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Cheap Color Laser Printers

By: Tara Tuckwiller on July 31, 2017

Cheap color laser printers are perfect for home and small business use

If you print 80 pages or less per day, we found outstanding color laser printers for $200 or less that will fill the bill perfectly, without sacrificing professional-quality prints or businesslike convenience. The catch? There really isn't one. These budget standouts are simply made for lighter duty. They hold less paper, print a little more slowly and have a lower monthly duty cycle. Also, these printers usually use LEDs instead of lasers to fuse the toner to the page, but the results are basically the same.

If you need a behemoth to whip out massive 200-page color reports every day, get a bigger, pricier printer, and we profile the top choices in our discussion of the best color laser printers. But for more modest color printing needs, those can be overkill, and the models profiled here can be a more practical and economical choice.

The HP Color LaserJet Pro M252dw (Est. $220) stands out in this class. Experts struggle to find anything to criticize about this thrifty printer, and owners at Staples.com, BestBuy.com and BHPhotoVideo.com adore it (it earns 4.2 out of 5 stars or better at all three).

Its closest rival, the Brother HL-3170CDW (Est. $200), simply can't keep up in PCMag.com's tests. "The M252dw not only delivers higher-quality text, graphics, and photos than the Brother model, it's convincingly faster, too," PCMag.com's M. David Stone writes. The HP is an Editors' Choice there, a top pick at TrustedReviews.com, and is named a Best Buy by ConsumerReports.org.

Print quality impresses experts, and matches that of even pricier color laser printers. Expect outstandingly sharp text and professional-looking color graphics, high quality enough for brochures and other marketing materials. Photos look fine for a color laser printer -- "easily good enough for any business use," Stone says. Although hardly gallery-worthy, "from two or three feet away, you could easily mistake the output for traditional photos, especially if they're framed behind glass."

HP doesn't skimp on features, either. The M252dw comes loaded with conveniences: touch-screen controls, Ethernet and Wi-Fi connectivity, a walk-up USB port, duplexer, cloud printing, Near Field Communication (NFC) to tap-to-connect to phones and tablets, and Wi-Fi Direct (so you can print directly from your mobile device, even in the absence of a Wi-Fi network).

Speed "is a definitive strong point," Stone says. Text-only pages roll out at a brisk 12 to 14 pages per minute (ppm) in various expert tests. Add color into the mix, and both PCMag.com and TrustedReviews.com clock the HP at 8.3 ppm. That's more than 20 percent faster than its Brother rival, Stone notes.

Cost per page is low for this class, experts say: Expect to pay 3.1 cents per black-and-white page and 18.5 cents per color page with standard-size toner cartridges, and HP offers high-yield cartridges that drive those per page costs down, TrustedReviews.com notes. Its Brother rival costs a little less per color page (17.9 cents), but a bit more per black-and-white page (4.4 cents). Remember, though, you won't be printing huge volumes with either of these printers, so neither one will bankrupt you on toner costs.

Paper capacity is the HP's one weak spot. The M252dw has just a 150-sheet paper try (plus a single-sheet manual feed), and no option for an extra tray. "That's fine for most personal use, but a little low for a shared printer," Stone says. By comparison, the Brother HL-3170CDW has a 250-sheet paper drawer, plus single-sheet manual feed.

Both the HP and Brother printers carry one-year warranties. Both of these specific models earn similar ratings from owners. However, Brother printers in general prove more reliable than HP printers, according to PCMag.com's annual reader survey.

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Color Laser Printers buying guide

What every best Color Laser Printers has:

  • Crisp, clear text output.
  • Good graphics quality.
  • Adequate monthly duty cycle.

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