Black-and-white laser printers: Penny-pinching workhorses
If you mostly print text -- or don't need color printing -- consider a black-and-white laser printer. Busy offices have relied on monochrome laser printers for decades because they're faster, cheaper to run and more dependable than any other type of printer. They print sharper text too. The drawback? Grainy graphics and photos. You might feel OK using them for PowerPoint handouts and the like (if you're not too picky), but that's it.
There are other options, too, all with their own pluses and minuses. Color laser printers print beautiful color graphics, but they cost more than a monochrome laser printer. Inkjet printers deliver professional-looking photo prints, but they're far slower and costlier to run than laser printers, the ink often clogs up or runs out, and they break down more. All-in-one printers can be convenient as they also copy and scan, and often fax. They can also be cost effective if you also need a device that can do all of that. However, if you don't need that functionality, for the same price, and often less, you can get a standalone laser printer that prints faster and sharper, with bigger paper trays, all while gobbling less space on your desk. Still, if one of these other types of printers is a better fit for your needs, or budget, they are all covered in their own reports.
Great black-and-white laser printers range in price from $90 to $200 or more. All print beautifully dark, crisp text. So what's the difference?
- Personal or small-office laser printers cost between $75 and $200. The cheapest have only a USB connection for one computer. Step-up models have Ethernet and Wi-Fi connections, so several users can share the printer, print wirelessly and print directly from a smartphone or tablet. These printers hold only enough paper for one or a few people (usually 150 to 250 sheets). The fastest can crank out about 32 text pages per minute.
- Business laser printers cost $200 or more. They're much faster (40 or more text pages per minute), with beefier processors and memory to handle big print jobs. Expect hefty paper drawers that can hold whole reams of paper (and add-on drawers to hold thousands of sheets), and Ethernet connections so the whole office can share the printer. For a small bump in price, you can get a Wi-Fi model for wireless connectivity.
To find the best laser printers, we sift through expert tests and owner reviews (some popular models have amassed thousands of these). Like the best sources -- PCMag.com, ComputerShopper.com, ConsumerReports.org and others -- we consider all aspects of the printer before picking best choices: print quality, speed, paper capacity, features, ease-of-use, price, toner cost and durability. Big reader surveys by PCMag.com, together with brutally honest owner feedback at Amazon.com, Staples.com and other retail websites, help us separate the reliable laser printer brands from the repair-prone.
Best laser printers
Quite simply, Brother laser printers are the most reliable you can buy, reviews say. They're the easiest to set up. They break down the least. And owners recommend them more than any other brand, at every retail website we checked and in PCMag.com's annual Reader's Choice survey.
"Brother has now earned seven Readers' Choice Awards in a row for its printers," PCMag.com said, after Brother beat all other printer brands in its 2016 survey. "Across every printing technology and on nearly every measure of satisfaction, Brother comes out on top," Ben Z. Gottesman adds. "It can and should be the first brand anyone looks for in a printer, no matter where or what they're printing."
Brother sells everything from small personal laser printers to big corporate behemoths. But for many heavy-duty office users -- those who print 5,000 pages per month on average (about 200 to 250 per day) -- the Brother HL-L6200DW (Est. $210) is the perfect choice. "This very well could be The One," says William Harrel at ComputerShopper.com, where the HL-L6200DW wins an Editors' Choice award.
For a low price for a business-class printer, the HL-L6200DW impresses experts in tests. Speed is "mighty quick," Harrel says. Brother promises 48 text-only pages per minute (ppm). Even more complex documents (with photos, spreadsheets, graphs, PowerPoint slides and PDFs) zoom along at about 13 ppm. "Not only is this fast for printers in this price range, but several much costlier (as much as twice as much or more) printers can't do this well," Harrel adds.
Print quality is excellent in reviewers' eyes. Text looks sharp, most say. Graphics and photos aren't any mono laser printers' strong suit, but the HL-L6200DW's look fine for PowerPoint handouts and newsletters.
Cost per page is low -- less than 1 cent per page if you buy the biggest toner cartridge (and shop around for the best price). Paper trays are robust: 520 sheets in the drawer, with a 50-sheet multipurpose tray and up to three optional drawers for a maximum of 1,610 sheets. Standard features include a duplexer and full connectivity options (USB, Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi Direct, and the ability to print directly from mobile devices or the cloud).
While there isn't a ton of user feedback, most of what's available looks very good. As an example, the Brother HL-L6200DW earns a score of 4.4 out of 5 stars at Amazon.com, based on nearly 50 reviews. Several say they bought the HL-L6200DW to replace an old, faithful Brother laser printer that finally wore out -- or that they bought one for an office and, impressed, came back to buy more.
Reviewers say that there really aren't many downsides. The output tray only holds 150 sheets, so you'll need to keep that clear after any giant print jobs. But overall, the HL-L6200DW is "a solid pick," PCMag.com's M. David Stone concludes, awarding the printer an "Excellent" rating.
The HL-L6200DW measures about 15 inches square and 11 inches tall. That's pretty compact for a printer this capable, although still a little big to sit on your desk. It's rated to print up to 100,000 pages in a month, and it carries a one-year warranty with free phone support for the life of the printer.