Updated May 2014
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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. Color laser printers do add color, but for really crisp graphics and professional-looking photo prints, you'll want an inkjet printer. We cover these in separate reports, along with all-in-one printers that also copy, scan and fax.

Great black-and-white laser printers range in price from $130 to $700 or more. All print beautifully dark, crisp text. So what's the difference?

  • Personal or small-office laser printers cost between $85 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 and print wirelessly. Some can 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 27 text pages per minute. Brother and Samsung make the best small laser printers, followed by HP.
  • 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. Wi-Fi is often an extra-cost option on business laser printers. Dell makes the best laser printers for small- to medium-sized businesses.

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 buys: print quality, speed, paper capacity, features, ease-of-use, price, toner cost and durability. Big reader surveys by PCMag.com and Which? magazine, together with brutally honest owner feedback at Amazon.com and Staples.com, help us separate the reliable laser printer brands from those that are liable to become repair-prone.

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