The top inkjet and laser printers for home and office from Brother, Canon, and Epson
A Consumer Reports technician evaluates a color printout in the testing lab.
By Allen St. John
Maybe it’s time to start thinking differently about printers. If you’re like most shoppers, you’re probably looking for a cheap inkjet model. And while we understand that impulse—cheap is good—our consumer research and laboratory testing have found that for most consumers, there are better alternatives.
According to our expert evaluations, inkjet printers have three fundamental problems. For starters, they often don’t do a great job of printing text, the primary job people want them to do.
Second, while they can be cheap to buy, they tend to saddle you with high ink costs for expensive replacement cartridges and wasteful ink maintenance cycles that are necessary just to keep the machine working. The typical consumer might spend $70 a year or more on ink cartridges, which can double the cost of ownership for a printer in as little as two years.
And finally, data from our surveys of CR members suggests that inkjet printers are not as reliable as laser printers.
Add all that up and it’s no surprise that consumer satisfaction for inkjet printers, as measured in those same surveys, is quite low.
That’s why we find it hard to recommend conventional inkjets anymore. For typical at-home print jobs, a black-and-white laser printer is generally a better option.
Our research shows that people print lots and lots of text in black and white, rarely print graphics, and almost never print photos. And that’s where monochrome laser printers excel. They print crisp text and they print it fast and economically. Our survey data says they’re generally more reliable than inkjets in the long term, which is why many of the survey respondents who bought laser printers really love them.
What about those times when you need to print in color? Most office supply stores can print your document or those family photos on a professional quality printer for relatively little money. Some people do need to print in color quite frequently, and if that’s you, there’s a way to do so that’s more cost-friendly. With tank printers, which use refillable ink reservoirs instead of disposable ink cartridges, you can spend less than $10 a year on bottled ink as opposed to $70 and up for ink cartridges. Color laser printers are also an option, though their relatively high price and toner costs make them better suited to a small business or professional office.
Our ratings were revised recently to better reflect recent CR research into how people use their printers these days. We’re placing more emphasis on printing text and significantly reducing the emphasis we put on printing photos. Our testers report that printers are faster than ever before, so we changed our benchmarks for print speed. Our thorough testing methodology hasn’t changed—just the relative importance we assign to different performance parameters.
We rigorously test every printer we write about in our dedicated laboratories. We buy our test samples at retail, and our trained technicians evaluate each of them on more than 250 data points, printing hundreds of pages and running the models out of ink again and again. We combine those test results with printer brand reliability and owner satisfaction ratings derived from our member surveys to arrive at an Overall Score that lets you compare every model on the same scale.
To help you find a printer you’re likely to love, we’ve combed through our ratings to bring you the best printers of the year, each selected to meet different needs. The models below are great for a home or home office, a professional office, or a small business. They print out text with dependable quality and speed. Some include scan and copy features, and a few excel at graphics. And most carry a low price, feature low operating costs, or both.
Best Basic Home Printer If You Print a Lot
This modestly priced black-and-white laser printer checks a lot of boxes. Our testers report that it delivers reams of crisp, beautiful text in a hurry.
Our estimates suggest that it will cost only about $15 a year to keep it supplied with toner. And based on our predicted reliability and owner satisfaction ratings, the Brother HL-L2370DW is likely to operate for years hassle-free.
No, this midpriced model doesn’t have fax or scanning capabilities, and as with most black-and-white laser printers, the graphics performance isn’t great. But when it comes to what most people use their printers for—printing text—the HL-L2370DW, which can be found for under $200, is a superb performer, spitting out sharp, high-quality pages as fast as you can hit Control + P. In these days of supply chain shortages, note that the Brother HL-L2350DW is a few dollars cheaper and merely leaves off the Ethernet port, which you may not need, unless you need to link directly to the printer from a laptop or WiFi modem.
Best Laser That Faxes and Scans, Too
Canon Color imageCLASS MF644Cdw
If you don’t need to print in color but want to scan and copy, consider the Canon imageCLASS MF264DW.
This monochrome laser all-in-one is kind of bulky, so it might be better suited to a home office or small business than the family room, but its footprint isn’t much bigger than many less-capable models. And while the initial purchase price isn’t exactly cheap, the model more than compensates with low estimated toner costs of only $13 a year, based on our research of typical use.
The Canon prints black-and-white text at blazing speeds (20 pages per minute) and just as important, the quality is superb. It’s less than great with graphics, but that’s what you’d expect from a laser printer. And our survey data suggests that the Canon should be reliable over the long term.
This Canon laser also delivers a lot of the convenient features you might find in a full-blown office printer: a document feeder, a second paper tray, and auto-duplexing that allows you to print on both sides of a sheet, which helps you save money and the environment, all at once. If that feature intrigues you, consider an upgrade to the Canon imageCLASS MF269dw, which has a nifty document feeder that also allows you to make two-sided copies automatically.
Best Home Printer for Long-Run Savings
Epson EcoTank ET-2800
If you print enough in color to justify buying an inkjet printer, consider a model that will save you money.
The Epson ET-2800 tank printer uses only about $5 worth of ink a year, according to our estimates, instead of $70 or more for a cartridge model. Those ongoing savings make the Epson’s purchase price far more palatable and give it a two-year cost of ownership that’s at the top of its class.
The ET-2800’s overall performance isn’t strong enough to earn a CR-recommended designation. But the text quality and speed are decent and should be fine for home use. The model doesn’t excel at printing photos, charts, and graphics, but it does those jobs about as well as any ink-stingy inkjet. (For truly professional-quality graphics, you need to spring for a more expensive color laser printer like the Brother MFC-L3770CDW that appears below.)
For an upgrade, check out the compact Epson EcoTank 3830. It’s somewhat more expensive but prints text faster and with higher quality than the 2800. It also adds handy features like auto-duplexing, which allows you to print on both sides of a sheet.
Best Home Printer for a Tight Budget
We understand that some consumers need a printer that’s flat-out cheap. If the purchase price is your top priority, the Brother MFC-J1010DW meets that need.
This Brother inkjet sells for around $100. But before you buy it, remember that according to our estimates, it’s likely to cost you around $68 a year in ink. That’s a pretty average figure by the standards of conventional inkjet printers. But when you compare it with the $5-a-year estimated ink costs of the Epson EcoTank printer above or the $15 a year cost of a monochrome laser, it’s easy to see how the money you save up front can quickly be spent on pricey replacement ink cartridges.
The Brother performs fairly well in our tests, with solid, middle-of-the-pack scores for text speed and quality, and convenience. Our testers note that it uses very little ink for maintenance, so at least your ink budget is being used to print out recipes and driving directions instead of keeping the print heads clean.
Best Color Printer for a Small Business
Color laser printers are built with professionals or small businesses in mind; they’re expensive and the toner isn’t cheap, at around $75 annually. But there’s a reason certain people buy them and love them.
When it comes to graphics, they blow inkjets and black-and-white lasers out of the water with sharp, accurately saturated images. Their text performance is stellar as well.
The Brother MFC-L3770CDW sits near the top of our ratings in this category, and it’s quite inexpensive for a color laser model. If you’re looking for the best possible performance, you may want to consider the somewhat more expensive HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M479fdw, which gets our top rating for graphics and delivers slightly lower toner cost estimates of $57 a year.
Best Small Printer for Tight Spaces
HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile
It isn’t cheap, but the HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile is very small. So if you’re super-tight on space, the tiny HP could provide the answer to your problems.
This petite but expensive HP doesn’t earn a recommendation from CR because our ratings don’t account for size. We estimate the yearly ink costs at a less-than-frugal $49. The OfficeJet 250 performs decently, earning average scores for text and graphics quality. The text speed isn’t great.
Features include the ability to print by emailing a document directly to the printer. You can also purchase an optional battery and operate the HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile without an outlet. That said, unless portability is your top priority, understand that you’ll get significantly better performance and probably a lower price with many other printers in our roundup.
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