 ppm for color and up to 31 ppm for black prints. Kat Orphanides at ComputerShopper.com confirms that text comes out at 25.9 ppm with "flawless" quality, though graphic speeds are significantly slower. Testing the duplex model (the 6280DN), PCMag.com's M. David Stone says the Phaser 6280 series is "a touch faster" than the Lexmark C544dn, though the Xerox printer has slightly higher operating costs. TrustedReviews.com's Simon Williams echoes the complaint about consumables costs, while Macworld's James Galbraith also notes an odd red color cast in some prints.
A fast color laser printer is a must for business environments with high-volume printing needs. While output quality is sometimes sacrificed for faster printing speeds, the selections in this category manage to produce business-quality documents quickly.
Our selection for the fastest color laser printer is the Dell 5130cdn (*Est. $950), whose advertised printing speed of 47 pages per minute makes it suitable for a busy office with high-volume printing. According to tests, the 5130cdn is one of the fastest laser printer tested by reviewers at PC World and PCMag.com, with real-life printing speeds of about 25 ppm for plain text. Along with this impressive speed comes good quality output, thus ensuring fast, well-printed documents. The 5130cdn is network ready and has automatic duplexing for fast, two-sided printing.
Professional reviewers rave about the 5130cdn and award it high marks for its combination of speed, high print quality and features. This printer lands in first place in PC World's top 10 color laser printers, where Jon L. Jacobi states that this model has "everything a busy office needs" and gives it 4.5 out of 5 stars. PCMag.com's Tony Hoffman awards 4 out of 5 stars, positioning the Dell 5130cdn as a fast printer for a small or mid-size office.
The features of the Dell 5130cdn support its fast printing speed. Its maximum monthly duty cycle of 110,000 pages indicates that it's robust enough for even the highest volumes of printing. The paper trays don't need refilling often, as the standard tray holds 550 sheets and the multi-purpose tray has capacity for an extra 150 sheets of paper. Optional paper trays include another 550- sheet tray and one that holds an impressive 1,100 pages. With these options, the 5130cdn can hold a maximum of 2,350 sheets of paper. Further support to this printer's speed comes from its installed memory of 256 MB which can be expanded to a maximum of 1,024 MB to hold the largest print jobs.
The output text print quality of the Dell 5130cdn is "nearly perfect," according to Jon L. Jacobi of PC World. Tony Hoffman of PCMag.com disagrees, calling it "slightly subpar." Both agree that the quality, while not up to par for desktop publishing, is more than sufficient for everyday business needs. Test prints of photos, however, produced images of lesser quality. Although the colors printed with natural and well-saturated hues, there was a slight graininess to the images, especially in grayscale graphics. Hoffman concludes that, despite this, the print quality of graphics is good enough for ordinary business documents and PowerPoint presentation handouts.
Jacobi warns that the size of the Dell 5130cdn, along with its dullish-black case, might be a "little intimidating." However, the drum and toner cartridges are easily accessed for replacement, and the front control panel's monochrome LCD screen has "intuitive" navigation buttons. Despite its speed and high-volume focus, reviewers agree that the toner cartridge costs for the 5130cdn are economical.
Just behind the Dell 5130cdn is the Xerox ColorQube 8570N. With an advertised print speed of 40 pages per minute, both for color and for black and white, it is a bit slower than the Dell 5130cdn printer's claimed 47 ppm speed. In tests, it printed plain text at about 17 ppm, compared to the Dell printer's 25 ppm. Its 85,000 pages monthly duty cycle makes it suitable for an office environment with a heavy volume of printing. The ColorQube 8570N has a large paper tray to feed its high speed, holding up to 625 sheets of paper, and this is expandable with the additional of extra paper trays. The Dell 5130cdn has a slightly larger monthly duty cycle (110,000 pages) and holds 700 sheets between its two paper trays. The ColorQube 8570N printer's standard 512 MB of installed memory allows for fast print processing.
The editors at TopTenReviews warn that, at 16 inches wide by 14.5 inches tall by 20.5 inches deep, the ColorQube 8570N is rather large, and this is a drawback for Paul Lester of IT Reviews. Potential purchasers should make sure they have a dedicated desk or table for this printer, which is solid and sturdy and has its control panel on the top surface.
The Xerox ColorQube 8570N has a maximum resolution of 2,400 by 2,400 dpi, resulting in exceptional print quality. Even on the regular resolution setting, text is crisp and clear, with fine details sharply printed. Paul Lester reports that colors are recreated accurately, and have smooth graduation between different colors and shades. Interestingly, in tests at IT Reviews that used recycled "cheap-stock" paper, there was little difference in the quality of the printing.
For such a large printer, the editors at TopTenReviews are impressed with the Xerox ColorQube 8570N's low power consumption of just 252 watts. In addition, the ColorQube 8570N inks are solid and create 90 percent less waste than conventional toner cartridges. Other eco-friendly features include built-in software that removes extraneous pages, such as banner ads often found on the last page of web output, prior to printing. Despite these features, the ColorQube 8570N does not have an Energy Star designation.