What the best laser printer has

  • Beautifully crisp text. Even cheap monochrome laser printers deliver sharp, dark text; it's their specialty.
  • OK graphics. Laser printers can't match the gorgeous graphics and photos you'll get from an inkjet printer, but good laser printers (even the cheap ones) print graphics that look perfectly fine for internal office use, or maybe even PowerPoint handouts for clients if you're not too picky.
  • A monthly duty cycle that fits your needs. A good cheap laser printer can churn out 2,000 pages per month on a regular basis (up to 8,000 or 10,000 per month occasionally); if you need to print more than that, step up to a business-class laser printer.
  • Enough paper capacity. Cheap laser printers can usually hold 250 sheets or less, while business-class laser printers can hold more than 500 sheets (with add-on paper drawers to hold thousands of sheets).
  • Low cost per print. Laser printers almost always cost less to run than inkjet printers because their toner won't dry out and clog like ink cartridges do. Some brands (like Brother) charge less for toner than others (like HP).
  • Small footprint. You can easily share your desk with a home laser printer -- the smallest are smaller than most inkjet printers. Even the best office-sized laser printers aren't space hogs.
  • Fast printing. The fastest cheap laser printers crank out about 27 text pages per minute in independent tests; expect 40 to 50 pages per minute from a pricier office laser printer.

Know before you go

Do you mostly print text? If so, you'll probably be very happy with a black-and-white laser printer. They create the sharpest, loveliest text of any printer type. Color laser printers produce text that's nearly as nice, but laser printers' graphics look mediocre. For the most professional-looking graphics and any photo printing, you'll need an inkjet printer or all-in-one printer. All of those printers are covered in their own reports.

How fast do you need to print? Business-class laser printers have fast processors and robust memory, so they can print 40 to 50 pages per minute or more. Less expensive laser printers usually print about half that fast -- but that will probably be fast enough for a home user or small work group.

Do you plan to make two-sided printouts? The best printers -- even the cheap ones -- usually have duplexers that allow automatic two-sided printing. If your printer doesn't have a duplexer, you'll have to duplex manually -- printing odd pages first, then flipping the stack over and printing even pages.

Do you want to share the printer -- or print wirelessly? The very cheapest laser printers can only connect to one computer at a time, via USB cable. Step-up laser printers (starting at about $130) usually offer both Ethernet (wired) and Wi-Fi (wireless) networking, but not always. Some printers can print directly from your smartphone or tablet too.

What are your system requirements? Current-model printers will be compatible with recent Windows and Mac operating systems. But if you're using Linux, Unix or older equipment, check to make sure the printer you choose will work.

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