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Laser Printer Buying Guide

By: Tara Tuckwiller on September 01, 2017

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 a couple of thousand pages per month on a regular basis (and much more than that on an occasional one); 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 additional 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 if not used on a regular basis. The cost of consumables can add up, so look at the cost of toner if your budget is tight.
  • 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 over 30 text pages per minute in independent tests; pricier office laser printers can crank out more than 50.
  • Ease of use. The best laser printers are nearly effortless to set up. They'll automatically detect your network (wired or wireless) and seamlessly interact with all of your devices, with minimal help from you. If your equipment is Wi-Fi Direct compatible, a printer with that feature means that you can print directly, without worrying about a network or router.

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, cleanest text of any printer type. Color laser printers produce text that's nearly as nice, and the best ones print beautiful color graphics. However, for the most professional-looking graphics and any photo printing, you'll need an inkjet printer. These printers are covered in their own reports.

Do you need copying, scanning or fax capabilities? If so, check out our report on all-in-one printers. They cost more and take up more space than standalone printers, but they can save on both (money and space) if need that functionality and you don't already have a copier, scanner or fax machine.

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 $100) usually offer Ethernet (wired) or Wi-Fi (wireless) shared networking, or both. Some printers can print directly from your smartphone or tablet, or straight from cloud sites like Google Drive.

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

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